Is Taking Collagen A Fountain Of Youth Hoax?

Dr. Alina Sholar is a renowned plastic surgeon based in Austin, TX, the founder of Skin Science Soul by Dr. Sholar and her much-adored Dr2Dr skincare program exclusively for physicians. Dr. Sholar is recognized nationally as an aesthetic laser expert and is frequently featured in national media outlets. After completing a full five-year general surgery residency at the University of Louisville, she went on to a Plastic & Reconstructive Surgery at the University of Tennessee. Her plastic surgery training included not only aesthetic surgery, but also dermatology, non-invasive and laser aesthetic treatments, reconstruction related to craniofacial surgery, microsurgery, hand surgery, burn surgery, and breast surgery. Dr. Alina Sholar is not only known for her unparalleled medical background, she also builds a true connection with her patients, with an easy girl’s-girl relatability.

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Collagen supplements have become very popular in recent years, and for good reasons, because collagen is the major component of connective tissues that make up the body, including skin, tendons and ligaments, cartilage and muscles. Collagen has many important functions, including providing your skin with structure and strengthening your joints and bones. The popularity of collagen supplements, though, leads to a lot of non-scientific hype and poorly-effective products. To get down to the bottom of what the benefits of collagen really entail, Haute Beauty expert Dr. Alina Sholar gives an in-depth explanation. Here's what she had to share:

What is collagen?

Collagen. It’s a buzzword you hear all the time in skincare product marketing. Builds collagen this. Boosts collagen that. I get more questions about collagen than any other topic. And recently so many have sent me messages about the usefulness of collagen supplements in particular. But what is it?

Collagen is a protein that occurs naturally in our bodies. It is actually the most abundant protein in the body! It's the main component that holds together and gives structural support to not only our skin but all the other tissues of the body. There are at least 16 different types of collagen, but our body mainly consists of types 1, 2, and 3. In most collagens, the molecules are packed together to form long, twisted fibers.

What about our own natural collagen?

As we age, we break down old collagen, we inactivate some collagen, our new collagen production slows, and our body makes poorer quality collagen. Although we each lose collagen at a different rate, there are certain principles when it comes to collagen “loss”, and let’s not forget about collagen’s contemporaries, elastin and hyaluronic acid. Starting around the age of 30, we start to see a slowing of new collagen output. There is also a shift in the dominance of the type of collagen that occurs as we age, where the more robust type 3 declines most dramatically, leaving much more inflexible and aged type 1 collagen dominating our skin and allowing wrinkles to form.

Essentially, our bodies are not able to replace the collagen we are losing as quickly as it is breaking it down. While age and hormone decline is are major factors, the environment and genetics also play a big part. Environmental factors include UV damage, smoking, and eating a diet high in sugar. Poor diet creates free radicals that increase the speed of collagen breakdown and sugar actually attaches to the collagen to make it brittle, thus causing “sugar sag” in the skin.

Real science or health hype?

Collagen supplements are manufactured from bovine, chicken, and marine sources. Collagen cannot be derived from plants. Most supplements are offered as hydrolyzed collagen, meaning that the manufacturer has broken the collagen down into smaller pieces known as peptides so the body can most easily absorb and use it. These supplements are available in powder, capsule, tablet, and liquid forms. Collagen powder is a favorite because it is flavorless and easily added to your morning coffee or smoothie.

Collagen supplementation has some researched-backed health benefits, but there is also some hype that isn’t based on evidence. Here are the true scientifically-sound benefits of collagen supplementation.

Skin Health 

Collagen supplements can help slow down the aging process by improving skin elasticity, aiding the skin in retaining moisture levels, and reducing wrinkles. A study in the Journal of Drugs and Dermatology reviewed previous studies and concluded that results are promising for use of oral collagen supplements for wound healing and skin aging. Oral collagen supplements also increase skin elasticity, hydration, and dermal collagen density. Research published in the Journal of Medical Nutrition and Nutraceuticals and the journal Skin Pharmacology and Physiology confirmed collagen supplements are beneficial to skin health. The study revealed women who took a collagen supplement containing hydrolyzed collagen, reported significant improvements in their skin's hydration and elasticity, as well as other biophysical parameters related to skin aging.

A similar study was conducted by the Department of Dermatology, University of Kiel, Germany. In this study, women took either a collagen supplement or a placebo over 8 weeks. At the end of the 8-week trial, the women who took the collagen supplement had higher skin moisture levels and improved skin elasticity.  Likewise, other studies demonstrate reduced skin roughness, improved texture, improvement in skin thickness and density, and significant improvements in elasticity.

To improve skin dryness and elasticity, one study showed results with 2.5 -5 grams of collagen per day. You can take this once or in divided doses, with or without food.

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Cellulite Reduction 

With 85% of women over the age of 20 suffering from cellulite, many supplements have been trialed to find one that will reduce the orange peel appearance of the skin. One study of women with moderate cellulite took a collagen peptide for six months. The study showed a significant decrease in the degree of cellulite and reduced skin waviness on their thighs. The study reported the collagen treatment worked in average weight and overweight women. Moreover, the dermal thickness was significantly improved compared to patients given a placebo.

Hair & Nails

While claims that collagen supplements can strengthen hair and nails have not been studied quite as extensively, there are still potential benefits. The Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology found that daily collagen supplementation did increase nail growth and improved brittle nails, along with reduction of nail breakage. This same journal contributed more to the research with a study that showed improved the appearance of hair, including an increase in hair thickness, speed of growth, and a reduction of breakage.

Bone Strength

Our bones are made up of collagen, too, and the collagen in the is lost as well, making bones weaker. One study revealed taking collagen and calcium supplements (rather than calcium alone) can help prevent bone deterioration. The combined supplement may also improve bone mineral density to reduce the risk of osteoporosis in postmenopausal women. Another study’s data demonstrated that the intake of specific collagen peptides increased bone mineral density (BMD) in postmenopausal women. In addition, collagen supplementation was associated with a favorable shift in bone markers, indicating increased bone formation and reduced bone degradation.

Muscle Mass

It’s no surprise with the decline in skin and bone density as we age, our muscles get weaker, too. One study of elderly men with sarcopenia (age-related muscle loss) were given collagen supplements while completing a 12-week exercise program. They gained significantly more muscle mass and strength than men who exercised alone. However, more research is required  to have a definitive answer on whether collagen supplements help increase muscle mass.

What to look for in a collagen supplement:

  • It should contain all five types of collagen I, II, III, V and X for maximum benefit.
  • Made from non-GMO, grass-fed, hormone-free, and cruelty-free sources of Hydrolyzed Bovine, Hydrolyzed Chicken, Pure Hydrolyzed Marine Collagen, Eggshell Membrane and Avian Sternum Collagen.
  • Must be Hydrolyzed for Absorption –collagens are hard to absorb, so hydrolyzed collagens have already been partially broken down for easier and faster absorption.
  • Powder, Capsules, or Liquid – choosing your preferred method is ultimately a matter of lifestyle and convenience.

Results are promising for the short and long-term use of oral collagen supplements for skin aging and more. Oral collagen supplements also increase skin elasticity, hydration, and dermal collagen density. Collagen supplementation is generally safe with no reported adverse events.

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