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Updated: Apr 1, 2021

Soft, but firm like jelly, this golden brown substance that’s latched on to the fleshy brown bits is what every generation of women in your family swears by for plump dewy skin: collagen. As the go-to source of skin-friendly nutrients, collagen is the protein that unites cuisines all over the world from Korean hot and spicy chicken to Indonesian oxtail soup.

While going under the needle has been the default method to turn back time, eating and drinking collagen is a filler-free alternative that’s easy, cost-saving and just as effective. Given that it’s been a traditional thing in Asia, it’s suddenly becoming en vogue in the West thanks to Jennifer Anistonand Kourtney Kardashian, who drink a cup of collagen powder in smoothies or mix it with hot water.

Originally derived from animal sources (e.g. cows, fish and/or sea cucumbers, the jelly-like substance consists of 30 percent of our body’s total proteins and 70 percent of our proteins linked to skin, joints, connective tissues nails and hair. There are 16 types, yet there are three types found in our bodies: types 1 and 3 are for beauty (i.e. better skin and hair) whereas type 2 is related to the joints. While we mainly count on this non-vegan protein as our go-to beauty secret, we can find it inside mushrooms, nuts, citrus fruits and leafy greens or produce our own collagen. But what exactly are the benefits?

Turn Back Time

As a food coach at the Nutrition Clinic, Bonnie Rogers believes in the power of this superhero ingredient. Rogers states, “Our clients have reported that collagen really helps with hair loss. It helps strengthen the skin, which may help with elasticity, hydration as well as slowing down wrinkle formation.”

Shannon Race, the Global Marketing Director of Vital Proteins, also concurs about its benefits. “As a protein, collagen offers a unique amino profile that not only provides the body with the building blocks to produce its own collagen, but it also acts a messenger to trigger the synthesis and reorganization of new collagen fibers,” says Race.

Echoing similar sentiments to Rogers and Race, a representative of Moon Juice also swears by their silver ear mushroom, tocos and hyaluronic acid-based Collagen Protect Powder. She claims that customers “see hydrated, bouncy skin…[and] a reduction in lines”.

Dr. Matt Kan, the founder of Klarity SG, formulated two types of collagen supplements: Gorgeous and Freedom. The former is formulated to target skin and hair problems. Dr. Kan claims that clients who ingested Gorgeous discovered that “eye wrinkle volume reduced” after eight weeks of oral administration.

He adds that the hyaluronic acid inside Gorgeous “heals and repairs scar tissue on the skin at a faster rate” alongside prevention of “early hair loss, thinning and graying…as well as improve overall nail health preventing nail breakage and stimulating faster nail growth.”

Catching Z’s

While it’s been able to improve one’s physical appearance, collagen has been claimed to help one sleep based on a research conducted in 2014. In the research, glycine, a non-essential amino acid in collagen, has aided people in improving their sleep quality. Vital Proteins also supports this claim by supplementing it together with Melatonin, Magnesium and Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid (GABA) inside their Sleep Shot and Blueberry Moon Milk Collagen Latte powder.

However, Rogers disagrees with the research and marketing. “[Eating collagen] can [improve your overall health] but I wouldn’t say it’s a clear link to sleep, so much so as something like magnesium would be. Glycine is abundant in collagen and some studies are showing that this can improve sleep, however, [i]f sleep is an issue, it wouldn’t typically be the first thing we would recommend,” says Rogers.

Echoing similar sentiments to Rogers, Dr. Kan says, “Collagen supplements have been claimed to optimise the quality of sleep, but it does not cure sleep disorders like insomnia. However, there are not enough studies to conclude if this is true yet.”

A Joint Effort

Yet, collagen has been proven to be effective at improving joints as evident with Dr. Kan’s Freedom supplement.

He says, “It helps to ease joint pain and discomfort by rapidly accelerating the growth of new cartilage by stimulating cell regeneration, hence, maintaining joints for highly lubricated pain-free function. It also builds stronger bones by stimulating bone matrix synthesis and mineralisation of the bone. It is clinically proven to strengthen ligaments and tendons, as well as, to heal sports injuries by creating a quicker healing response in the body. It helps to increase the strength and quality of ligaments and tendons.”

Indeed this theory was proven true when a research conducted on a 24 week study between 2005 to 2006 surveyed club sports and varsity athletes at Penn State University, who took collagen hydrolysate. This amped-up version of collagen has been linked to reduce joint pain in athletes.

Even though this study done in the mid ‘00s only had a limited number of volunteers, the Nutrition Journal’s study in 2016 surveyed people with osteoarthritis who received collagen supplements and chondroitin sulfate supplements. The people who took collagen supplements had decreased pain and stiffness compared to the group who took the latter during the 180 day study.

Though the benefits are positive for one group, the people who suffer from rheumatoid arthritis under a similar study in 2009 published by Arthritis Research and Therapy also claimed that while their pain decreased, the collagen supplements were not as strong as methotrexate, an anti-rheumatoid pill.

Given that collagen has been universally praised for its healing benefits, more studies have yet to be fully conducted and/or proven. In spite of the ongoing research, nature’s best protein still wins our hearts.

Original: ELLE Singapore

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