The Grapevine

Does Collagen Really Help Us Stay Young?

Collagen has been part of the beauty regimen of women for centuries, especially in China. People believed eating protein from fish and animal parts, like pig’s feet, shark fins and donkey skin, could give smoother skin and reduce the effects of aging.  

More Americans are also starting to notice the effects of collagen. Over the past years, numerous companies have introduced new forms of the product, from injectables to edible collagen, according to WebMD.

Studies associated consumption of collagen to better skin health, improved arthritis symptoms, faster wound healing and lower risk of muscle wasting. With the growing number of the product available on the market and the evidence of its health benefits, consumers in the U.S. are expected to spend $293 million on collagen in 2020, according to market research firm Nutrition Business Journal. 

Around the world, the company estimated that collagen market may grow to $6.5 billion by 2025. However, some experts expressed concerns with the growing use of the animal product.

“It’s definitely among the top three products people ask me about, and I believe it does hold promise in some diverse areas of medicine,” Mark Moyad, director of complementary and alternative medicine program at the University of Michigan Medical Center, said. “It’s also one of the most wacky and controversial.”

Collagen serves as the “glue that holds the body together.” The body loses 1 percent of natural collagen every year when people reach mid-20s and the figure grows to 30 percent during the first five years of menopause, according to Whitney Bowe, a dermatologist based in New York. 

People may see the effects of collagen if ingested. Studies showed that the body does not absorb the animal protein well when injected or applied on the skin. 

“Just in the last few years, there have been some impressive studies showing that ingestible collagen can indeed impact the appearance of skin,” Bowe, author of “The Beauty of Dirty Skin: The Surprising Science of Looking and Feeling Radiant from the Inside Out,” said. 

One research in 2014 showed that women who took 2.5 or 5 grams of collagen daily for eight weeks had better skin elasticity even at ages 35 to 55. Another study found at least 1 gram per day of a chicken-derived collagen supplement could help reduce skin dryness by 76 percent and visible wrinkles by 12 percent. 

A 2019 review of eight studies suggested that short- and long-term use of oral collagen supplements may boost wound healing and slow down skin aging. However, many studies that explored the benefits of collagen were either small, partially funded by industry or missed the potential impact of ingesting animal-based protein. 

“I think the elephant in the room here is safety,” Moyad said. “We are talking about ground-up fish, chicken, pig and cow parts, and these parts tend to act as sponges for contaminants and heavy metals.”

Dermatologists and consumer groups shared the same concern. They said ground-up hooves, hides, bones and nerve tissues, particularly those from cows, may transmit diseases to humans, such as bovine spongiform encephalopathy, also known as mad cow disease.

collagen Studies associated consumption of collagen to better skin health, improved arthritis symptoms, faster wound healing and lower risk of muscle wasting. Pixabay

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