Should Women Take Collagen Supplements?

nutrition supplements Sep 15, 2022
Collagen fiber

Collagen is the current darling of the wellness industry. It can benefit a lot of women, but not all supplements work the same.

More women (and men for that matter) are interested in collagen supplements than ever before. Weightlifters believe they can enhance muscle mass. Athletes want them to protect their joints. Many women I talk to add collagen to their coffee or morning oatmeal in hopes of maintaining strong hair, elastic skin and to prevent wrinkling. But does it work?

The answer, as is so often the case, is it depends. First let’s define what collagen is. Collagen is your most abundant protein, making up one-third of your body. Its main role is to provide structure and framework for your tissues, especially bone, connective tissues, cartilage, muscles, and skin. Your body produces collagen naturally and you can also get collagen through food, especially meat, fish, bone broth, and egg whites (there are no vegan food sources of collagen) and/or supplements. 

Our collagen production slows down early in life. After age 20, we produce about 1 percent less collagen each year. By age 40, we start losing about 1 percent of our collagen a year. By the time we hit age 80, we’ve lost about 75 percent compared to when we were young.

Are Collagen Supplements Beneficial?

Collagen supplementation has some solid research supporting its use. A 2022 research review published in Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care reported that, when paired with resistance training, collagen peptide supplementation may help promote connective tissue recovery, decrease pain, and improve strength and body composition. Similarly, another 2022 systematic review of 19 studies reported that the use of collagen-derived peptides has promising clinical implications for the prevention and treatment of tendinopathy (though more research is needed). 

In postmenopausal women, supplementing with specific collagen peptides (SCP) may be beneficial for bone health. One 2018 study of more than 100 postmenopausal women with age-related reductions in bone mineral density found that 12-months of supplementation improved bone mineral density in the hip and spine, and SCP supplementation was associated with increased bone formation and reduced bone degradation. 

Though collagen hasn’t been clinically shown to support hair growth or reduce thinning or loss, a study published in Clinical Pharmacology & Biopharmaceutics reported that collagen supplements (specifically peptides of hydrolyzed collagen) taken with collagen boosting micronutrients A, C, E, and zinc improved skin elasticity and structure in a group of women ages 40 to 60.

How to Choose the Collagen Supplements

What gets lost in the mainstream discussions on collagen supplementation is that collagen isn’t just one thing. There are many types of collagen that play different roles in the body. The three main types you see in supplements are type I, type II, and type III. Type II is associated with joint cartilage, and types I and III are associated with skin, tendons, and ligaments.

There are also different forms of collagen supplements. Native collagen is the full collagen molecule. Native collagen is too large to be absorbed through the gut; it works by triggering an immune response that reduces the degradation of your tissues. Collagen peptides are smaller, broken-up fractions of the native collagen molecule, which makes them easier to absorb. Hydrolyzed collagen is the same as collagen peptides, hydrolysis is the process in which full-length collagens are broken down into collagen peptides.

There is no vegan form of collagen. You can, however, buy vegan collagen boosters, which are products that contain ingredients that boost your natural collagen production, including vitamin C, zinc, copper, amino acids, silica, and pre and probiotic fiber to enhance the gut microbiome.

Before you buy any collagen supplement, it’s worth asking yourself why you want to use it. If you’re interested in preventing cartilage breakdown, you’ll have the best results with native type II collagen with type II peptides. If you want to provide building blocks for collagen in your ligaments and tendons, type I and III peptides are going to be your best choice. You can also stack collagen products. For instance, I recommend using one to 10 grams of collagen peptides with 10 grams of native collagen.

It may take time to feel the effects. Give it six months for maximum effect. Remember, to nourish your body with antioxidants, protein, and micronutrients, your body needs to build collagen as well.

If you want to learn more about Collagen, I have made a Microlearning course on that.

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