Open any women’s magazine right now or scroll through the health and beauty accounts on instagram, and no doubt you’ll come across a glossy ad or a sparkling looking post extolling the virtues of adding a dash of collagen to your morning coffee or stirring in a sprinkling on your porridge.
So what exactly is collagen, is it worth the health hype and is it THE supplement midlife women really can’t do without?
In reality, collagen does not ‘look’ quite as glamorous in real life as the wellness brands would have you believe. Collagen is actually a fiber like structure in the body which makes up around a third of total protein in the body. It is a major component of bone, skin, muscles, tendons, ligaments and cartilage. This stuff is fundamental for the structure of our bodies. Collagen is essential for your bones, gut skin, nails and hair but you make less of it during the menopause
While there are in fact 28 types of collagen in the body, there are three main types, performing different functions.
- Type I: Makes up 90% of collagen in the body (bones, tendons, ligaments and skin). This type of collagen provides structure to skin, bones, tendons, cartilage, connective tissue and teeth. Most supplements will contain this type of collagen.
- Type II: Mostly found in cartilage and a little in tendons and ligaments. This type of collagen cushions joints, supporting movement and function. Supplements containing type II support the skeletal system to combat the wear and tear of ageing.
- Type III: Found in skin and organs, supports the structure of muscles, organs and arteries and always found alongside type I.
When we age, collagen production in the body starts to decline, even as early as our late 20’s. Collagen helps to maintain healthy skin, hair and nails which is why the beauty industry LOVES to market this wonder product as an anti-ageing solution to saggy skin, weak nails and luck-lustre hair.
How collagen can help during peri/menopause
- Healthy skin – improves skin’s elasticity making it look brighter and fresher. Studies show that supplementing with peptide collagen (collagen peptides = broken down collagen that’s easier for the body to absorb) can increase hydration levels in the skin and reduce wrinkle depth. 30% of dermal (the inner layer of the two main layers of the skin) collagen – type I and type III can be lost in the first five years after menopause.
But beyond the impact less collagen has on the exterior stuff, a decrease in collagen production will also affect bones and joints. Alas, the collagen in your face cream won’t do anything to ease aching joints which is where supplementation can be effective.
- Ease joint pain – One study found that taken collagen led to a reduction in osteoarthritic joint pain.
- Strengthen bones – A study in over 100 postmenopausal women found that supplementing with collagen peptides improved bone mineral density in the hips and spine.
So while collagen supplementation won’t do anything for your hormones, it may combat some of the symptoms associated with a drop in oestrogen like aching joints and dry skin.
Can I get collagen from my diet?
Food does not contain collagen in a form that the body can directly absorb. Your body makes its own collagen and needs a range of different amino acids to do this. The best place to get these amino acids is from protein-rich foods, such as lean meat, fish, nuts, seeds, soya products like tofu, beans, and legumes. Vitamin C is also used by the body in the process of creating collagen.
What’s the deal with bone broth?
Marketed as a way to super-charge your body’s collagen levels, while bone broth does contain collagen, it is essentially processed by the body like any other protein – broken down into amino acids from which the body builds its own collagen.
What about vegans?
Vegan collagen supplements do exist but as they do not come from animal sources, they are not considered ‘true’ collagen. However, some of these products have been manufactured to stimulate the body’s own collagen production.
The evidence does seem to suggest that collagen supplementation could be of benefit for peri and menopausal women. The type of supplementation you choose will depend on what support or outcome you’d like to achieve.
Opt for supplements containing type II to help with aching joints and choose marine collagen for skincare and bone support.