Collagen has quickly become a buzzword and a trendy super-food in the health & wellness world. You’ve probably heard of people eating collagen supplements or putting it in their coffees, shakes or smoothies. You might have also heard about laser, radiofrequency or topical treatments that claim to boost collagen growth.
But what the heck is collagen, really? Can you really boost collagen growth? And, why is it trending? Don’t worry, we’re going to cure your collagen curiosity with some quick Q & As.
What is collagen?
“Collagen is one of the most common proteins in the body. In fact, it makes up about a third of the body’s protein content,” Kellyann Petrucci, M.S., N.D., and best-selling author, told MindBodyGreen. “It’s one of the building blocks of the human body and can help to improve your health, both below and above the surface.”
Basically, collagen is a very important protein found in the human body that is essential to our health. It provides strength, structure and stability.
Where is collagen found?
According to Medical News Today, collagen is most abundant in your bones, muscles, skin and tendons. But, it is also found in other areas of the body, like your vagina. (Gasp!) Yes, that’s right, your vagina. (Jump down to “why does collagen matter?” to learn more.)
There more than 16 types of collagen found in our bodies. Some collagen protects organs like the kidneys. Other types strengthen our joints and tendons.
Overall, you can think about collagen as the elastic glue that holds your body together. Also, fun fact: certain types of collagen fibrils, gram-for-gram, are stronger than steel!
Pretty impressive what our bodies create, right?
Is there collagen in food?
This is where people commonly become confused. Most naturally occurring food doesn’t have collagen. But, a lot of food is good for boosting, synthesizing or protecting collagen.
Meaning: dark leafy greens like kale or spinach and berries rich in antioxidants help protect collagen breakdown. Foods rich in omega-3s like fish, broccoli and walnuts help boost collagen growth.
Right now, bone broth seems to be trending, claiming it’s different and better because it’s made from the connective tissue and bones of animals. But, TIME Magazine reported that there is no evidence-based medicine to support bone broth being better for you than other foods, only anecdotal evidence.
“Your body takes the nutrients from the foods you eat and sends them where they’re needed most,” Dr. Kantha Shelke, a food scientist and principle at Corvus Blue LLC, a Chicago-based food research company, told TIME. “If your diet was deficient in protein-sourced amino acids, sipping bone broth could provide some of the stuff your body requires to fortify your bones and joints.”
The takeaway: certain foods could be good for collagen growth and a myriad of other health processes, but it depends on the person and their body. Do your research, don’t assume.
What about collagen supplements?
Health professionals are still debating whether collagen supplements truly work.
“The science is truly in its infancy, there’s a lot of conflict of interest, and not enough quality control.” Dr. Mark Moyad, author and researcher, told WebMD. “I think the elephant in the room here is safety. 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.”
There are a few studies that show collagen supplements helped relieve joint pain. But, just like the bone broth, there are more stories about collagen supplements than clinical evidence.
“It [collagen supplements] might help, and it probably won’t harm, unless you are not being diligent about quality control,” Dr. Moyad said.
Why does collagen matter?
“It [collagen] also plays an important role in maintaining skin elasticity, connective tissue flexibility, and even bone strength. Collagen contains glycine, an amino acid with proven anti-inflammatory and immunomodulatory effects,” said Dr. Petrucci.
Collagen production decreases with age and other factors like UV light exposure, smoking, a high-sugar diet, etc.
“Our natural collagen production slows down from our early 20s by 1-1.5% every year and by the time you turn 50, most individuals will have lost about 50% of the collagen in your skin,” plastic surgeon and skin expert for Skinade, Dr. Paul Banwell, told Harper’s BAZAAR.
Also, women experience a dramatic collagen reduction after menopause. Less collagen = more wrinkles, weakened joint cartilages and, thinner hair. And, vaginal laxity.
Okay, let’s take a quick pause. I’m sure you’re thinking ‘what the heck is vaginal laxity?’ And, ‘what does it have to do with collagen?’
Lucky for you, Marie Claire interviewed Dr. Sabika Karim, a physician at Revere Clinic in London, to answer those exact questions!
“Just like skin, vaginal tissue relies on collagen for its support. With the normal ageing process or physical stresses from child-bearing, the tissue can become overstretched and weakened” Dr. Karim said. “The result is very commonly a feeling of vaginal looseness called laxity, the side-effects of which can be a loss of sensation during intercourse, inability to orgasm or fewer orgasms and even urinary incontinence.”
Collagen might be more important than you thought!
How do you boost collagen growth?
Consumers in the United States are projected to spend $122 million on collagen products in 2018, which is a 30% increase from 2017, according to market research firm, Nutrition Business Journal.
Medical News Today says that, unlike what might be advertised, “cosmetic lotions that claim to increase collagen levels are unlikely to do so, as collagen molecules are too large to be absorbed through the skin.”
Besides lotions, there are lasers, radiofrequency devices, and other treatments available, that claim to boost collagen growth.
But here’s what you should know: whether it’s in your face or your vagina, be careful when you choose a collagen treatment.
Look for clinically proven, safe and effective treatments—especially with treatments in the vaginal area. (The top layer of your vagina is made up of soft, delicate tissue, and you want to make sure that it is protected). And, looking treatments that will naturally stimulate collagen growth, not add in chemicals or anything harmful.
And, please, always, always, always consult your medical practitioner before trying anything new.