In­gestible col­la­gen is be­ing hailed as a hero for ev­ery­thing from your tum to your train­ing. But, how le­git is it? WH sorts the re­al­ity from the hype

Women's Health Australia - - FRONT PAGE - By Alex Davies

I throw my usu­als in the blender: ba­nana, zuc­chini, spinach, al­mond milk, nut but­ter. Then I grab a small sa­chet of col­la­gen – the lat­est ad­di­tion to my pantry – and sprin­kle in the pow­dered con­tents. Yep, I’m spik­ing my smoothie with the same stuff that’s been a stan­dard in­jectable filler in the cos­metic world for decades.

Once re­served for beauty-cir­cle chat, col­la­gen is fast be­com­ing a well­ness sta­ple for devo­tees cred­it­ing it for a soothed gut and bol­stered work­outs as well as glow­ing skin. Don’t fancy it as a pow­der in your blend? Then munch on a col­la­gen bar, brew a col­la­gen cof­fee or even sip on a bot­tle of wa­ter packed with the stuff. But be­tween the mar­ket­ing speak, new sci­ence and the fact not all ex­perts are drink­ing the col­la­gen-in­fused Kool-aid, a big ques­tion re­mains: is the hype worth buy­ing into?


Anna La­hey clocked the trend six years ago on a hol­i­day in Ja­pan. “Women there have been us­ing ma­rine col­la­gen for over 300 years,” says the Syd­ney-based en­tre­pre­neur. “It’s part of their daily diet: peo­ple go to a res­tau­rant and ac­tu­ally have their meal in­fused with col­la­gen; they go to their su­per­mar­ket or the equiv­a­lent of 7-Eleven and col­la­gen’s avail­able; they go to the gym and there are col­la­gen drinks on of­fer. We just didn’t have any­thing like that in Aus­tralia back then.”

Cu­ri­ous, she brought some pow­der home from her trip and saw “amaz­ing” re­sults over a year of us­ing it her­self – stronger nails, bet­ter skin and a re­duc­tion in the hair loss she’d strug­gled with since her teens. Af­ter wax­ing lyri­cal about this new won­der prod­uct to friends and fam­ily, La­hey co-launched a ma­rine col­la­gen range – Vida

Glow – into the Aus­tralian mar­ket in 2014. (The brand now ships world­wide and claims to have an 80 per cent re­peat cus­tomer rate.)

Dr Nick Bitz, chief sci­en­tific of­fi­cer for US sup­ple­ment brand Youthe­ory, which makes col­la­gen prod­ucts, agrees East Asia is lead­ing the charge. “Ja­pan and South Korea are light years ahead of other mar­kets when it comes to col­la­gen foods, sup­ple­ments and cos­metic prod­ucts,” ex­plains the natur­o­pathic doc­tor in our email ex­change. “The US isn’t too far be­hind and [...] other global mar­kets are now see­ing an in­flux of col­la­gen­re­lated prod­ucts, due in part to the in­flu­ence of so­cial me­dia.”


Let’s back­track for a mo­ment and look at col­la­gen in its nat­u­ral home – you. It’s the most abun­dant type of pro­tein in your body. “Col­la­gen’s role is to act as a bit of a scaf­fold, so it pro­vides struc­ture to dif­fer­ent fea­tures,” says Chloe Mcleod, an ac­cred­ited prac­tis­ing di­eti­tian and sports di­eti­tian. “For ex­am­ple, it’s found in car­ti­lage, which is be­tween our joints; it’s found in ten­dons and lig­a­ments; [and] in the mem­branes and things around our or­gans to help keep things in the right place.”

You can also thank col­la­gen for your skin’s firm­ness and that Hi­lary Duff glow you’re rock­ing (or were a few years ago, any­way). “Col­la­gen fi­bres are very tightly packed to­gether in young skin, so when the light hits our skin, it bounces back very quickly to give off that glow,” Dr Anita Pa­tel, spokes­woman for the Aus­tralasian Col­lege of Der­ma­tol­o­gists, tells me. “As our col­la­gen gets older it be­comes more frag­mented, so the light is ab­sorbed into the skin and we have the per­cep­tion that our skin looks duller.”

There are at least 28 dif­fer­ent types of col­la­gen in the body (it’s mainly type 1, 2 and 3 you’ll hear about), but Mcleod adds, “They all have very sim­i­lar struc­tures and

func­tions.” It’s this all-star line-up of func­tions that sees us clam­our­ing for col­la­gen-boost­ers – and brands ea­ger to sell them to us.

As with a wed­ding menu, take your pick: meat or fish? Prod­ucts are made us­ing ma­rine or an­i­mal (bovine, poul­try, porcine) col­la­gen, but Bitz rec­om­mends not get­ting too hung up on that. “Col­la­gen is col­la­gen is col­la­gen. It’s fun­da­men­tally the same pro­tein re­gard­less of which an­i­mal it’s de­rived from. To date, there are no stud­ies show­ing that one an­i­mal source is bet­ter than an­other, so it re­ally just comes down to per­sonal pref­er­ence.” Sim­i­larly, he notes, “Most peo­ple have heard that types 1 and 3 are found in the skin, and type 2 is found in the joints. While this is tech­ni­cally true ... as long as you are con­sum­ing ‘hy­drol­ysed [bro­ken down to aid ab­sorp­tion] col­la­gen’ you’re get­ting the same amino acids that your body needs to re­pair and re­build all types of col­la­gen through­out the body.”


Have your sci­ence hat on? It was a study pub­lished in The Amer­i­can

Journal of Clin­i­cal Nutri­tion in

2017 that got sports pro­fes­sion­als re­ally ex­cited about col­la­gen. In a col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween US sci­en­tists and the Aus­tralian In­sti­tute of Sport, eight healthy male sub­jects were given ei­ther 5g or 15g of gelatin (a col­la­gen source) en­riched with vi­ta­min C (this sup­ports col­la­gen cre­ation) or a placebo con­trol around their work­outs. Re­searchers saw im­proved col­la­gen pro­duc­tion in those who took the gelatin, con­clud­ing that “ad­ding gelatin to an in­ter­mit­tent ex­er­cise pro­gram im­proves col­la­gen syn­the­sis and could play a ben­e­fi­cial role in in­jury preven­tion and tis­sue re­pair.”

Dr Do­minique Condo is a sports di­eti­tian and lec­turer at Deakin Univer­sity. She also works with the Gee­long Cats Foot­ball Club and the WNBL Deakin Mel­bourne Boomers, and rec­om­mends hy­drol­ysed bovine col­la­gen to re­hab­bing ath­letes – a 15g dose (as per the study) mixed with fruit juice or any liq­uid an hour

be­fore ex­er­cise. “Bas­ket­ballers are of­ten more prone to ACL [an­te­rior cru­ci­ate lig­a­ment]-type in­juries,” she says. “I put a cou­ple of play­ers on [col­la­gen] last sea­son reg­u­larly, and they re­ported re­ally no­tice­able dif­fer­ences in the way they felt from a day-to-day pain and com­fort per­spec­tive. It’s re­ally dif­fi­cult to pin­point and say [col­la­gen is] what’s mak­ing the dif­fer­ence, be­cause we try new things all the time ... but I think it’s a re­ally nice piece of the puz­zle.” And she sees no rea­son why it wouldn’t give us mere mor­tals some sup­port, too.

Mcleod adds that while it’s not con­crete, the pre­lim­i­nary re­search on col­la­gen is ex­cit­ing. “I now rec­om­mend it on a very reg­u­lar ba­sis to ath­letes or peo­ple with joint con­di­tions be­cause it may have a pos­i­tive im­pact and, be­cause there’s no harm [in it], why wouldn’t you?”


As for whether in­gested col­la­gen trans­lates to a hap­pier gut and skin, the jury’s still work­ing through the ev­i­dence. The gut-heal­ing rep stems from its con­tent of amino acids, which may sup­port and help re­pair the in­testi­nal wall (hence why bone broth has such street cred). But, while the the­ory makes sense, says Mcleod, there’s not a lot of good-qual­ity re­search to back it. And the skin-boost­ing claims? Try this: in a 2014 study of 69 women by Ger­many’s Univer­sity of Kiel, those who took oral col­la­gen showed sig­nif­i­cantly im­proved skin elas­tic­ity af­ter eight weeks com­pared with oth­ers on a placebo.

Pa­tel isn’t sold, though, ar­gu­ing the proof just isn’t there. Mean­while, Dr Joanna Har­nett, a lec­turer in com­ple­men­tary medicines at the Univer­sity of Syd­ney, agrees there are stud­ies on col­la­gen use, but “over­all there is in­suf­fi­cient ev­i­dence for ef­fi­cacy and safety.” Her ad­vice? Sup­port your stocks through diet and life­style (think pro­tein, fruit, ve­g­ies, pro­tect­ing your­self from the sun and not smok­ing).

If you are go­ing to sup­ple­ment, pri­ori­tise qual­ity. On that note, Bitz sug­gests ask­ing a brand for the molec­u­lar weight of the col­la­gen it uses (this pre­dicts how hy­drol­ysed it is – he rec­om­mends look­ing for below 5000 dal­tons) plus which coun­try it’s from (Chi­nesederived col­la­gen can be “wildly un­pre­dictable and ques­tion­able from a pu­rity stand­point”).

As for me, I’ll stick with my new smooth­ies. The col­la­gen may not be a dead cert, but there’s no deny­ing the emerg­ing sci­ence and sto­ries are in­trigu­ing. If that pow­der could do my train­ing and joints some good – and give me a side of glow­ing skin to boot – then I’m to­tally down for down­ing that.

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