There are literally hundreds of products on the market that contain collagen. These are products such as facial creams, body lotions, make-up products, drinks, supplements, protein shakes, straight collagen powders and many others. Countless celebrities swear by the anti-aging benefits of collagen and incorporate various collagen containing products to their diet. Achieving beauty through diet is the key focus of a new group of products called nutricosmetics.
Dr. Jaroslav Blazek has a PhD in food science and technology and has worked for more than 15 years in the Australian food and agricultural industry, being involved in academical study of food, research & development, nutrition, product development and food ingredients. He has recently been active in the field on nutricosmetics, looking into the mechanisms of how various nutrients can benefit our appearance. He is also a founder of Avant-Garde Wellness, which has developed a range of products based on marine collagen.
We chatted with Dr. Blazek to separate truth from fiction and discuss the benefits of collagen for skin and hair.
What is collagen and what are its natural sources?
Collagen is what keeps our skin elastic and is responsible for replacing dead skin cells. Collagen is also found in our bones, muscles, tendons, blood vessels and even our teeth. Collagen’s main function is to sustain tendons, skin and cartilage. It provides integrity, firmness and elasticity to their structures. As we age, our bodies naturally produce less collagen. Elasticity and firmness of the skin declines. Signs of skin aging such as wrinkles form, hydration decreases and joint cartilages weaken. Contributing factors to skin aging include genes, hormones, exposure to sun, smoking and pollution.
Sources rich in collagen include bone broth, gelatine, eggs, fish, red meat, oysters, cheese and nuts – basically foods rich in protein containing essential amino acids that our bodies need to get from diet.
Is it better to consume collagen or apply it through creams?
Cosmetic products such as creams for topical applications often contain collagen. There are two problems with collagen in these types of products – firstly, the amount of collagen delivered through this application is way too small to have any real effect, and secondly the collagen in vast majority of creams is not in a form that is able to be absorbed and metabolized into single amino acids that can be used for collagen production by our own skin cells. The only benefit some of these collagen-containing creams deliver is improved hydration through a film-forming effect.
What supports collagen synthesis in our bodies?
Vitamin C is essential to the production of collagen and elastin. The recommended daily intake of Vitamin C is between 75 to 90 milligrams to support overall health – collagen synthesis included. Incorporate a variety of Vitamin C packed fruits and vegetables into your diet. Citrus fruits, red capsicums, strawberries and sweet potatoes will all give your vitamin C intake a boost.
How do we choose the best collagen product on the market?
I often get asked what is the difference between the various collagen products on the market. Specifically, when browsing through all the different marine collagen products available out there one must wonder how to choose the best one. Let’s think about what makes marine collagen of the highest quality and what to look for when picking the best one.
Firstly, it is the choice of raw materials that makes the difference. Most common sources are fish skins and fish scales. These can come from sustainably farmed fish or from wild caught deep sea fish. Fish can be freshwater and seawater species, tropical species living in warm waters or cold fish living in the Atlantic Ocean. While some of these aspects are a matter of personal preference, all these differences may actually lead to slight differences in composition of the collagen obtained from these.
Secondly (and more importantly), it is the processing and purification process that is absolutely crucial to the bioavailability and efficacy of the collagen in question. Collagen is a type of protein, which is basically a long chain of individual tiny building blocks (amino acids), which are arranged in a way that gives collagen its unique functionality of providing our skin, hair, nails, joints and bones their structure, elasticity, firmness, hydration and so on.
These long collagen chains need to broken down into shorter chains so they can be absorbed in our digestive tract. Collagen producers use high purity enzymes to specifically cut long collagen chains into smaller pieces, which can be easily absorbed into our bodies and be used for targeted biological activities. What sets different collagen products on the market apart is the choice of raw material source, the choice of enzyme and the extent and level of control of the breaking-down process.
Therefore, collagen of the highest quality delivers very high degree of purity (> 99.8% of dry matter) achieved through several steps of ionic demineralization and filtrations. This also ensures removal of all impurities, which includes heavy metals that are often found in marine sources. A good simple way for a consumer to tell if a collagen product is of high quality is to check if it is easily water-soluble and has neutral taste, smell and colour. Good collagen product must also be able to back any claims it makes through conducting published (peer-reviewed) placebo-controlled clinical studies and human trials.
How can collagen supplements improve your hair?
Admittedly there has been less research done on the effects of collagen on hair compared to other areas such as skin hydration and joint health, but there are two main areas in which collagen has shown promising results:
Collagen for Hair Loss
Collagen supplementation has been shown to prevent damage to hair follicles and slow down hair loss. Collagen can avoid male pattern baldness by supporting hair follicles before they become damaged by free radicals and other environmental factors. Remember that collagen comprises 70% of your dermis, the middle layer of your skin that contains the root of each individual hair. Therefore, healthy dermis is the key to hair growth. And the key to maintaining healthy dermis is good supply of the collagen building blocks (peptides and amino acids) and nutrients supporting collagen synthesis (such as Vitamin C). Healthy scalp may also slow down age-related graying as this is also directly related to the health of hair follicles.
Collagen for Hair Growth
Hair is primarily made up of keratin. Keratin is a protein and just like all proteins in our body it is made up of long chains of connected amino acids. Collagen contains three important essential amino acids: lysine, proline, and glycine. Keratin found in hair is produced more effectively in the body when there is enough amount of amino acids, so consuming collagen can promote hair growth, hair’s shine and appearance.
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