Questions often come up during our training sessions, that send me off to gather the facts*. Most recently, the topic of collagen supplements has been getting a lot of buzz. Companies that promote the sale of collagen claim that it can work virtual miracles for skin, bones, brains and our gut. But what do studies prove about this expensive supplement?
What actually is collagen?
Collagen supplements are not your Mom’s jello. Collagen is a protein. In our skin, collagen provides strength and elasticity. It adds stability to the cartilage that lines joint surfaces, tendons, and ligaments.
Somewhere about age 40, we begin to break down collagen faster than we can produce it leaving us with saggy skin, and vulnerable joints. Oh, the joys of midlife 😐
So how is collagen used as a supplement or treatment?…and is it effective? There are studies that demonstrate that ingestible collagen can improve the appearance of the skin. However, the studies are small and some are partially funded by the industry. Some research also suggests that collagen might help reduce knee pain related to osteoarthritis and help reduce joint deterioration in athletes.
Ah, but there is a potential dark side to collagen.
The animal parts that ingestible collagen is derived from include parts that potentially can lead to heavy metal contamination. There is no clear evidence for or against this. However, some companies that produce collagen are aware of this, test for it, and advertise this as well.
The truth at this time is that the supplement industry is not as closely regulated as the drug industry. What we know now is that a diet consisting of ample veggies, lower-fat hormone free grass-fed dairy and proteins, some fruit and some minimally processed whole grains can do all the things that collagen supplements claim to do.
Of course, getting good quality sleep, reducing stress, and exercising consistently is highly effective and necessary as well.
For now, I am rotating collagen powder in as a protein source when good quality minimally processed protein is not convenient. Because let’s face it, we don’t always feel like making organic eggs or wild caught salmon for breakfast.