In recent years, all kinds of collagen and pseudo-collagen products have appeared on the market making it increasingly difficult for the consumer to know which brands to trust. Collagen supplements do work - you just have to know which ones to take! Here Dr Johanna Ward Founder of ZENii explains what you need to know.
Collagen is the most abundant protein in our bodies and plays a pivotal role in the structure and integrity of the skin keeping it tight and strong. Your body can make collagen but it’s a complex process and you need to produce a lot of it on a daily basis. In our youth any damage to collagen is quickly repaired and levels always remain high. But as we start to age our levels of collagen start to deplete and production slows down significantly.
As we get older, our collagen levels deplete and our natural ability to produce new collagen declines from the age of 25. By the age of 40 it is estimated that most people have lost about 20% of their collagen and during the first 5 years of menopause a further 30% is lost (collagen production plummets with oestrogen decline). Collagen decline will result in wrinkles, thinning bones, weak joints, thinning hair, brittle nails, leaky gut and can negatively impact on almost every aspect of our health. Any little boosts that you can give your skin can help considerably when it comes to collagen.
Of course the best way to go about it is to protect it in the first place. We can do this by living and eating well and adopting a proactive skincare routine, avoiding UV exposure, reducing dietary sugar and not drinking and smoking. These measures will help to protect the collagen that we have in our bodies but they will not help to boost our levels through renewed production. In order to get NEW collagen production we need to actively JUMPSTART our fibroblast cells back into action. Science has come a long way and we now have many clinically evidenced ways to bring our collagen back to life. If you care about your long term skin health them Listen Up!
Your body doesn’t make the collagen you ingest into new collagen. Instead it breaks it down into amino acids and then distributes them where it finds the greatest need. Some of these will then be used to make new collagen in your skin, but they could equally be directed to other places. Once the amino acids are absorbed by the gut into the bloodstream they have a dual action. Firstly, the free amino acids provide building blocks for the formation of new collagen fibres and secondly the collagen peptides bind to fibroblast receptors to stimulate the production of new collagen, elastin and hyaluronic acid.
Fibroblasts are the cells in the dermal layer of the skin that are responsible for your skin’s collagen production. Fibroblasts became reactivated in response to signals from your body. The ingestion of a carefully formulated hydrolysed collagen supplement will actively communicate and signal to your fibroblasts cells to get them back into PRODUCTION MODE. They work by tricking the body into thinking it has been damaged. This then gets signalled to the fibroblast as a need to ‘repair’. So the fibroblasts gets to work creating new collagen in the process of ‘repair’. As a result your skin is flooded with new collagen cells and gets stronger, tighter and tauter. Thats why taking a daily collagen supplement will keep your skin, hair, nails, joint and bones in an ACTIVE production mode. There is no harm doing this and a lot to be gained. Supplementing collagen is completely safe and very effective. In the long term you will be pressing a powerful PAUSE button on your body’s natural ageing process and you will hold your body and its tissues in youthful mode.
Benefits of collagenHigh collagen levels in the skin enhance structural strength in the dermis creating firmer skin with better texture. Improving collagen production in the skin also helps reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles and helps to boost intracellular hydration. Who doesn’t want that?! Collagen supplements also help to improve hair strength via improved keratin, improved nail strength and improved joint and bone strength. Collagen supplementation (alongside Vitamin D3 and calcium) is clinically evidenced to improve bone density and reduce osteoporosis.
Collagen supplements work by stimulating the body’s own collagen synthesis by activating dermal fibroblasts. This triggers an increase in the body’s natural collagen levels through the process of neo-collagenesis (NEW collagen formation). A good collagen supplement will contain high levels of the skin specific amino acids Proline, Glycine and Hydroxyproline. These three amino acids are the building blocks of the Triple Helix of Collagen. If you don’t have good levels of these three amino acids in your body then your skin will never be strong and radiant. Proline, Glycine and Hydroxyproline are the most important amino acids for skin health and are found abundantly in all ZENii collagen supplements. Hydroxyproline is also clinically evidenced to stimulate an increase in dermal production of hyaluronic acid which helps the skin maintain its intracellular moisture.
How much collagen should I take per day?The ideal dose from clinical trials is 10g (10,000mg) of hydrolysed collagen per day. At this dose oral collagen has been clinically proven to reduce the rate at which our own collagen breaks down, improve the skin’s innate collagen production and improve skin hydration and healing.
The best formulations couple oral collagen with vitamin C (ascorbic acid) as this helps to make it more bioavailable. Alternatively you can use your powder in with juices and smoothies that naturally have vitamin C in them. Vitamin C is a co-factor for collagen production so it’s the ideal co-ingredient. Other formulations will couple hydrolysed collagen with hyaluronic acid, vitamins, minerals, MSM and antioxidants for a complete all round anti-ageing effect. Try ZENii Skin Fusion for a complete anti-ageing drink.
In clinical trials daily hydrolysed marine collagen supplementation (10,000mg) was found to:
- Reduce fine lines and wrinkles
- Improve skin hydration
- Improve skin elasticity
- Stimulate new collagen production
- Improve skin luminosity
- Reduce inflammation
Types of collagen
There are many different types of collagen (at least 16) but the most important type for skin health is Type 1 collagen. Type 1 is the most abundant protein found in humans and vetebrates . Type 1 is also the strongest type of collagen and gram for gram is stronger than steel. If you are looking for a hair, skin & nail collagen supplement then it needs to be Type 1 with high levels of the skin specific amino acids Proline, Glycine and Hydroxyproline.
Collagen I: This is the most common form of collagen in the human body and accounts for 90 per cent of human collagen. Type I is considered the key matrix building protein in our skin which gives it structure and firmness. It is also the end product when skin heals and repairs.
Collagen II - is found mainly in joints and cartilage. It is the basis for hyaline and articular cartilage and supplementation of Type II collagen may help arthritis.
Collagen III: Babies and children have a lot of this type of collagen. It is also found in fast growing tissue, especially in early stages of wound healing. It’s replaced later by Type I.
Leaky gut responds well to Type 1 collagen supplementation. That’s because your intestinal wall is made up of microscopic folds or “villi” which are actually built of collagen. The amino acids in collagen quite literally, “seal the leak” or perforations by supporting cellular health and tissue growth.
Your bones are 30% collagen, which gives them their flexibility. Your bone cells are constantly turning over and collagen has been shown to support both health by increasing bone mineral density
Powder, liquid or capsule?Collagen can be supplemented in powder, capsule or liquid form but research shows that the most bioactive way to take collagen is in liquid form. This is because we need to supplement high levels of collagen for good effect. The clinically evidence dose for skin improvement with collagen is 10,000mg per day. In capsule form this would mean you have to take up to 20 capsules a day (to get the right dose!) which is just not realistic so liquids are the preferred method for effective supplementation. Powders can be mixed into water and juices so that they become liquids so they are also suitable for use.
Collagen is a stable protein so it can be cooked to high temperatures without being destroyed. This means that you can add it into your morning coffee, tea or porridge or use it to bake in savoury muffins or breakfast pancakes and it will still be bioavailable. So you can your collagen into any of your favourite recipes and it will still give your skin a wonderful boost.
Hydrolysed collagen:It’s important to look for hydrolysed collagen as it’s a process that plays a key part in how effective your supplement is. Hydrolysis is a process whereby collagen is broken down into small peptide chains that make it more bioavailable – ie easier for your body to absorb and use. Hydrolysed collagen is thought to be the only kind of collagen that can impact the skin positively and it’s what the clinical trials and data support. So choose a brand that properly prepares the collagen in this way.
What food sources do supplements and powders come from?
Collagen is usually made from bovine sources (from cow bone and cow by-products such as connective tissue and cartilage) or marine sources (from fish scales that would otherwise be discarded). Some are made from genetically modified yeast or bacterial sources (the commonest one is from the bacteria P Pastoris) and are therefore marketed as ‘vegan’ but they aren’t true collagens because collagen is, by definition, an animal product.
Marine collagen is thought to have the best effect because of its high bioavailability. It is also less likely to transmit any diseases from the animal source. Bovine collagen has fallen out of favour because the bovine protein is notoriously difficult to ‘clean up’ so there is the potential risk of infections like CJD (albeit a small risk).
You should look for a supplement brand that tests all batches for heavy metals and certifies them free from mercury, cadmium and hormones. A good collagen supplement will be made to pharmaceutical standards and will be manufactured under GMP (Good Manufacturing Practice) codes. Look for a GMP logo on the product. They should also avoid using GMOs and avoid using any inflammatory ingredients that are harmful to the body or gut. At ZENii we test and certify every batch heavy metal and toxin free and we only use marine collagen from freshwater sources.
UsageThe skin has a natural renewal cycle of 30 days. Every 30 days old skin cells die and slough off and are replaced with brand new cells. As with any new ingredient in your skincare routine it can take 30 days to see the effects of your collagen supplement. Your collagen supplement can be taken at any time of the day but if it has added vitamins like the fat soluble vitamin’s A and D then its best to take the supplement with food to aid absorption.
What’s the difference between collagen powder and protein powder?There are 20 different amino acids that can form a protein. Of these there are nine that the body can’t produce on its own. These are called essential amino acids and they need to be consumed daily in the diet.
Protein powders are different to collagen powders. Protein powders tend to be complete proteins - this means they contain the nine essential amino acids of the human body and they have a completely different purpose. We cannot make essential amino acids so they need to be taken daily in the diet. A complete protein contains the nine essential amino acids in roughly the same amount, so protein powders are great for post workout recovery and for helping to build lean muscle but they aren’t going to help prevent wrinkles and improve skin elasticity.
In collagen supplements, the amino acid profile is different. Collagen supplements are high in amino acids that are generally missing in protein powders. Collagen powders contain non-essential amino acids but the ratio is skewed towards glycine, proline, and hydroxyproline. Proline, glycine and hydroxyproline form the triple helix of collagen and are fundamental to the skin’s integrity and health. They are also very powerful anti-inflammatory amino acids so they help to calm any internal inflammation. The amino acid glycine combines with glutamine and cysteine to create glutathione, the body’s most powerful antioxidant. Glutathione is known as the body’s MASTER antioxidant - it powerfully helps to protect and defend the body against cellular inflammation and neutralises toxic free radical damage. You don't ever want to be deficient in your master antioxidant! So collagen supplements help to us replenish our master antioxidant too. That’s a Win Win.
Do we not get enough of the ‘collagen’ amino acids in our diet?The simple answer is no. Collagen is hard to come by in the modern western diet because it has typically been removed from today’s diet. Very few people still consume bone broth or eat organ meats like our ancestors once did. That’s why a supplement can be really helpful because, as we know, collagen production declines from as early as our mid 20’s. Taking a daily supplement with high in glycine, proline and hydroxyproline will deliver the basic amino acid building blocks for the tissues to continue to produce collagen PLUS they will signal for NEW collagen production.
Should I bother with collagen creams?Collagen in skin creams is poorly regarded by the scientific community because collagen is too large a molecule to penetrate into the skin and have an impact on skin quality. What collagen skin creams can do is moisturise and hydrate the skin (by reducing water loss or by binding water) and they seem to do this well. But there is no scientific evidence to show that they have any effect on our actual collagen quality or quantity. That’s why we need to ingest collagen as a supplement rather than lather it on our skin.
Clinical Evidence:Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology ‘Collagen supplementation for skin health: A mechanistic systematic review’ Meisam Barati et Al 2020 Nov:19(11): 2820-2829
Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology 14 291-301 Asserin J, Lati E, Shioya T, Prawitt J. ‘The effect of oral collagen peptide supplementation on skin moisture and the dermal collagen network’
Skin Pharmacol Physiol ‘Oral supplementation of specific collagen peptides has beneficial effects on human skin physiology; a double blind, placebo controlled study’ E Proksch et Al 2014: 27(1): 47-55
Nutrients 2018 Jun 26:10(7):826 ‘Oral Intake of Low Molecular Weight Collagen Peptide Improves Hydration, Elasticity and Wrinkling in Human Skin: A Randomised Double Blind, Placebo Controlled Study’ Do-Un Kim et Al
Journal of Dermatological Treatment Wich Sangsuwan et Al ‘Four weeks daily intake of oral collagen hydroxylate results in improved skin elasticity, especially in sun exposure areas: a randomised double blind, placebo controlled trial’ Feb 2020
Current Medical Opinion and Research Volume 24 2008 Issue 5 ’24 week study on the use of collagen hydroxylate as a dietary supplement in athletes with activity related joint pain’ Kristine L Clark et Al