By Grace Ingram
There is no shortage of shiny statements in mainstream media about the benefits of collagen supplements. “Gut healing”, “beauty-enhancing” and “youth restoring” are all claims that you’ve likely heard many times before – but how much is true?
What is collagen?
Let’s start with the basics. Collagen is a protein that is made up of over 1000 amino acids. It accounts for approximately 1/3 of the protein in the human body. Collagen can be found in lots of places in the body but is most abundant in the skin and extracellular matrix (a web of molecules surrounding your cells) (1).
How do collagen supplements actually work?
Tricky marketing and media can give the impression that collagen ingested in a powder or tablet will go right to your skin and settle in. This isn’t quite right.
Collagen is a protein made up of strings of many amino acids (the building blocks). To be absorbed in the gut, collagen must be broken down into singular amino acids, or tiny segments of a few amino acids.
By the time they are absorbed into the blood, these amino acid building blocks cannot ‘remember’ that they used to be part of a collagen protein. They are directed around the body to wherever they are needed most, which may or may not be for collagen formation.
What does the evidence say?
An array of research exists investigating the effects of collagen. Unfortunately, evidence can be blurry as many studies are industry-funded, so take these findings with a grain of salt.
Skin aging occurs when skin becomes slack and wrinkled due to a loss of elasticity. Skin elasticity is highly dependent on collagen density, so less collagen = more wrinkles (2). Studies found that supplementing with a minimum of 2.5g/day