There’s a rising market for ‘collagen’ supplements, claiming to improve skin quality or reduce the appearance of wrinkles deep within the skin. As collagen is the scaffolding for our skin, of course, we all want to believe it. We’re all on the hunt for any age defying miracle that will slow visible signs of ageing and boost collagen in our skin, but we need to have a healthy level of scepticism and look at the science and the actual ingredients.
What is collagen?
Collagen is a very large and complex protein molecule, containing over 1000 little building blocks called amino acids. It is continually produced by skin cells in the deep layers of the skin (the dermis) to help maintain a firm and youthful appearance, but this slows as we age. Other external factors, such as UV and IR light, pollutants and dietary deficiency can destroy and damage collagen production. Collagen is also vital to health of our joints, ligaments, tendons and muscles.
There have been new studies highlighting the benefits of collagen derived peptides (not COLLAGEN, but more about that later) to skin and body health. The ‘collagen’ supplement trend has taken the health and wellbeing market by storm but sadly, there is much pseudo-marketing and a lack of education surrounding this growing segment. Let’s get into the science of collagen….
Collagen and the digestive system
When the large, complex collagen protein reaches the stomach, it is broken down into amino acids, the building blocks of protein, so that it can be digested through the small intestine and into the bloodstream. Once broken down, the collagen does not reform on the other side of the digestive tract, so it will never reach your cells as the collagen it started out as in your pill or powder. Collagen supplements do not directly promote great skin, but the amino acids in the collagen have been shown to be of benefit. Collagen is an important protein and a vital element of skin health and anti-ageing, but… the acids in our stomach exist to break down protein and peptides. The aim of protein digestion is to break down what we eat into the tiny building blocks so the body can absorb and use it. So, pure collagen as a large complex protein in powder supplements, it will be impossible for the body to adsorb and use directly.
Collagen supplements or good nutrition?
Consuming quality dietary protein is vital to providing our bodies with essential amino acids for making all the different proteins in our body. There are over 10,000 different proteins our bodies made from the building block amino acids that come from protein in our food. So often, many of us are simply lacking in good protein sources. Examples of vital proteins created in our body include our hormones, haemoglobin which carries oxygen in the blood, muscle proteins, immunoglobulins to protect us from foreign invaders, enzymes that aid all the chemical reactions in our body, keratin in hair and nails, and collagen in our skin and connective tissue (cartilage, tendons and ligaments) . So ,it’s important to look at your natural nutrition and ensure that you have adequate intake of high quality protein before looking at collagen derived peptides.
Cut through the marketing- NEVER confuse collagen peptides with collagen protein supplements!
I believe that we really need to focus on the ingredients in the product, not on the marketing hype.
The three active amino acids that primarily comprise around 58% of the collagen molecule are glycine, proline and hydroxyproline. Typically around 33% of collagen is glycine, 10% proline, 13.5% hydroxyproline. If we deliver these important amino acids a singular amino acids, double amino acid peptides or three amino acid peptides containing a concentrated source of glycine, proline, and hydroxyproline then clinical benefits have been observed.
So, it’s imperative that the supplier of the ‘Collagen’ product states whether the product they are selling is collagen protein or collagen peptides. Always look for ‘collagen derived peptides’ of no more than 3 amino acids. This enables optimal absorption and access of to the cells of the body through the lining of the gut and into the bloodstream. The collagen protein itself is too large and cannot be absorbed into the body.
Current evidence suggests that collagen derived peptides may improve joint health, muscles and the quality of our skin. It’s also important to note that the amino acids are like nutrient firemen. Collagen derived amino acids (glycine, proline and hydroxyproline) will go to where it is needed by the body at the time it is needed, whether that’s the skin or other body tissues like joints.
My advice as a scientist:
- Be cynical – Read the scientific publications about the size of molecules that enters the body. Choose ONLY collagen derived peptides that are no bigger than 3 amino acids. Do NOT purchase collagen protein powder as your body will not use it effectively compared to the peptides.
- Look at your nutrition before buying collagen derived peptides. A well-balanced diet of good, high quality protein may already provide sufficient amino acid levels of glycine, proline and hydroxyproline for your skin and joints.
[Disclaimer: This blog is for informational purposes only and does not substitute professional medical advice. Consult a dermatologist or skincare professional for specific concerns.]