Collagen Supplements, do they really work?

Collagen, the new buzzword in the Medical Aesthetic industry, is gaining significant popularity due to the many health benefits you get from taking it in supplement form. Collagen is the body’s most abundant form of Protein and is found in our skin, joints, muscles, bones and tendons. There are at least 16 types of collagen, and 80-90% of them belong to type 1, 2 and 3 collagens. As we age, we see a dramatic reduction in the amount of collagen production. It makes sense then, that the idea of supplementing the diet with additional collagen is gaining traction in the medical aesthetic industry.
Collagen is the most abundant form of protein in the body and is made up of Amino acids glycine, Proline, Hydroxyproline and arginine. The benefits of taking collagen in supplement form to counteract the natural reduction of collagen in the body as we age, include the following:
1. Anti-inflammatory
2. Great for Gut health
3. Reduces joint pain and inflammation
4. Improves the skin by increasing hydration and reducing wrinkles
5. Could boost cardiovascular health
6. Could prevent bone loss
7. Could boost muscle mass

Collagen supplements can be taken and although there are mixed feelings about the clinical evidence to back up that they work, there does seem to be positive reviews about the multiple benefits of using a collagen supplement. Many people report that their skin looks better, that acne and rosacea improve and that their skin is more hydrated. Gut health is significantly improved which will have a direct effect on the health of the skin. Collagen has anti-inflammatory benefits which improve gut health and joint pain significantly. People have commented on the fact that their hair growth improves and that their nail strength improves. There are also no known side effects since collagen is naturally derived from animal sources.
Are all collagen supplements created equally? Are there specific things to consider? It turns out that both the source and means of harvesting is important, but also the type of collagen and whether it is in a supplement, powder or liquid form.
The bioavailability of collagen ingested is always the important question to ask. The highly acidic environment of our stomach is not particularly friendly to most supplements, but studies suggest that collagen can penetrate to benefit the body. Many questions remain about the fact that although we know collagen can be absorbed, we don’t know how can it magically be utilized by the body to benefit the skin or joints specifically? The answer is complicated, and not enough clinical evidence is available to explain its exact method of absorption and utilization. What we do know is that the combination of amino acids it provides can stimulate your own fibroblasts to make more collagen, which is perhaps the key to getting the best benefit from your supplement. Most collagen supplements taken in tablet form are slightly less bioavailable than liquid or powder forms. Powder forms are highly heat stable and can be mixed with any hot or cold beverage since it is tasteless. The source of collagen is very important. The source that you choose will depend on whether you are vegetarian or vegan, and whether there are ethical motivations that guide your purchasing decisions. Most of the collagen supplements on the market are derived from Bovine (cow), Porcine (pig), chicken or Marine (fish scales) sources.
There are plant-based sources of collagen but less evidence on their efficacy is available. Type 2 collagen derived from Bovine and chicken sources are particularly good for inflamed joints and conditions such as arthritis. Porcine is a highly controversial source of collagen, as there are many ethical and religious reasons why people will not ingest collagen derived from pigs. We also must consider the conditions that the animal is kept in before collagen harvesting takes place. It is important to take note if collagen supplements obtain their collagen in a sustainable way. For instance, if the animal is already deceased when the collagen is harvested and whether harvesting takes place from parts of the animal that would ordinarily be discarded as waste. Waste products need additional processing which can be harmful to the environment and utilizing every part of the animal is, therefore, more responsible. With bovine collagen, it is best to choose sources that come from Grass-fed or free-range animals, as there is less risk of the animals being pumped full of antibiotics and growth hormones. These antibiotics and growth hormones can be harmful to your health. Marine collagen is derived from fish scales and this is by far the most sustainable way of harvesting collagen. It also has a superior bioavailability, due to its smaller particle size. Marine collagen contains type 1 collagen, which is the same collagen that is found in the skin. This form of collagen is therefore perhaps the best form to use for skin related concerns.
Due to its large molecular size, collagen used in topical skincare product cannot absorb deep enough to affect real change in the skin, but it might be worth it to try a supplement and test the results out for yourself!

2 Replies to “Collagen Supplements, do they really work?”

  1. Great article! Which brand in South Africa offers the fish collagen mentioned? Would love to give it a try.


    1. Hi Janez!

      The real thing makes a marine collagen which I think is available from Dischem and faithful to nature. We absolutely love Vida Glow but it’s not yet available in SA. you can however order it online.

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