The Collagen Craze
Breaking it all down.
By Chelsea Vincent
Wondering why collagen powder has popped up at your favorite smoothie bar? Read on for the scoop on this trending supplement!
People like to look good. Period.
We spend money on services like facials, face rejuvenating regimens, and laser treatments. We eat superfoods and drink tonics. We sweat it out in a hot exercise class or in the steam room, all in the name of staying fresh and dewy-faced. Like the saying goes, “When you look good, you feel good.”
Collagen has gained popularity over the last few years—you’ve probably seen it everywhere from the smoothie bar to grocery shelves—as a new addition to the “youthful you” kit. So, what is all the hype about?
What is Collagen?
Known by some as a lip injection material for those seeking a perfect pout, you may not realize that we already have collagen in our bodies.
Collagen is actually the primary protein behind the skin’s structure. It also exists in other connective tissues in our bodies, as well as in other animals. Basically, collagen gives structure to—and even repairs—your nails, hair, skin, tendons, ligaments, and bones. Think of it like the glue that holds you together.
If you’re looking to up your anti-aging regimen, collagen may be the ticket. Short-term studies show that regular, ongoing collagen consumption—generally speaking, eight or more weeks— improves skin hydration, collagen density, and skin elasticity, in addition to reducing wrinkles and possibly reducing the appearance of cellulite (in women of normal weight).
Beyond these impressive results, collagen has also been shown to improve brittle nails and bone density, and preliminary studies have shown it may be able to reduce pain associated with arthritis. Additionally, in combination with weight training, collagen helps reduce muscle loss due to aging.
Collagen comes from various sources. Predominantly, the main options on the market use ingredients from cows, fish, chicken, turkey, and/ or eggshells. The bones of these animals contain collagen, so they are ground up and turned into more readily edible options, which can then be consumed by people and broken down into usable amino acids.
You can take collagen as a pill, a powdered addition to your favorite drink or smoothie recipe, or you can enjoy a candy-like chew. Make sure to opt for products whose ingredients are antibiotic-free, cage-free, and free-range sources. (Side note: as someone who has used collagen supplements in the past, I can say that I personally saw a big difference in the strength of my hair and nails, depending on the quality of the ingredients. You get what you pay for sometimes!)
And if you’re more inclined to go the all-natural, lab-free route, you may be able to derive many of the same benefits by using bones from chicken, beef, or fish to whip up some homemade stock or bone broth in your kitchen. (Nothing like a good broth-making party, right?)
Who Should Take It
Unfortunately, as we age, our bodies break down collagen at a faster rate, meaning we run into a bit of a deficit (thus the sagging skin and wrinkles). Particularly for those in their mid-twenties and beyond, muscle loss is a natural part of aging—even with regular resistance training. Collagen supplementation may be able to help.
Our joints can also start to “dry out,” in a way, from a lack of collagen both due to aging and high use. Preliminary findings indicate that those with a high involvement in sports or activity may be able to reduce joint pain by supplementing with collagen, affecting joint comfort both during exercise and everyday activities.
And, of course, even if you’re not looking for muscle or joint relief just yet, collagen can help give back some self-confidence, as far as appearance goes. If you have brittle nails, weak hair, or tired-looking skin, collagen can help create stronger nails, longer hair, and more plump, youthful-looking skin. Plus, it’s certainly cheaper—and less invasive—than fillers or other cosmetic procedures.
Overall, while there are thousands of supplements on the market, initial studies around collagen indicate some exciting applications. Combined with proper sleep, exercise, and nutrition, collagen seems poised to elevate how you look and feel, both inside and out.