Collagen powder is an increasingly well-known and popular supplement in the wellness industry. While the body produces collagen naturally, less and less of it is made as we age. In fact, decreased collagen production is a medically recognized sign of aged skin. The stalling of collagen synthesis in the body also leads to joint pain and stiffness, hair loss or flattening, and a decrease in the elasticity of ligaments and tendons.
To offset this reality and make up for the collagen the body is losing, older adults may turn to collagen powder. A type of collagen supplement, collagen powder can be mixed into drinks and is typically taken once per day.
As a relatively new addition to the anti-aging supplement scene, older adults should consider the effects and risks of collagen powder prior to adding it to their diets. Learn the important information on collagen, including the benefits and risks, so you can decide whether or not it’s right for you.
What is collagen?
Collagen is a protein consisting of four amino acids: proline, glycine, arginine and hydroxyproline. It’s mainly known as the connective protein in the body, as it’s found in high amounts in mammals’ connective tissue, tendons, ligaments and bones. Collagen can also be found in the skin, cornea, blood vessels, cartilage, digestive tract and intervertebral disc.
Of all the proteins found in the human body, collagen is the most plentiful. Of the human body’s entire store of protein, collagen constitutes about one-third of it. Collagen is a significant contributor to muscle production, which is why recent interest has peaked in its ability to help with symptoms of degenerative diseases.
Keep in mind, however, that while collagen is connected to muscle production, adding collagen powder will not help an older adult maintain muscle, explains Jen Hernandez, RDN, CSR, LDN, a renal dietitian.
“Collagen powder typically has little or no branched chain amino acids—the amino acids that help with muscle preservation,” she said. “While in the protein supplements category, collagen powder does not help keep muscle mass. So, if you’re adding collagen powder to the diet, be sure to include other lean proteins. This will help preserve muscles.”
Types of collagen
Different varieties of collagen can be found throughout the body. There are five types in total; the types vary in the tissues that they’re found in throughout the body, as well as their main role in bodily function. Type I and Type III make up most of the total collagen in the body.
- Type I: This collagen type is a large component of skin and bone tissue.
- Type II: This collagen type is found mostly in cartilage and vitreous humor (tissue in the eyeball).
- Type III: This collagen type is found largely in blood vessels and contributes to tissue elasticity.
- Type IV: This collagen type is mainly found in basement membranes (tissue that separates the lining of an internal or external body surface from underlying connective tissue).
- Type V: This collagen type is a small part of tissues involving collagen type I and collagen type III.
Some collagen powders advertise the inclusion of a specific collagen type. Type I and Type III collagen powders may commonly be chosen to support youthful skin. Type I collagen may also be taken to support joint pain relief.
Anti-aging benefits of collagen
Many drinkable collagen supplement brands boast the ability to reverse signs of aging. While some of these claims aren’t rooted in fact, studies have shown collagen supplements to improve skin and hair health and reduce joint pain in older adults.
The most recognized and promising potential benefit of drinking collagen powder is the reduction in signs of skin aging. A study funded by Minerva Research Labs Ltd. shows that collagen supplements can improve skin dryness and wrinkles that occur with aging. After 12 weeks of taking a supplement with hydrolyzed collagen, hyaluronic acid, vitamins, and minerals, patients in this study experienced improved skin firmness and hydration, as well as a lessened appearance of wrinkles.
Collagen can help to reverse signs of skin aging by boosting elasticity in the skin. Drinking collagen powder can also help repair damaged skin and scarring, which seniors are more prone to than younger individuals.
Collagen has been thought to improve joint pain because it’s a vital component in the connective tissues throughout the body. While there is research yet to be done to prove the connection between collagen supplements and decreased joint pain, existing research has shown collagen to have promise as a pain reliever.
One such study tested the effectiveness of collagen hydrolysate in the treatment of osteoarthritis. Osteoarthritis is a degenerative joint disease that most often affects older adults. The study showed that taking collagen hydrolysate supplements may help reduce pain symptoms of osteoarthritis for a limited period of time but isn’t conclusive as a long-term solution.
Additionally, in a study conducted by the Journal of Atherosclerosis and Thrombosis, patients took collagen tripeptide twice per day. The results showed that collagen is effective in treating and preventing atherosclerosis, a condition in which the arteries are clogged by fatty deposits.
While collagen may be effective in improving signs of skin aging and joint pain, drinking collagen powder poses the risk for two main side effects: allergic reactions and gastrointestinal upset.
Collagen powder ingestion poses a risk for allergic reaction. This is especially true for powders including marine compounds. Individuals with allergies to seafood will need to be especially conscientious in their choice of collagen supplement.
Drinking collagen powder may cause gastrointestinal upset, such as gas, nausea, and diarrhea. These symptoms were experienced by patients in a trial testing the effects of collagen derivatives on symptoms of osteoarthritis. Older adults are especially susceptible to this potential side effect due to increased digestive sensitivity.
When you consider the fact that the amount of collagen in our bodies decreases at a quickening rate as we age, drinking supplemental collagen sounds like an excellent idea. In reality, collagen does have a handful of auspicious results in clinical studies, like the ability to increase hydration in the skin, reduce the appearance of wrinkles, and ease joint pain. However, the results of these studies aren’t irrefutable and leave room for skepticism among health professionals. When it comes to anti-aging efforts, older adults will reap more benefits from maintaining a healthy diet, exercise routine, and sleep schedule than drinking collagen powder every day.