What is collagen and what are the benefits of taking it as a supplement?

Author Max Gowland, PhD
Last updated 1st December 2020
Over Fifties Health
Rubix cube

What is collagen and what are the benefits of taking it as a supplement?

Collagen is our skin’s basic building block, giving skin its structure, plumpness and elasticity. It’s collagen that gives your skin a youthful, firm/plump appearance; well certainly when we are young.

Collagen is the most plentiful protein in the body. It’s in your muscles, tendons, bones, organs and even blood vessels, as well as in your skin – it’s essentially the ‘glue’ that holds everything together.

Whilst it has many important bodily functions, the role it plays in skin health and in slowing down the ageing process of your skin is significant. It strengthens and improves the integrity of your skin and provides structure and firmness. It also helps retain moisture and reduces dryness levels. Along with another protein called elastin, it helps maintain the elasticity and plumpness of your skin.

Collagen in your skin (along with elastin) is under constant attack from a whole range of sources, with sunlight and smoking being by far the worst culprits for causing skin damage. Consuming high levels of sugar can also have a negative effect on your skin.

What happens to collagen as we age?

woman looking at skin in the mirror

As we age, our skin cells become less efficient at renewing the collagen it’s lost. The collagen network that provides our skin with its firmness and structure starts to break down and your skin starts to lose this. The appearance of your skin becomes more dehydrated and thinner and lines meanwhile wrinkles and deeper furrows can start to appear.

Whilst you can’t easily measure the levels of collagen in your body, you can tell when levels are starting to drop as you might notice wrinkles and duller skin when you look in the mirror. Whilst this is a completely natural part of the ageing process, there are things you can do to increase your collagen levels to help you keep your skin in tip top condition as you age.

Taking collagen supplements help skin health

It’s well known that a large amount of the over 50s are failing to reach the recommended intake (RDA) for many of the vitamin and mineral nutrients involved in collagen production. These nutrients are responsible for healthy hair, skin and nails.

Whilst there are collagen rich foods you can eat, taking a collagen supplement is the best way to absorb it directly. As you age, collagen tends to break down faster than the rate you form new collagen. This is where supplementation can play a key role in trying to inhibit this ageing process, by maintaining collagen levels as high as possible.

Taking a collagen supplement helps to increase skin elasticity and support your body’s skin repair process whilst encouraging your body to form new collagen. It can increase skin hydration, smoothness and reduce the appearance of wrinkles.

The collagen molecule itself is too large to be properly absorbed and isn’t as effective in this form. The best type of absorbable collagen is a special form called hydrolysed collagen. Water is used to split the molecule into smaller, more absorbable pieces - making the collagen more bioavailable.

Studies have shown that by regularly taking hydrolysed collagen, it can improve overall skin health and combat the effects of ageing. This form of hydrolysed collagen is the very best, as your gut immediately absorbs it and sends it directly to your skin through your bloodstream, so it’s ready for action.

What are the best ways to take collagen?

There are many ways to take collagen and you have the ability to get rather creative with this too.

There are powders, pills and shots depending on how you like to take supplements. Liquid shots or powders can be added to smoothies or meals like porridge, which is a way of incorporating it into your lifestyle.

A tablet or softgel capsule is more of a long-term way to take a collagen supplement and then benefits will begin to take place after three months. These often have other ingredients in their formulations which will offer additional benefits.

You can also get collagen in your diet through foods such as meat, fish, and bones broths. However more research is needed to show just how much collagen is increased in the body from eating collagen-rich foods. We do know that when consuming foods the digestive process breaks down collagen but in supplements it has already been broken down. So this would suggest that collagen supplements are slightly better absorbed by the body.