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Are collagen supplements really worth it?



Collagen supplements are claimed to make our skin more beautiful, our hair shinier and our nails less brittle… But are these benefits scientifically proven?

In light of the popularity of these collagen supplements, much vaunted on social networks, doctors are speaking out about these sometimes unconvincing claims.

Collagen is naturally present in our bodies. This compound from the protein family helps structure skin, hair, muscles, tendons and bones. In particular, it lends elasticity to the skin, and keeps hair and nails strong and supple. But as we age, we produce less and less collagen. To make up for this loss, some people decide to take collagen in the form of dietary supplements.

Whether in powder form for dilution, in capsules, in drinks or in gummies, collagen supplements can take many forms. On TikTok, some users incorporate the ingredient into their morning routine, like in their coffee or in their breakfast. Some even add it to alcoholic cocktails. Others, meanwhile, swallow capsules or buy beauty products containing collagen. The compound is currently extremely popular, so much so that the global collagen market is expected to reach $7.2 billion in size by 2030, according to a report by MarketsandMarkets.

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Are supplements effective or useless?

But is it really worth taking collagen supplements? Especially since the compound, production of which by your bodies begins to slow down and decrease starting in our mid- to late-20s, can be found in certain foods like fish, eggs, meat or bone broth. And could these supplements have adverse effects on our health.

At present, some scientific research seems to think so, such as a study published in 2021 in the International Journal of Dermatology, or an American meta-analysis published in 2019 in the Journal of Drugs in Dermatology.

But their conclusions should be qualified. “Though several studies on collagen supplementation point to increased elasticity and improvement in wrinkles in skin, the data is often muddied by confounding study design, lack of objective microscopic evidence or funding straight from the people selling the products. There is no study demonstrating that the supplements will prevent wrinkles,” explains Trisha Pasricha, MD, writing for the Washington Post.

The same goes for bone health. “Several (though not all) randomized placebo-controlled trials have found that collagen supplements improve symptoms in people with osteoarthritis, a disease in which joint cartilage has become degraded. But the studies have limitations, such as ties to the industry and short-term duration,” Trisha Pasricha continues.

Another point raised by several doctors is that it’s impossible to know what becomes of these supplements once ingested.

“We don’t have control of what happens next. Those peptides may rearrange and be directed to other parts of the body to form entirely different proteins than the original collagen. In other words, we have no way of insisting they reform into collagen expressly at the site of our unwanted crow’s feet,” explains Trisha Pasricha.

Not to mention that large quantities would have to be ingested for supplementation to be truly effective. “To be absorbed, the compound has to be broken down into small pieces, like those found in capsules. Once these collagen fragments have passed the intestinal barrier, they need to be metabolised by the liver before being redistributed throughout the bloodstream. And for this, very large quantities are needed,” explains Augustin Latourte, a doctor specialising in rheumatology at Lariboisière Hospital in Paris, speaking to Radio France.

While collagen food supplements do not appear to be harmful to health – with very few side effects reported – not all products on the market appear to be equal. Some may contain additives or be contaminated with pollutants or heavy metals. It is also advisable to establish how long you should take collagen (generally between one and three months), bearing in mind that the French Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health & Safety (ANSES) recommends, as a general rule for dietary supplements, to avoid prolonged, repeated or unnecessary intake.

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