August 15, 2016 | Posted in:Uncategorized
If you’re online, then you’ve probably seen a lot of ads for new Collagen products, lately. These collagen products promise to help you improve your skin, the appearance of stretch marks and the appearance of loose skin. Lots of companies are marketing them, lately, including the nutrition megacompany Herbalife. It’s another reason why people go crazy over making bone broth (although scientists question that one, too). I hate seeing ads for this product because I think the science behind the products makes about as much sense as trying to brush your teeth with barbecue sauce. Read on to find out why collagen is a waste of money!
Please note that this particular post is specific to consuming collagen for the purpose of improving skin appearance, stretch marks and loose skin.
As always, my blog posts are not meant to constitute medical advice and you should always consult your doctor before adding OR removing any supplements to your diet. All opinions are my own. I do think they’re pretty awesome opinions, especially on this topic. I have my BS in Biological Sciences (I was a pre-med student) and an MS in Exercise Science & Sport Studies, which has a massive amount of physiology coursework (read more of my bio here). I’m currently an online fitness and nutrition coach and I dedicate a ton of my free time to staying up to date on the latest science in my field, including supplementation.
Why collagen is a waste of money
It’s my personal theory that most supplementation theories like this tend to be grossly generalized and miss some key points. This is the same reason that people started taking L-Carnitine to help them burn body fat and it’s made millions of dollars as a fat burner, even though researchers have clearly shown that it’s useless.
Collagen is a protein that comprises a huge percentage of tissues throughout your body. Collagen is very important and essential in the body – I certainly agree with that. Go Collagen! Woohoo!
People who promote collagen as a supplement think that orally ingesting collagen is going to increase the presence of collagen elsewhere in the body. However, critics of the collagen theory don’t believe that’s the case.
When collagen protein enters the body and arrives at the stomach, it’s broken down into smaller peptides and amino acids. Amino acids are passed from the stomach into the intestines, where they are absorbed. Collagen no longer exists. It existed as it entered the stomach, but now it’s gone. There’s just amino acids at this point. No collagen. So, This is the first point of contention with the collagen theory.
Amino acids are absorbed through the intestines and into the blood stream, where they become part of your body’s amino acid pool. When they’re in the amino acid pool, they act like little chess pawns waiting to be commanded by the king. Until they receive a command from the king, they’re really not doing much. Seriously, imagine a bunch of pawns sitting in your kids’ kiddie pool and that’s what’s going on with collagen. They just hang out in the kiddie pool until the king yells at them to get out and get to work.
When your body determines that there is a need for collagen, it will order those pawns to join up with other pawns and take action… in science terms, it causes amino acids to be taken from the amino acid pool and synthesized into collagen protein (or another protein, if that’s what the body deems is necessary).
This is a complex process that involves really fancy stuff like DNA, RNA, ribosomes and transporter proteins. It HAS to be triggered by a series of commands related to some more fancy things related to homeostasis, which is regulated your nervous system (the king). This is my second point of contention, because you can’t just increase collagen for the collagen theory to work… you’d also have to increase the numbers of all the different helper particles that help this process along… you’d need more DNA transcription to RNA, more proteins manufactured from the RNA, more ribosomes, more transporter proteins… if you don’t have more of all those things then you’re out of luck.
Let’s go back to the kiddie pool. The pawns are sitting in the kiddie pool, but now let’s assume that they’re not allowed to leave the kiddie pool without someone holding their hand and walking them from the pool to their new job site. You haven’t accomplished anything if you double the number of pawns in the pool but don’t double the number of helpers to hold their hand to their job site.
Anyways, the biggest and final point of contention… All you’re doing is adding more amino acids (pawns) to the amino acid pool. You’re not increasing the synthesis of collagen in the body and “refilling” holes of collagen missing from tissues. That’s something that has to be driven by your body’s homeostasis defenders (king), which (as far as we know) are not directly impacted by ingesting collagen. Any benefits from increasing collagen would be the same benefits of increasing total body protein/amino acid pool, which we know to beneficial for a multitude of things anyways.
If we go back to the kiddie pool analogy one more time, it doesn’t matter how many pawns are sitting in the kiddie pool if the king doesn’t command them to go do something. Ingesting collagen won’t make the king give more commands.
There are some studies that show that collagen is beneficial for skin elasticity, but there’s also some studies that show it’s not. Most of the research is done on people who have preexisting clinical deficiencies in collagen or illnesses that cause collagen loss.
Interestingly, scurvy is a vitamin C deficiency that causes issues with collagen production in the body… but collagen supplementation does not cure scurvy. Only Vitamin C supplementation does.
At this point, the pool of research is extremely mixed on the topic. I’d be really interested to see research studies that start comparing collagen supplementation to plain old protein supplementation. I have a feeling that boosting total body protein would give the same results as boosting collagen. But over all, this is why I think collagen is a waste of money.
I wish it really was a magic bullet. We sure could use some magic health bullets…
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