Collagen is a protein that provides structure and strength to cells, tissues, tendons, bones, ligaments, cartilage and skin. It forms in sturdy bundles and ropes called collagen fibres, working alongside keratin to keep skin youthful and wrinkle-free. Collagen is the main component in all connective tissues and it is what keeps joints cushioned and muscles strong. According to an article in the British Journal of Dermatology (Vol 93, Issue 6), as we age we lose collagen, which accounts for thickness and density of the skin. Women also have lower amounts of collagen than men at all ages. Collagen supplements promise to not only restore skin's elasticity, but relieve joint pain, build lean muscle, reduce fat and rejuvenate hair and nails.
As we age, the body's natural resources gradually wane, creating a host of problems from poor eyesight to brittle bones. Perhaps the most noticeable sign of ageing is wrinkled and sagging skin, especially on the face. Collagen supplements, in theory, should smooth away wrinkles by providing better elasticity and thickness to facial skin. Until recently, the only way to supplement with collagen was by injection, where it would pass directly into the bloodstream. Now collagen injections are still used, but as dermal fillers for lines such as crow's feet. Collagen supplements are available on the market in pill form; however, there is little evidence that they actually work to restore the youthful appearance of skin.
The effects of collagen on joint health are well known and well documented. In an article in Science Magazine (Vol 261, Issue 5129), a study on using collagen to cure rheumatoid arthritis concluded that collagen decreased swelling and tenderness of joints, as well as the pain associated with the disease. The surprising fact was that four subjects experienced complete remission. Collagen supplementation is a popular way to manage the pain and swelling of normal ageing, as well as diseases such as arthritis.
Naturally occurring collagen helps with weight loss by building and maintaining lean muscle, while reducing body fat. Lean muscle is important in weight loss because it increases your basal metabolic rate (BMR), meaning that you burn calories at a faster rate when not exercising. There are companies marketing collagen supplements as the next weight-loss miracle; however, none of these companies have any real scientific evidence to back up their claims, especially since collagen supplementation in the form of a pill has not yet proved to be effective. In the study in Science Magazine, the oral supplementation was in the form of a food product (chicken collagen).
Hair and Nails
Natural collagen plays a role in the appearance of hair and nails, replenishing shine and thickness. Considering that they are actually extensions of your skin, it makes sense that collagen would affect both the elasticity and strength of your hair and nails. Collagen supplements claim to support the growth and repair of nails and to restore the radiance, vitality and volume to hair. Some even claim to reverse the greying process or promote hair growth for thinning hair, but all of these claims are unsubstantiated.
The dosage for collagen supplementation varies, depending on your needs and reasons for taking the supplement. For youthful skin, the recommended daily dose is 5 to 6g, taken in conjunction with vitamin C. Vitamin C is essential in collagen production; according to Roger J. Williams in "Nutrition Against Disease," the body cannot manufacture collagen at all without the aid of vitamin C. For joint health and arthritis, the dosage is a bit higher at 5 to 10g a day, with the primary goal of reducing swelling and pain. Alpha lipoic acid is recommended in combination with collagen as a powerful antioxidant, as it has been known to reduce the inflammation associated with rheumatoid arthritis.