Are Collagen Supplements Worth it?

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I’ve been getting sooooo many questions from my old lady friends about how to keep their skin from a’ sagging. Specifically I’m asked about supplements that can make people look as youthful and wrinkle-free as I do (sarcasm). The marketing folk behind collagen supplements must be out-of-this-world geniuses, because my friends don’t even ask me IF they work anymore. They just ask, “Lana…WHICH COLLAGEN SUPPLEMENTS SHOULD I BUY?” To which I respond, “Duh…none of them you old bat.”

Image result for old lady meme

Short Attention Span Sum Up

  1. There isn’t any quality evidence showing that collagen supplements do anything other than provide your body with additional protein.
  2. Collagen is a type of protein. Your body digests proteins into their teeny, tiniest parts known as amino acids (AAs). AAs that come from collagen are the same structurally as AAs that come from meats and dairy. SORRY.
  3. Your body makes collagen on its own. To simplify a complex process, your body needs the AAs lysine and proline, as well as vitamin C to build it.
  4. Overall: Eat protein and vitamin C from FOODS to support the body’s ability to make collagen and save your money folks!

Let’s get into the details for those of you who aren’t lazy and still like to read. Thank you to the two people who actually read this.

Protein and Digestion

Ok so…let’s talk about digestion for two reasons. 1. So you can understand why collagen most likely doesn’t have any magical power beyond other protein sources. 2. You should know about how your body works for crying outloud! It’s freaking awesome!

Let’s say you just munched and swallowed a meatball. First, your teeth angrily stomp it down into mushy meat-pieces. Then it rides the esophagus waterslide into the acid pool of death known as your stomach. The stomach starts doing weird, wavy, dance-like muscle contractions to continue breaking down the protein bits whilst utilizing hydrochloric acid (HCL) to “denature” the protein. This is just a fancy, nerd-term for unravelling the proteins so enzymes can attack them. Below are the different protein structure types, starting with the simplest form and ending with the most complex.

Your small intestine is a big ol’ lazy baby when it comes to absorbing large items. Therefore it counts on the breakdown of proteins, carbohydrates, and fats before receiving them. Therefore, your teeth, stomach, HCL, and enzymes break down proteins from big ol’ behemoth quaternary structures (seen below) eventually into itty, bitty AAs.

Ok whew. Soooo…this is why collagen, unless its AAs have some uber magical power we’re unaware of, will not have a different effect on your body than ingesting other types of proteins. Collagen has not been observed to somehow bypass this whole process and arrive in whole form to support your saggy skin areas. Make sense? Hope so, cuz it will save you a pretty penny.

How Collagen is Made

I’m telling you, the collagen supplement thing is OUT OF CONTROL. Do me a favor and google “collagen” to learn more about it. Click on images, and you will NOT see a cool image about the molecular structure of collagen. Nor will you see the mechanism of how collagen is made. NOPE. What you will see is rows upon rows of collagen supplements for sale. Sweet baby quokkas.

Protein in general is great for you. It aids in tissue repair, supports the immune system, and acts as the bricks for building everything in your body. Collagen is a protein, found mostly in skin, muscles, ligaments, and tendons. I’m about to SUPER simplify how collagen is made… So if you want to be super sciencey and get into details, you can read further by clicking on this text, or you can watch this guy who is AMAZING by clicking on this text. I’m going to skip all that and use one of my analogies. So let’s…talk…twizzlers (and I totally stole this analogy from my professor who stole it from someone else).

To start, your body makes collagen strands from AAs. Imagine that the twizzler above is a lone collagen strand. On it’s own, it’s easily breakable, you can bite into it super easy, and it’s weak. However, if complex reactions that require enzymes and vitamin C occur, this weak little chain can eventually form cross-links with other collagen strands to make it bigger/stronger/faster/more gooder. It goes from looking like one strand of a wimpy twizzler to a bunch of these puppies twisted all up in each other’s business, bound together to promote strength and flexibility. Kinda like the image below:

Image result for twizzlers pull and peel

And that’s what you want to keep your skin all bouncy and firm! Your joints and muscles strong yet flexible! So to sum up, collagen is made of AAs and requires vitamin C to become a big strong bundle to make your skin firm. How important is vitamin C in this process? A deficiency can lead to scurvy, which is characterized by bleeding gums caused from the reduced ability of the body to form these connective tissues.

Summation

  1. Your body breaks down proteins to AAs. Then the body uses those AAs to make new proteins, such as collagen.
  2. Collagen is broken down into AAs when eaten just like any other protein.
  3. Your body makes collagen from AAs and with the necessary help of vitamin C.
  4. Of the few studies showing benefit from collagen supplements, they had small sample sizes, were mainly conducted by companies selling collagen (shocker), and any benefits observed may have been from placebo effect or from overall increased protein intake.

My final thoughts are these: If you’re lazy, busy, don’t like to cook, have a disposable income, and/or hate the taste of foods that provide protein, feel free to purchase your collagen supplements. They are simply a more expensive version of any other protein supplement. If you have experienced amazing results from taking collagen with no adverse effects, by all means continue! Not my business… Otherwise I say, SAVE YOUR MONEY. You’re paying for convenience, not magical results. Increasing your protein and vitamin C consumption through whole foods will get you the same results, while also delivering all other types of important nutrients and phytochemicals.

  • Protein sources
    • Beef
    • Poultry
    • Fish
    • Dairy
    • Tofu
    • Legumes
    • Nuts and nut butters
    • Peas, spinach, corn, asparagus, etc.
  • Vitamin C sources (in order of highest concentration)
    • Guava
    • Bell pepper
    • Kiwi
    • Strawberries
    • Oranges
    • Papaya
    • Broccoli