Every so often, a new supplement gains popularity as the next big thing in beauty. Right now, collagen peptides are making waves and causing a lot of debate in the medical community. Some believe the promises that taking collagen peptide supplements result in youthful skin, shinier hair, and stronger nails, joints, and bones, as well as other benefits. Others believe that’s all hype. But there is some evidence that, although collagen peptides certainly aren’t magic pills, they may reinvigorate collagen production in the body.
What Is Collagen?
Before we dive into the debate, it’s important to understand what collagen is and what it does. Collagen is the most abundant protein in the body, found in our muscles, skin, blood, bones, cartilage, and ligaments. Here’s how it’s broken down:
- Bones: 90 percent
- Tendons: 85 percent
- Skin: 75 percent
- Ligaments: 70 percent
- Joint Cartilage: 70 percent
- Tendinous Muscles: 6 percent
Collagen is made up of amino acid chains – proline, hydroxyproline, and glycine, as well as more than 1,000 other amino acids – that twist into a helix formation. That helix provides collagen with the strength it needs to support certain roles and functions in the body, including:
- Skin elasticity
- Strong bones and muscles
- Organ protection
- Joint and tendon structure
The body naturally produces collagen, but in our 30s, collagen production begins to slow down and steadily decreases as we age. Our skin becomes dull and starts sagging, fine lines and wrinkles increase, hair and nails become brittle, and our joints start tightening and aching.
Some lifestyle habits can cause collagen to decrease even more rapidly, such as smoking, sun exposure, and an unhealthy diet.
Collagen Peptides: Do They Work?
Over the past few years, there’s been an insurgence of collagen peptide supplements that claim to reinvigorate the body’s production of collagen. While these supplements are not made of pure collagen, they are made up of some of the same properties. Collagen peptides are sections of collagen that broke off from the original collagen helix. They are made up of much shorter amino acid chains than pure collagen, which allows the peptides to be absorbed into the bloodstream.
The supplements are available in pill form and powders that you can add to beverages and food. Most collagen peptides are hydrolyzed and are derived from cattle, poultry, and marine life. Then they are soaked in an alkaline or acid solution, which breaks down the peptides and makes them safe for human consumption.
The theory is that after absorption, the peptides travel throughout the body, repairing and rejuvenating the skin, bones, muscles, and joints. But is this true?
The belief is that the peptides stimulate production of new collagen in the body. This is somewhat accurate and somewhat debatable. Essentially, they may trick the body into thinking that natural collagen is breaking down, so the body produces more. This is yet to be proven, but there’s certainly no harm in taking the supplements.
There have been studies over the past few years that show some evidence that collagen peptide supplements may do what they claim.
Skin elasticity and aging. A 2014 study of women aged 35-55 showed that the women who had taken a collagen hydrolysate supplement had an improvement in skin elasticity within four weeks and a decrease in wrinkles after eight weeks, as compared to the women who only took a placebo.
Joint pain and bone health. A 2009 study, in which participants took a type II chicken-derived collagen supplement for 90 days, showed that the participants’ osteoarthritis symptoms decreased by 40 percent and that any remaining symptoms decreased in severity by 33 percent.
Muscle mass and weight. A 2015 study of 53 older males with age-related loss of muscle mass showed an increase in fat loss and muscle strength, compared to the placebo group, after 12 weeks. In this study, collagen supplements were combined with resistance training.
Cellulite. Another 2015 study suggests that type I collagen can decrease the appearance of cellulite. In the study, 105 women aged 24-50 took collagen peptides for six months and saw a clear improvement in skin texture.
Digestive health. There are no relevant studies on this issue, but the current theory is that taking collagen supplements can build up the tissues that line the gastrointestinal tract and promote better gut health.
While the benefits of collagen peptide supplements are still being debated, there is no evidence to suggest that taking the supplements does any harm, and the evidence that they may benefit the body is promising.
Dr. Hawayek is a board-certified and fellowship-trained Dermatology and Cosmetic Dermatology specialist at Kelsey-Seybold’s The Woodlands Clinic. Her clinical interests include general medical and surgical Dermatology, Botox, facial fillers, chemical peels, sclerotherapy, and skin cancer.