Research limited on collagen peptides
Wednesday, January 10, 2018
Q I got a text from a patient this morning that said, “It seems that collagen peptides, packets that you would add to any liquid, are the going thing. Would I benefit from using such a product?” I think it sounds like an expensive protein supplement. Do you have any info on that? Thanks. — Dr. J
A Catherine Thriveni, a third-year Brody medical student, found your question challenging and wanted to give you a clear answer. Here is what she wants you to know.
You may recognize the word “collagen” from the variety of anti-aging health and beauty products displayed at the drugstore: anti-wrinkle face creams, skin-firming body lotions, lip-plumping glosses. Collagen injections are also commonly used to smooth face lines and enhance thinning lips. It’s as though this substance contains the essence of the fountain of youth. But a recent trend involves collagen as a dietary supplement, taken as capsules or as a powder that can be mixed into beverages. You may be wondering what this new fad is about and what the potential benefits are.
Collagen is the most abundant protein in the human body. It strengthens muscles and bones, and it keeps joints working smoothly. It also provides elasticity that makes skin firm and smooth. Our bodies’ natural collagen stores decrease with age, and this process can be made worse by sun damage, smoking and air pollution. Loss of collagen manifests as wrinkles, face lines, joint pain and muscle soreness. Some medicines like NSAIDs interfere with healthy collagen production in the body, so it’s best to avoid long-term use of NSAIDs if you don’t need them.
The type of collagen some people, including actress Jennifer Aniston, are currently raving about is called hydrolyzed collagen. It is derived from the bone and cartilage of cows, pigs and fish. The collagen is then broken down into amino acids — the building blocks of protein that are more easily absorbed in the body — and made into a powder. This powder can be mixed into beverages such as coffee and smoothies.
It’s also marketed as a protein supplement because a two-scoop serving contains about 18 grams of protein. However, it’s worth noting that this is incomplete protein because it does not contain all the amino acids needed by the body. Hydrolyzed collagen is also sold as capsules to take daily. Some of the benefits these products claim include glowing skin, shiny hair, strong nails and healthy bones and joints. But how true are these claims?
Regarding the benefits to skin and nails, some studies document positive results. In a 2014 study published in Skin Pharmacology and Physiology, women took 2.5 grams of a brand name oral collagen peptide supplement once a day. After eight weeks, researchers measured a 20 percent decrease in the depth of wrinkles around the women’s eyes, and that difference was clearly visible. In another study with similar supplementation, women’s fingernails grew 12 percent faster than before. These women also reported fingernail breakage decreased from 10 times a month to six times a month after 24 weeks of treatment.
The effects on joint health are also noteworthy. In 2012, researchers examined the effect of taking a 10 mg daily dose of an oral collagen supplementation on the pain levels experienced by five female patients with osteoarthritis. Four of five women reported their pain dropped an average of 26 percent after 42 days of supplementation. It is useful to note that patients in studies of pain often experience a placebo effect.
But the research is still limited, and it remains unclear exactly how collagen supplementation improves skin, nail and joint health. Some researchers suggest the peptides are easily absorbed, make their way to the skin and nails, and help produce new collagen. Those who study joint health believe collagen supplements reduce inflammation. Clearly, much more research is needed to determine if the results of these small studies can be replicated.
There are a few things to be wary of when considering collagen peptide supplementation. As with any supplement, these products are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration.. Because these supplements are mostly derived from animal bones, which can be a source of lead, it’s possible they contain heavy metal contaminants. However, there is not much evidence to suggest these powders are a risk for heavy metal exposure.
Nevertheless, it is important to choose a supplement checked for contaminants by a credible third-party consumer safety group, like NSF. Also make sure you’re not allergic to eggs or any other ingredients in powder. The habit can also become a bit pricey since it takes four to eight weeks to see any benefit and it seems like you would need to continue to take the supplements. One brand, for example, offers two weeks’ worth of supplement for $25; some are even more expensive. Using the supplement regularly may get to be expensive.
If you are interested in trying a collagen supplement for two to three months, the health risks appear to be minimal, and there may be benefits. Discuss this with your doctor or dietitian before beginning. Some skin experts say if you’re trying to keep your youthful glow, stick with what research has proven works: a healthy diet, sun protection, anti-aging moisturizer, adequate water consumption and no smoking. It is likely that if collagen supplements work you would need to take them long term. At this time, we don’t know if taking the supplements long term has good, bad or indifferent effects.
Professor emeritus Kathy Kolasa, a registered dietitian nutritionist and Ph.D., is an Affiliate Professor in the Brody School of Medicine at ECU. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.