Collagen can now be stirred into your smoothie and coffee, but do these drinks really live up to their anti-ageing claims?
Our bodies are teeming with collagen that gives our bones strength and our skin elasticity while replacing dead skin cells to keep us looking fresh.
But as we age, we deplete our stores of the restorative protein, leaving us to seek out an alternative source.
Collagen injections have been a popular anti-aging procedure for decades, but now many companies are marketing the youth-restoring stuff in everything from powders to pill, serums and, now, smoothies.
Collagen occurs naturally in the skin, giving it youthful elasticity and strength
As part Healthista’s March anti-ageing special, Vanessa Chalmers asked the experts which ones might really work.
‘Peanut butter is the glue that holds my body together,’ is a favorite quote of ours at Healthista. But if we’re talking scientifically, it’s collagen, from the Greek word for ‘glue’ that actually makes up 30 percent of our bodies’ protein structures.
It’s found in our muscles, bones, joints, and tendons and because collagen contributes to healthy hair and strong nails, and makes up to 75 percent of our skin, it’s long been the top dog in the pursuit of a more youthful look.
Even more so because the body’s production of collagen starts decreasing from our mid-20s by about one percent per year.
But if we take the word of a growing number of supplements now available on the high street, the reduction of fine lines and wrinkles could be as simple as adding a scoop of flavored powder to your morning smoothie. Or even your coffee. Sound too good to be true? We thought so too, so we asked the experts.
Do collagen supplements work?
What isn’t so new is collagen supplements in the form of capsules and one of London’s leading dermatologists Dr Stefanie Williams is a fan.
At her clinic, Eudelo Dermatology & Skin Wellbeing, she often recommends a three month course to patients to support cosmetic treatments as well as taking it herself.
The body easily absorbs collagen supplements for quick rejuvenation, Dr Stefanie says
‘A good collagen supplement can boost your own skin’s collagen production’, she says. ‘Natural collagen is too huge a molecule to reach your skin intact after swallowing,’ she explains.
‘To be absorbed by the gut, it would have to be digested into smaller units. Collagen supplements contain small collagen fragments – peptides and amino acids – which are easily absorbed by the small intestine and distributed throughout the body via the bloodstream, where they remain for up to 14 days.’
Studies do show an improvement to skin with the supplementation of collagen
It’s not possible to reverse ageing (but the way science is going, who knows what miracles are on the horizon – that’s one thing millennials can look forward to).
However, there are some studies that do show an improvement to skin with the supplementation of collagen.
In a double-blind placebo-controlled study on over 100 45- to 65-year-olds, researchers concluded there was a significant reduction of eye wrinkles in those who took a collagen supplement (called Verisol) daily for eight weeks, compared to those who took a placebo. And the effects continued four weeks later.
A similar study assessing ‘skin elasticity, skin moisture, transepidermal water loss and skin roughness’, found positive results, and a significant increase in ‘collagen density, skin firmness and nasolabial fold depth’ with the daily use of Pure Gold Collagen for 60 days.
How does collagen work in the body?
Looking at the collagen market is a minefield – or should I say a menu at a restaurant.
Marine collagen from fish claims to improve skin firmness in eight weeks, while Dermacoll,used by Dr Stefanie Williams, is made of cattle cartilage called bovine.
Our skin responds by increasing its own collagen production
‘Because there are suddenly unusually high amounts of collagen building blocks floating around, your skin is tricked into thinking there must be some breakdown – a major injury, perhaps,’ says Dr Williams.
‘Skin responds by increasing its own collagen production conveniently using the building blocks we’ve supplied,’ she says.
Some experts aren’t so convinced, such as London anti-ageing doctor, Dr. David Jack.
‘I was once told by a sales rep for one of the brands that “the presence of the hydrolyzed collagen tripeptides in the blood tricks the body into thinking it is in an anabolic state, so it releases growth factors to boost collagen levels in the skin.” I’ve tried to research this and can’t find anything whatsoever to support it so I suspect it is just based on someone’s wild guess,’ Dr Jack says.
What’s more, according some experts, if you’re looking to improve the skin specifically, you won’t get very far.
‘If it is the case that these growth factors essentially stimulate a fibrotic reaction in the body, then why would it just be the skin? Would it not happen in muscle and other tissues too?’, asks Dr Jack.
Well, incidentally, a lot of these products rave that their collagen product could also soothe achy joints, improve gut health, and enhance athletic performance, too.
Collagen, like all other protein, is broken down during digestion, according to Maira Silva, a graduate of Biochemistry from Kings College London.
‘Collagen is not absorbed AS collagen, it is broken down into amino acids,’ Silva says.
‘But it does provide the constituents required to synthesize more collagen in the body. Not much is required because our own collagen is recycled but a small amount can help since some is always lost.’
Vida Glow is one of the latest trendy collagen powders that can be added to a coffee or shake
What are collagen drinks?
If you’re looking at labels of powdered collagen supplements, chances are you’ll come across the word ‘hydrolzsed’.
Broken down into smaller units, this type of collagen has become popular because it can be dissolved in both hot and cold liquids. Collagen coffee, collagen soup, or collagen smoothie, anyone?
Not only are these powders easier to use, they’re also easier to digest, according to Silva. ‘Collagen is a fibrous protein (rather than a globular one) and so digestion of its native form is difficult.
Hydrolyzed collagen on the other hand (also called gelatin), a by-product of collagen hydrolysis, is a much better form of collagen to be ingested because it’s simply easier for the body to deal with.’
Do be aware though, we are talking about a a product that comes from cows, chickens, fish and other animals, so if you’re vegan, it’s not for you.
By blending your sachet contents with your favorite smoothie or water, the collagen remains stable in liquid
Dr Anita Sturnham, GP and dermatologist, agrees. ‘In order for collagen in a supplement form to be active in the deeper dermal layers of the skin, the collagen has to survive the acid digestion in our stomach and then cross the intestinal barrier in our gastrointestinal tract, before it can reach the bloodstream.’
‘Absorption studies confirm that within six hours of reaching the blood stream, 95 percent of the collagen has left the blood stream and can be found in the dermis, the layer of the skin where peptides are actually needed and where they can get to work to stimulate remodeling’, she says.
Pills and tablets have an absorption rate of 20 to 30 percent in comparison, according to marine collagen-makers Vida Glow.
‘Pills and tablets can take up to 40 minutes for the body to breakdown’, they say.
Another difference between powder forms and capsule supplements is the ‘bioavalibility’, or ‘freshness’ to you and me.
‘By blending your sachet contents with your favorite smoothie or water, the collagen remains stable in liquid for approximately 30 minutes, which is why pre-formulated liquid collagen is unlikely to be bioactive’, says Dr Sturnham.
Vitness Berry Boost is a fruity-flavored powder you can add to a beverage
Not just a fishy drink
What these new sachet drinks do offer are a much more glamorized version of the common supplement.
Up until now, a drink supplement has most often come as fishy-flavored granules thrown back in a shot.
But Vitness now do berry and matcha flavors which are rather pleasant, especially added to nut milk for a sweet milkshake, for about $55.
What’s more, they are bursting with added vitamins and minerals such as astaxanthin, hyaluronic acid, acai berry, raspberry, maca, green coffee bean and vitamin C, which have been shown to promote healthy skin.
‘There are a lot of nutrients inside of these drinks which are good building blocks for collagen’, says Dr Maryam Zamani, a leading oculoplastic surgeon and aesthetic doctor.
‘However most people who do take a collagen drink are also those who eat better, exercise and generally look after themselves, so its hard to say whether it’s the drink that’s doing that or a combination of many different lifestyle choices’, she says.
Do collagen drinks work? The jury’s out
If such supplements have such promising effects, dermatologists must be handing them out at their clinics, right?
They aren’t locating the places you want them to work, like the neck, décolletage and hands
Dr Maryam Zamani, dermatologist
‘I personally don’t sell them in my clinic because they aren’t enough good clinical trials that are definitive’, says Dr Maryam Zamani.
‘Even with the randomized testing it’s difficult to be able to differentiate the changes irrespective of other outside factors such as stress, hormonal fluctuations, lifestyle choices such as smoking and drinking and the sun [and it’s effect on the skin]. These aren’t necessarily accounted for.’
Taking collagen orally has ‘minimal if any effect and very temporary’, says Dr Nick Lowe, a renowned London dermatologist.
‘They aren’t locating the places you want them to work, like the neck, décolletage and hands where women usually find they are ageing. That’s my scientific rationale.’
Injections of your own platelets deliver the collagen directly to problem areas
What may work for targeting that, albeit at a far heftier price, is the use of a new cosmetic treatment called PRP – Platelet Rich Plasma, which Dr Nick Lowe has been using for a couple of years.
Original collagen injections made from protein and connective tissues from cows fell out of favor a few years back due to dodgy side effects and injections were taken off the market.
But PRP uses your own platelets in your blood plasma which contain high levels of growth factors and stimulate the skin cells to produce more collagen.
‘That’s also used to very successfully to increase hair growth in specific types of hair loss. If you correctly protect and maintain the skin, it can last a year or more.
‘The good thing about it is the results look natural because you’re not injecting anything like volume fillers. Production of your own collagen gradually ages so it’s a very natural appearance.’
How can you boost collagen naturally?
The new drinkable skincare regimens can put you out $48 plus for a months supply, which isn’t great news if you were already trying to cut back on your Starbucks morning coffee.
When it comes to the extortionate ones, skeptical Dr Jack says, ‘Why spend $276 per month on what a simpler supplement [such as vitamin C] would do for less?’
Although the evidence that ingesting collagen has a positive effect on wrinkles and fine lines is ‘not convincing’, the evidence for foods and vitamins is, says anti-ageing nutritionist Rick Hay.
‘Don’t overlook the foods and vitamins which we have good research on. You may be better off taking ingredients that stimulate collagen production rather than straight collagen which may not directly impact on more formation’, he says.
‘Vitamin C has a really positive effect on collagen cross-linking’, says Rick Hay, nutritionist. ‘It becomes like a mesh which plumps and lifts the skin’. And a vitamin C-packed orange will only cost you the change in your pocket.
Hay delves more into the fruit bowl. ‘Blueberries, raspberries, macqui berries and strawberries are filled with polyphenols and anthocyanidins, powerful antioxidants that can help fight free radical damage on the skin’s surface’, he says.
‘Bitter orange and bilberry have, as the name suggests, a bitter quality. Skin health is linked to digestive health, digestive function and regularity, and the bitter qualities of foods such as these will help promote a healthy liver and gallbladder function, resulting in better fat metabolism and toxin elimination which means the skin won’t need to work as hard.’
Dr Jack, adds, ‘I really don’t think it’s of any benefit taking collagen in supplements over a good protein with a wide spectrum of amino acids’.
Or what easier way than making sure you’re eating enough amino-acid high protein such as salmon, chicken, steak or plant-based sources (quinoa and soy products provide all of the essential amino acids).
Collagen and lifestyle
Diet and genetics are only part of the collagen puzzle. Other lifestyle factors including smoking and high amount of sun exposure contribute to depleting collagen levels, and ‘air pollution can age you by ten years’, according to Dr Daniel Glass, leading Harley Street Dermatologist from The Dermatology Clinic. ‘If you are looking to slow down the ageing process, I would recommend that you protect your skin from excessive skin damage and pollution’.
If you are tempted by the collagen supplements, Dr. Glass recommends, ‘the smaller collagen molecules are more effective, but this is difficult for a consumer to identify.
Therefore, I would suggest picking a supplement whose effectiveness is demonstrated in published clinical trials.’
Those that are successfully clinical trialed have a ‘gold standard dose’ anyway, according to Dr. Williams.
Therefore, ‘my recommendation is 10g per day, that is 10,000mg. There are countless collagen drinks on the market, many of them too low in dose that contain, in my opinion, less effective types of collagen. it’s also important to make sure the product is not stuffed with sugar or artificial sweeteners.’
Otherwise, we can only have faith in face yoga, slatherings of SPF, hydration and a healthy diet.