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The whys and why nots of collagen supplements

Collagen is one of the most widely promoted and popular supplements in the market today, but is it essential for you?

Collagen serves vital functions like providing structure to your skin and strengthening your bones
Collagen serves vital functions like providing structure to your skin and strengthening your bones (Pixabay/Pexels)

In the first part of this article, we discussed why taking dietary supplements is all the rage today, and if they are absolutely necessary for you when foods provide bioactive compounds and fibre that aren’t found in supplements, while some supplements don’t allow for full absorption of vitamins.

Collagen supplements, for example, are among the most popular supplements sold worldwide besides vitamins. In 2020, collagen-based products generated revenues of $300,000,000 globally. Dietary collagen taken as pills are said to provide incredible skin/hair improvement and anti-ageing benefits. 

In reality, our bodies naturally generate this "required" ingredient.

Also read: Learn how to activate your core muscles for a better workout

Let’s start by understanding what exactly collagen is. Collagen is your body's most prevalent protein. It serves vital functions like providing structure to your skin and strengthening your bones. Collagen is essential for the formation and maintenance of numerous tissues, including bones and cartilage, as well as skin, hair, eyes, and the digestive system.

Consider collagen to be a gluey material that helps our cells bond together. This is essential for preserving our ligaments, skin, and other bodily components. Just like soil serves to hold a tree's roots together, collagen is the "glue" that binds your body together.

Protein, as we all know, is not immediately absorbed by our bodies. It is first broken down into amino acids. So, when we consume this protein known as collagen orally, it breaks into three essential amino acids: glycine, proline, and hydroxyproline. However, we do not need to rely on collagen supplements because everyone's body has collagen. It is present in 75% of our skin, 90% in our bones, and almost 70-75% in our joint cartilages. The reason collagen supplements are so popular is your body produces less collagen as you start aging. 

The major concern now is whether we truly need collagen or other supplements because we don't want our faces to lose elasticity or our joints to pain as we age, and if so, what should we do? If we are readily getting a supplement that will avoid all these issues then why should we abstain from it?

Well, let me tell you one thing. You can take all the collagen or other pills in the world to solve your issues but it is simply a shortcut. Collagen is controversial in the medical community. There have been some positive results from studies done, but Mark Moyad, author of The Supplement Handbook: A Trusted Expert's Guide to What Works and What’s Worthless for More Than 100 Conditions, says that many of the studies done so far on collagen are small-scale and at least partially funded by industry. "“The science is truly in its infancy,” Moyad told WebMd in an article published in December 2019. “There’s a lot of conflict of interest, and not enough quality control.”

Once you take collagen, whether through natural sources or supplements, it breaks down into the three amino acids. Once broken down, they determine which body part requires them the most and then move there to do their function. However, if you lead a sedentary lifestyle with no regular activity, your muscles will not tear, and amino acids will recognize that your muscles are not a priority, so they will not reach there. So, even if you provide collagen to your body, you're not providing it a means to operate, and how can you expect it to work?

The only pathway you need is to move away from a sedentary lifestyle. If you do have an active lifestyle, only then will these benefits from collagen or protein supplements even help you. Instead of succumbing to these shortcuts, find the root cause of your problem. 

It’s no doubt that collagen is needed to provide structure and support. Our bodies can naturally produce it too. So before resorting to collagen supplements, you can first include few habits in your routine for a healthy and natural collagen production.

Substitute collagen with healthy habits such as:

Avoid consuming excess refined sugar

Sugar hampers collagen's capacity to heal itself. When you consume a lot of refined sugar, it binds the collagen fiber leading to glycation. This results in accelerated aging. 

Exercise regularly

Collagen is designed to be produced naturally in your body. So, to get its benefits, you must incorporate muscle training into your daily routine. Muscle training is necessary at all stages of life, whether you are in your twenties or your sixties. Exercise helps to ensure that amino acids reach your muscles and ligaments rather than going to waste.

Include natural collagen sources in the diet

Supplements should never be substituted for actual food. Don't underestimate the power of a nutrient-dense salad over a factory-made medication. Non-vegetarians have an easy selection because they may boost their collagen intake by eating fish, shellfish, bone broth, eggs, or other animal products. Vegetarians, on the other hand, should not be worried. Beans, peas, sprouts, legumes, pulses, and dairy products are among the vegetarian alternatives.

Consume necessary nutrients

It’s important to make sure you also focus on protein’s supporting micro-nutrients to ensure the healthy production of collagen. Micro-nutrients include Vitamin C which works as an anti-oxidant and is important to help repair cell damage. Guavas, oranges, amla, berries, kiwi, lemon, tomato, pepper, are a few vitamin C-rich foods.

We also need zinc in our diet to assist collagen production, which may be found in cashews, almonds, and seeds.

Another necessary vitamin is sulfur, which we obtain from broccoli, onion, garlic, cauliflower, cabbage, spinach, and eggplant. Copper is very important to boost collagen production in our body as well.

Avoid excess collagen

Moderation is crucial. Excess collagen, either naturally or through supplements, may result in issues such as kidney stones. Because collagen is derived from shellfish, it has the potential to induce hypercalcemia (increase calcium level above normal). Many people may have various adverse effects with collagen supplements, such as gut problems, acne, lack of appetite, and even toxicity because collagen is extracted from animals.

Also read: What’s the deal with wellness gummies?

Lavleen Kaur is co-founder and head dietitian, Diet Insight, a nutrition and diet clinic based in Chandigarh.


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