Collagen supplements can be used to improve skin elasticity and some people find they help with osteoarthritis. Find out how to take them safely and possible side effects.
What is collagen?
Collagen is a protein that is made naturally in your body. It makes up almost one third of your total body protein. It provides structural support and helps you to move and have strength.
There are many different types of collagen in your body. The most common types are type I, II, or III. Each one has a different job. Type I builds skin, bones, tendons and ligaments. Type II helps to make cartilage, the flexible tissue between bones and in your ears and nose. Type III helps create muscles and blood vessels.
What can cause low collagen levels?
Collagen is continuously breaking down and being made again. As we get older it’s normal for collagen to be broken down more quickly than it is made. In places like the skin, it loses strength as we age and this causes our skin to appear less firm as we get older.
Apart from aging, three main things that lower your collagen levels are sunlight, smoking and sugar. Too much exposure to ultraviolet light makes collagen fibres loose. This can lead to sun damage, such as wrinkles. Many of the chemicals in cigarette smoke can damage it, which can make your skin sag and wrinkle. Sugar causes the fibres to cross-link and tangle. This makes your skin less elastic over time.
Can you measure low collagen levels?
No, it’s not possible to measure your body’s collagen levels. Physical symptoms are the only measure of low collagen. See your doctor if you think you have symptoms of low collagen such as joint paint. Your doctor can check if your symptoms are due to another condition like osteoarthritis.
How to increase your collagen levels
You should be able to get enough collagen from your diet. A healthy and varied diet, as well as exercising, stopping smoking and sun protection measures are important for having enough collagen in your body – especially as you get older. A collagen supplement may be useful if you are not able to change your diet.
Which foods provide collagen?
Protein rich foods provide a good source of collagen. These include meats like bones, red meats (eg, lamb, beef, pork), and white meats (eg, poultry, fish, shellfish). Egg white, marine algae, beans, legumes and spirulina are also sources of collagen. Read more about protein.
Vitamin C is essential for your body to make use of the collagen in your diet. Fresh fruit and vegetables including citrus fruit, berries, kiwifruit and beetroot, are rich sources of vitamin C.
The mineral copper is also important for your body to produce collagen. Natural sources of copper can be found in shellfish, nuts (eg, cashews), grains and seeds, and fruit and vegetables including avocado, chickpeas, sweet potatoes, mushrooms and tofu.
Your body is able to absorb (make use of) collagen from natural food sources more effectively than from manufactured foods or supplements.
What collagen supplements are available in Aotearoa New Zealand?
- Oral (by mouth) collagen supplements are available in many different forms including powder, capsules, tablets, gummies and liquid.
- In Aotearoa New Zealand, collagen is not registered as a medicine.
- The oral form of collagen that is best absorbed by your body is collagen hydrolysate (also known as hydrolyzed collagen).
- You can find collagen supplements in pharmacies, health shops and supermarkets.
- Many collagen supplements are derived from animals such as cows, pigs and fish or other seafood but some are vegan. If you have a religious or dietary requirement, check the product label.
- If you are considering taking supplements, get advice from your pharmacist or doctor first. Read the manufacturer's instructions for the dose you need to take and any special instructions.
Do collagen supplements work?
Not all collagen supplements are created equally. Unlike medications, collagen supplements do not need to be approved by the medicines regulatory organisation in Aotearoa New Zealand called Medsafe. This means that manufacturers can sell supplements simply with “claims” of safety and effectiveness.
Some of the uses of collagen are listed below.
Collagen supplements may reduce pain and improve joint function if you have osteoarthritis however trials show mixed results.
The use of oral collagen supplements in skin aging appears promising – especially if you are over 50 years of age and use it for longer than 2 months. Results show increased skin hydration, elasticity and dermal collagen density which improves skin texture and strength. Using collagen creams on your skin is unlikely to have any anti-aging effect because it is poorly absorbed by the skin. It’s better to take an oral collagen supplement and protect your skin from the sun using sun protection measures.
Eczema and dermatitis
There is not enough evidence to say that collagen works for treating eczema and dermatitis.
What are the side effects of collagen?
- The information on this is very limited.
- Diarrhoea (runny poos), tummy ache, a bad taste in the mouth, headache, dizziness, difficulty sleeping and rash have been reported.
- People with any allergies or sensitivities to certain animal sources (eg, fish) or who may have sulphite allergies should not take collagen supplements that contain these ingredients.
- Rarely, liver problems have been reported.
- For oral doses, limited evidence suggests that collagen hydrolysate in doses of up to 10 grams daily for 6 months is safe. However more studies are needed in this area.
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There are no known interactions of collagen with medicines.