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Are Collagen Supplements a Fountain of Youth?

It’s no secret that as we age, many of us try to reduce and slow the signs of aging. Whether it’s with diet, exercise, vitamins, or more aesthetic means, such as Botox and plastic surgery, it’s no wonder anti-aging is a big business.

One of the latest anti-aging trends is the use of collagen supplements. Everyone from Kim Kardashian to Jennifer Aniston swears by them, saying they have transformed their skin. Although it may all sound well and good, we asked Bryan Kuhn, a clinical pharmacist and poison information specialist with Banner Poison & Drug Information Center, if collagen supplements are really safe for our bodies.

What is collagen?

“Collagen is one of the most abundant proteins found in our bodies that is a component of connective tissues and skin,” Dr. Kuhn said. “Often called the body’s scaffolding, it’s what keeps our skin looking tight and plump and helps maintain strong joints.”

Collagen is rich in glycine, proline and hydroxyproline, the amino acids that help your body make new collagen. As we age, however, collagen production begins to decline, making us more prone to wrinkles and even things like joint discomfort and pain.

While we get collagen peptides in our normal diets from things like animal products, citrus fruits and certain vegetables, we don’t seem to get enough. So, it is safe to wonder: Could taking a collagen supplement improve your health and slow the signs of aging? Is it a fountain of youth or just a fad?

Do collagen supplements work?

Going by several names, including collagen peptides, hydrolyzed collagen, and collagen powder, collagen supplements all work by breaking down the amino acids in collagen into smaller molecules, making it easier for our bodies to absorb, digest, and distribute throughout our bodies.

Although research on side effects and long-term benefits is ongoing, Dr. Kuhn says the evidence is pretty promising.

“Everything that I’ve read has supported the fact across a wide dose range for various uses, collagen can help improve skin elasticity, general perceived joint pain reduction and exercise tolerance,” he said. “But the extent to which you will see the benefits is really patient-dependent.”

Which form is best?

As you can imagine, collagen in its pure form isn’t easily tolerated or digested, so it must go through a process called hydrolyzation, which breaks it down into a smaller, digestible powder. Once hydrolyzed, oral collagen supplements can be dissolved directly in things like smoothies, water, soups and coffees, or placed in capsules and swallowed.

“Whether you choose pill or powder, basically your body does the same thing—breaking it down into amino acids,” Dr. Kuhn said. “And what your body absorbs is then taken up by the various cells that then incorporate amino acids into bone, ligaments, or structural areas that require collagen.”

“It’s a pretty benign dietary supplement,” Dr. Kuhn said. “In certain people, minor GI or abdominal discomfort may develop, but overall collagen peptides don’t seem to pose a significant health risk.”

Look for third-party certification

If taking a collagen supplement sounds like something you—and your skin—could benefit from, make sure you find a credible third-party to ensure it’s been tested for safety. Investigate the company, their business practices, manufacturing, safety standards and general potency of their product before taking the plunge.

The reason? The Food and Drug Administration is not authorized to review dietary supplement products for safety and effectiveness before they are marketed. However, manufacturers are required to produce dietary supplements in a quality manner and ensure that they do not contain contaminants or impurities. Manufacturers are also required to accurately label products according to current “Good Manufacturing Practice” and labeling regulations.

“At the end of the day, these vitamins and supplements, like collagen, are not regulated products,” Dr. Kuhn added. “Any time you choose a dietary supplement you should look to groups like the USP or NSF that follow independent certification standards.”

Collagen does play an important role in supporting our overall joint and skin health. As we age, however, we slowly begin to experience collagen loss, and a collagen supplement may be beneficial.

Schedule an appointment with a Banner Health primary care provider to discuss any questions or concerns you may have about collagen peptides.

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