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September 20, 2019

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Collagen craze: Exploring the health and beauty trend du jour

Extrinsic aging

Skin may seem tough, but it’s vulnerable to your lifestyle. Together, these factors — exposure to sun, exposure to pollution, high-sugar diet, smoking and stress ‚ thicken the skin, cause “age” spots and drive exaggerated losses of elastin and collagen that result in noticeable skin changes.

Intrinsic aging

Each year after we turn 20, we produce about 1 percent less collagen. The skin becomes thinner and more prone to wrinkles, as the body also makes less elastin and doesn’t function as well in terms of oil and sweat glands over time.


These can be fine lines or deeper furrows, often exacerbated by facial expressions that are repeated over many years (i.e., the vertical parallel lines that can occur where the brow knits together in thought).

Nasolabial folds

Smile or laugh lines are actually folds of skin along the sides of the nose extending to the corners of the mouth. Aging causes these folds to both deepen and lengthen with loss of fat and collagen.

Human skin is a marvel. The body’s largest organ protects and holds everything else together, regulates temperature and alerts the brain to some of the most important sensations. But as we age, our cells break down, and the environment gets its own licks in. Some people cherish their wrinkles as stories of their lives, while others endure surgeries, injections and expensive product regimens to stave them off.

While firm, dewy skin also needs amino sugars (hydration) and a protein called elastin (elasticity and rebound), collagen is key. It’s the main structural protein in a range of connective tissues, providing plumpness and protecting against stretching. So lacking it does a lot to age a person, especially in the skin of the face.

That’s why collagen recently became the new “it” supplement, and not just in terms of what it might do for how we look.

What role does collagen play in youthfulness?

The appearance of the epidermis, or surface skin, depends heavily on the deeper dermal layer. Connective tissue cells called fibroblasts create the dermis’ structural integrity by producing collagen and other fibers, and the amount and quality of what they produce can be negatively affected by two types of aging.

Does eating collagen translate to better skin?

Yes and no. Collagen throughout the body’s connective tissues is the result of a complicated synthesis of amino acids. These acids come from all kinds of proteins that are broken down during digestion, and the body doesn’t distinguish those that come from collagen-rich food. However, research published in Clinical Interventions in Aging in 2014 observed formulated collagen peptides (amino acid compounds) being densely distributed to the dermis after ingestion.

What are other purported benefits of supplemental collagen?

• Gut health: The internet is loaded with blogs trumpeting the miracles of gut healing that can happen through collagen supplements, but you won’t find links to research. Despite that void, some nutritionists think there’s validity to the idea that collagen’s amino acids could address intestinal permeability, also known as “leaky gut.”

• Joint health: Some studies have shown a reduction in activity-related joint pain known as osteoarthritis, though more research is needed.

Breaking down a daily dose of collagen

Whole foods

The goal is to look for foods that support healthy levels of collagen, from the raw materials to the replacement of depleted stores:

• Leafy green vegetables high in vitamins B and E

• Citrus fruits high in vitamin C

• Fish and meat high in omega-3 fatty acids

• Beans and seeds high in phytoestrogens

• Orange produce high in vitamin A

• Gelatin


• Collagen supplements are made from animal (cow, chicken, fish) and plant collagens. They can be liquid or powder that can be added to food or drink. More and more specialty protein bars also include them.

Collagen products are not closely regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, but lifestyle website Well + Good offered three fundamentals to keep in mind when shopping:

• If you can’t see or taste it, it’s pure. Premium collagen supplements should dissolve into water without adding color or flavor. If you see a tint of yellow or brown or taste anything off, these are signs of lower purity and potency.

• A little goes a long way. At least it should. If a product calls for you to take more than 2.5 grams per day, that’s a red flag that the quality is lacking. Another is if your stomach reacts badly to the supplement.

• Look for products backed by science. And not just in terms of what is generally known about collagen. Some brands have invested in research to test the efficacy of their specific products. Indications should be on the packaging.

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