COLLAGEN: You’ve probably heard the buzz about collagen. If you’re not talking about it, you’re definitely behind the times. From collagen cookbooks, to skin products that promise to plump it, boost it and rejuvenate it, to top-selling health food supplements claiming to reduce the signs of ageing.

First, let’s take a step back and explore what collagen actually is. Does it work? How can we successfully enhance it and enjoy its benefits? Can changing our diet help?

Introducing the skin

Our skin is the largest organ in our body and one of the most complicated. Not only does it hold everything together, it also plays a role in providing an airtight yet flexible barrier between the outside world and the vital systems within our body. It helps with temperature regulation, immune defence, vitamin production and sensation. It fights off bugs, allergens and environmental pollutants, helps to regulate our body temperature and protect us from the sun’s UV rays.

Where does collagen fit in?

Collagen is the most abundant protein in our body. You’ll find it primarily in fibrous or connective tissues such as tendons, ligaments, muscles, blood vessels and of course our skin. Just think of it like a scaffolding ensuring everything is kept in place.

There are roughly 30 different varieties of collagen and, like the skin, it has a pretty impressive and important role – it provides structure by sticking your cells together, it keeps your skin firm and supple and provides elasticity to other tissues. As we get older, unfortunately the production of collagen (and elastin) declines which is why anti-ageing methods and products that promise to support and slow down this process down are enticing.

Are collagen supplements worth all the fuss?

Sprinkling a daily dose of collagen into a glass of water, coffee or your morning smoothie is in vogue right now. With beautiful celebs and social influencers bragging its wrinkle-reducing claims, it’s no wonder that we want to load up. But are collagen supplements really something to consider or just another beauty hoax?

If you start to research collagen supplements, you’ll be bombarded with choice from Hydrolysed to Peptides, Marine to Bovine, Type I to Type III. Don’t be deterred – structurally, collagen is the same and will have the same function and effort whether it comes from a fish (marine) or cow (bovine). In other words, you’ll find most collagen supplements derived from  animal sources such as beef or fish. Vegan “plant” sources, on the other hand, can be made by using genetically modified yeast and bacteria, however it’s important to bear in mind that plant sources do not actually contain collagen, but may support collagen production.

However, in reviewing collagen studies there is, unfortunately, limited research meaning the full definitive effects of collagen supplements on the skin aren’t fully understood. This is not to say that it does not work. Preliminary results for oral collagen supplements in skin ageing, hydration and elasticity appear promising, but as with a lot of science, there’s still a lot of research to be done.

Science behind the skin benefits

One small study showed that taking collagen supplements for several weeks can improve skin elasticity and hydration. Thumbs up! A recent 2019 literature review in the Journal of Drugs in Dermatology also showed that some anti-ageing benefits are achievable. This particular study found data to support claims that collagen can increase skin elasticity, collagen density and overall hydration, however It’s worth noting though that this review is preliminary and a lot more evidence is needed to add weight to these claims.

What should you do?

If anti-ageing is your main concern, collagen supplements might be a better alternative to protein supplements as they tend to contain less added nasty stuff like flavours, fillers additives. Always check the labels and review the ingredients list ahead of purchase.

Although there is no evidence to suggest that collagen supplementation are unsafe, there are reports of some adverse effects if over consumed, including diarrhoea, abdominal heaviness/discomfort and headache. As always, there is buyer beware if you have any allergies, such as sulphites or sensitivities to animal sources. And due to limited evidence available to date, collagen supplements should be avoided during pregnancy and lactation.

What about real food?

Of course, slurping collagen drinks, popping collagen pills or slathering skincare isn’t the only way to top up your collagen quota. A good old balanced diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables, wholegrains, lean sources proteins and healthy fats can help with healthy, glowing skin.

In both humans and animals collagen is concentrated in the connective tissue – so any meat that contains muscle will be a rich source of collagen. Bone broth is a great one to introduce to your diet. Bone broth is often simmered for 24 hours or more to break down the bones and in doing so releases a heap of collagen and nutrients into the mix. If meat isn’t your thing, plant foods that contain a high amount of protein will make sure that your bodies have all of the amino acids needed for building proteins such as collagen, provided you’re eating a balanced diet.

Eat food, not nutrients.

For those who know me well, I’m not one to demonise a nutrient. Why? Because we eat food, not vitamin C, A, protein or fats – we eat meals. So for true skin health, it’s not just about collagen and their amino acid constituents. In fact, several other nutrients are important for the production of age-defying collagen in the body. The most significant of these is vitamin C, which is a star collagen supporter. Vitamin C also functions as an antioxidant to help fight off free-radicals that would otherwise degrade existing collagen. You can get your daily quota of vitamin C by eating citrus fruit, strawberries, and tomatoes, among others.

The bottom line

Collagen products aren’t going off-trend anytime soon so there’s time for you to try them – and there is no harm in doing so (within a safe dose). But before you do, don’t neglect the variety of other integral factors, alongside a balanced diet, that will help you maintain youthful, plump, wrinkle-free skin, especially in winter:

• Avoid sun exposure and wear SPF
• Give up smoking
• Get plenty of sleep – 8 hours and you will glow
• Stop reaching for the junk food – especially too much added sugar.
• Regular exercise

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