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HEALTH & BEAUTY HEALTH

What’s the Hype About Dietary Collagen? By Dylan Roche

It used to be that when people talked about collagen for maintaining their youth, they were probably talking about getting injections to reduce facial wrinkles or fill out their lips. But a new method of using collagen is gaining momentum—with no needles involve More and more people are now taking dietary collagen in the form of supplements, powders, bars, and beverages, all with the expectation that increasing their intake of this type of protein will help improve their skin, fight aging, reduce joint pain, improve wound healing, and prevent muscle atrophy. What’s the science behind it? Although many influential celebrities have been touting success stories—like Kourtney Kardashian, who claims to drink a cup of hot collagen water every morning in place of coffee to achieve younger-looking skin—there’s limited research to support the use of supplementary collagen. As doctors and health experts will tell you, there’s no doubting the importance of collagen in the body. This naturally occurring protein is part of your skin, tendons, bones, cartilage, connective tissue, and organs. In fact, the word “collagen” comes from the Greek word “kólla,” meaning glue, because it plays a vital role in holding your body together. But as we age, or if we eat a poor diet, the collagen in our body decreases. When this happens, you might see your skin lose its elasticity and start to wrinkle, or your hair might not grow as quickly or as fully. You’ll have less flexibility because of stiffer tendons, and you’ll have less strength because of atrophied muscles. It makes sense, therefore, that people would want to include collagen in their diets. Collagen can be found naturally in animal products like meat, eggs, and bone broth, and your body has an easier time properly absorbing collagen when you are consuming sufficient amounts of nutrients like vitamin C, found in citrus fruits and greens, as well as zinc and copper found in shellfish, nuts, and beans. While supplements are never meant to serve as a substitute for healthy eating, it is possible to increase your dietary collagen with the use of hydrolyzed collagen powder, which can be bought at

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grocery stores or supplement shops and easily added to beverages, soups, and other recipes. The problem? You can’t dictate how your body is going to use that collagen. When your body digests protein, it breaks it down into individual amino acids that are later reassimilated in your body for various functions. The collagen you consumed with the hopes of reducing wrinkles might be used by the body for another purpose, such as keeping your tendons supple and limber. There is some research to support the trend, however. For example, a small 2014 study published in the peer-reviewed Skin Pharmacology and Physiology looked at women between the ages of 35 and 55 who took up to five grams of collagen every day for eight weeks. At the end of the trial, the women who took supplementary collagen saw improved skin elasticity compared with those who didn’t take it. Health experts like those at the Cleveland Clinic encourage people to focus on getting plenty of protein in general, and to get as much as possible from food sources instead of supplements. If your body is lacking in collagen, simply drinking bone broth will be enough to enhance your diet. One downside worth noting: The collagen in supplements primarily comes from ground-up animal scraps, such as hooves, hides, bones, and nerve tissue. These scraps tend to attract contaminants, and some tests of collagen supplements have reportedly contained high levels of cadmium, a toxic metal. It’s always best to do your research and find a brand that’s been third-party tested. One reputable option that’s worth trying is Vital Proteins Collagen Peptides, which has the approval of third-party testing company Consumer Labs and can be bought over the counter around the $20–25 price point.

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