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What is collagen: benefits and supplements

Collagen is known to help your skin, but how does it do this? Julie Brackenbury, Aesthetic Nurse Practitioner, explains everything you need to know about collagen.

What is collagen?

Scientists have uncovered at least 28 types of collagen over the decades. Types I, II and III make up 80 to 90 per cent of collagen in your body, and these types are the most important when it comes to your skin, muscles and bone health, as well as hair and nail growth and maintenance.

Our body has specific cells, known as fibroblasts, which are responsible for producing collagen. This process requires amino acids, and collagen supplements provide exactly that - the necessary amino acids needed for the cells to produce more collagen.

What does collagen do in the body?

Collagen is responsible for a number of biological functions, one of which is to provide structural support in connective tissue, muscle and skin. Collagen is the protein responsible for skin elasticity, and it also plays a role in joint and bone health.

There is no doubt that collagen can make your skin look more plumped and glowing, as it is the main structural protein in the skin, giving it strength and shape.

What decreases collagen production?

A poor diet full of processed food, smoking, stress and too much sun can damage existing collagen.

Collagen and anti-ageing

Collagen is one of the most important support structures found naturally in our skin, helping to maintain elasticity and suppleness. Over the course of time, our skin gradually loses its natural collagen, leading to dry skin and the loss of elastic tissue, as well as the formation of wrinkles and folds.

Some research suggests that taking collagen supplements can stimulate your body’s ability to produce collagen.1 It’s important to keep in mind that the most significant decrease in collagen production begins during menopause, which is why, if you're planning to take supplements, it's a good idea to start taking them sooner rather than later.

What should I look for in a collagen supplement?

Hydrolysed marine collagen

Marine collagen is a pure form of hypoallergenic protein produced from the skins of fish. The fish skins are hydrolysed (broken down) by an acid and a food-grade enzyme to yield the marine collagen peptides. These have a low molecular weight for easy digestion and absorption, and you cannot taste the fish in these supplements.

Absorption and vitamin C

Vitamin C is crucial to the process of synthesising amino acids into collagen, so supplements such as Healthspan's have added vitamin C to support your collagen formation. Healthspan's Marine Collagen tablets are made from hydrolysed marine collagen and so are easily absorbed in our bodies.

In a study published in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences, it was found that taking collagen supplements orally increased the levels of amino acids in the body, which is why collagen supplements are able to encourage our body to create and produce more collagen.2 So, unless you are regularly consuming collagen-rich foods such as oily fish, it is easier to include collagen supplements in your diet. With consistent use, collagen supplements may start to work within a week or two - although for others it may be longer.

What is the difference between marine and bovine collagen?

Marine collagen is sourced from fish scales and is rich in type I collagen, which helps to minimise fine lines and wrinkles as well as improve skin elasticity and hydration. Not only does type I collagen help to rebuild your muscles, eyes, bones, and spine, it’s also good for strengthening your nails and helping you grow stronger, thicker hair.

Bovine collagen is a form of protein that's mainly derived from cows. It's associated with several health benefits, including supporting joint and skin health, and bone loss prevention. Bovine-sourced collagen protein is used by fitness enthusiasts as a way to repair stressed muscles.

Julie Brackenbury (RGN, INP) is an experienced Aesthetic Nurse Practitioner. She specialises in all aspects of non-surgical cosmetic treatments and skin care and has had over 30 peer-reviewed articles published. She also sits on the editorial board for the Journal of Aesthetic Nursing and the British Dermatological Nursing Group.

Find out more about Julie Brackenbury, or read more about Healthspan's beauty, skin and hair experts.

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Nothing beats a healthy, balanced diet to provide all the nutrients we need. But when this isn't possible, supplements can help. This article isn't intended to replace medical advice. Please consult your healthcare professional before trying supplements or herbal medicines.