Dietary Collagen: Help or Hype? (May 2020)
Too often, I see water, other beverages, and bone broth being praised that they contain collagen. Of course, collagen protein powder is now being sold, too.
I was in Japan on a cycling trip 6 years ago when I had my first exposure to edible collagen. It was served as one of the courses and resembled clear gelatin. If it doesn’t sound appealing to you, know that it was not appealing to me to eat, either.
I have grown up hearing about beauty products that contain collagen for hair, skin and nails in addition to supplements. But it is only in the last handful of years that I have heard the collagen phenomenon skyrocket!
Clearly, I am not the only one noticing, as the Nutrition Business Journal determined that U.S. consumers are expected to spend $293 million dollars on collagen products in 2020.
If you’re seeing this trend as much as I am, your first question might be: “What is collagen?” Collagen is a protein source derived from the ground-up parts of fish or cow. It basically can be cartilage, tendons, organs or bones. As we age, collagen decreases, as it is naturally in parts of our body such as our cheeks (our skin) or in muscles and tendons. Collagen can also decrease when we smoke or are exposed to UV light. Collagen provides support and structure to our cells and gives our skin elasticity and strength. Overall, there are also 16 types of collagen.
Collagen has become popular from celebrities who endorse it through their social media and, we have few studies that show the science behind it. According to dermatologist Whitney Bowe, MD, author of The Beauty of Dirty Skin: The Surprising Science of Looking and Feeling Radiant from the Inside Out, 75% of the dry weight of our skin is derived from collagen which is what keeps our skin looking smooth and full. As we age, we break down collagen faster so that we can replace it. When collagen is placed directly on our skin; it does not absorb well, which is the reason it is being sold in edible form.
The research is oftentimes a conflict of interest since this fad is still in its infancy and most of the studies conducted are paid for by the companies that sell collagen products. Collagen is actually supportive to helping heal wounds. In fact, one study showed that out of 89 long-term care residents with pressure ulcers (aka: decubitus ulcers), those who took collagen supplements three times daily for 8 weeks saw their wounds heal twice as fast.
Safety is being explored as bones, nerve tissues, hooves and hides could carry the disease live bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), also known as mad cow disease. Because of this, the FDA prohibited the use of some cow parts to include in the dietary supplement in 2016. The FDA excluded gelatin from this as long it is manufactured using the specific practices recommended by the industry.
If a person is considering this supplement, it would be the safest to make or buy your own homemade broth or stock derived from the bones from poultry, fish or beef.
As a registered dietitian, I always like to review safety, accessibility, and cost as well as explore options where a person can obtain the same nutrients via food.
The reality is, we are all aging, and our bodies are not meant to remain the same as we age.
Imagine the emotional, psychological, and financial distress we might avoid if we began to accept the changes our bodies go through during the aging process.
- Choi, FD, et al. (2019). Oral collagen supplementation: a systematic review of dermatological applications. Journal of Drugs in Dermatology: JDD, 18 (1); 9-16.
- Lodish H., et al. (2000). Molecular Cell Biology, 4th Section 22.3, New York: W. H. Freeman.