What’s the hype with collagen?

By Chené Vorster, RD(SA)

Collagen is the glue that holds us together. No really – it is derived from the Greek word “kólla’, which translates to glue. Collagen is the most abundant protein that we find in the human body, but it is not a complete protein. It plays some important roles in our bodies, such as giving some structure to your skin; being a building block for bones, muscles, tendons and ligaments; as well as assisting in immune function and wound healing. There are various types of collagens in our body and each of them plays a different role, for example:

  • Type I collagen accounts for +- 90% of the body’s collagen and provides structure to our bones, connective tissues, skin, tendons and teeth.
  • Type II collagen is found in elastic cartilage and thus helps to cushion our joints.
  • Type III collagen supports muscle, artery and organ structure.
  • Type IV collagen assists in filtration and is found between the layers of your skin.

As we grow old, our body gradually loses its ability to produce good quality collagen. This often results in wrinkles, fine lines and dry skin. It has thus been suggested that we use collagen supplements to support our body, but we can also just be more diligent about how we feed our bodies to optimize collagen production. We don’t need to consume collagen to make collagen and we don’t actually know which type of collagen is best for consumption.

Here are some ways to increase your collagen production:

  • Make sure to consume sufficient calories.
  • Make sure to consume a variety of good quality proteins. The amino acids needed to form collagen is found in various proteins and plant-proteins.
  • Vitamin C assists in collagen synthesis. Be sure to eat a variety of fruits and vegetables!
  • Stop smoking as smoking can prevent the synthesis of collagen and it also increases your need for vitamin C.

Collagen supplements are broken down to allow for easier absorption, but there is limited evidence that inform us which broken-down collagen proteins will be used by the body to make collagen. Hydrolyzed collagen does contain a specific amino acid that assists with collagen production, and can be beneficial if your diet lacks a variety of protein. So, it can be beneficial if you know that your diet lacks variety and quality of some foods. There is no harm in supplementing with collagen at all! If you feel that collagen might be something you need, talk to your dietitian and carefully consider your budget and reputable brands.

References:

  1. Bolke L, Schlippe G, Gerß J, Voss W. A Collagen Supplement Improves Skin Hydration, Elasticity, Roughness, and Density: Results of a Randomized, Placebo-Controlled, Blind Study. Nutrients. 2019;11(10):2494. Published 2019 Oct 17. doi:10.3390/nu11102494
  2. Santa Cruz, J., 2019. Dietary Collagen — Should Consumers Believe the Hype?. Today’s Dietitian, 21(3), p.26.

About the author:

Tanya has been providing dietary guidance since 2009 as a registered dietician licensed in South Africa. Her goal is to help patients understand the connection between diet and diagnosis for improved nutritional well being.

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