The Big C

Oral collagen is a skincare staple now, with everyone mooning over its invisible wand of youth
Image for representational purposes only. ( File Photo)
Image for representational purposes only. ( File Photo)

Everyone wants their skin to look taut and supple, wrinkle-free and moist, youthful and glowing. Following the manufactured hoopla around face yoga, emerges another contender for the youth-inducing quickie.

Oral collagen is a skincare staple now, with everyone mooning over its invisible wand of youth. So, with all the shrieks and reels, even boozie concoctions laced with inserts, and the palpable buzz around the Big C, is collagen simply a myth or truly magic?

Protein Punch
The word collagen is derived from the Greek word ‘kolla’ meaning glue. “Collagen is a protein of our body comprising one-third of the body’s protein. It’s a primary component of our skin, bones, muscles and ligaments,” explains Dr Madhuri Agarwal, Founder and Medical Director, Yavana Aesthetics Clinic, Mumbai. “In skin, collagen is found in the dermis and accounts for 70-80 percent of its dry weight giving structural strength and toughness.”

But all of us have brought in secret ninjas in cod liver oil capsules, and folic acid supplements as skin and hair glow getters. Collagen fix appears in powders, pills and creams, yet does it make us look dewy and darling?

Just like topical application of serums and creams yields low impact, as opposed to ingestion, the localised smearing of collagen creams is useless as the collagen molecules are a bit too beefy to muscle their way into the dermis—the home of our natural collagen that, alas, dissipates with increasing years (unlike the other skin component elastin) and makes way for sagging and ageing.

Our physiological ageing starts at 25 years, perhaps earlier, with our urban lifestyles. Does eating collagen actually help us to look younger? “Our body comprises different types of collagen. Our skin needs Type 1 & 3 collagen. There are hardly any approved supplements that can deliver the specific collagen type required for the skin. Also, collagen supplements are not the whole collagen but bits of collagen (peptides) that are mostly dissolved by our stomach acids and barely absorbed by our bloodstream,” explains Agarwal.

“It is difficult to comprehend that both whole collagen or peptides can survive the entire digestive process and finally reach the skin at desired levels to augment the depleted collagen. Collagen supplements are also believed to strengthen nails, better joint mobility and gut health. Honestly, there are no mind-blowing visible differences seen in patients consuming collagen. It definitely seems to be a wellness fad for now until we have substantial scientific studies to back the hype or claims made by oral collagen products.”

In its most concise format, hydrolysed collagen supplements emerge as skin heroes. Creams containing collagen hydrolysate serve as good moisturisers or skin-plumping creams. There is no such thing as spot reduction when we talk of weight loss, wishing away tummy sags, and love handles. Likewise, it is tough to pinpoint the youthful effect specific to collagen. “Soluble or hydrolysed collagen supplements contain collagen peptides.

These carry the same amino acids as collagen and are absorbed by the body. Yet how much of the supplement is absorbed and whether or not the amino acids reach their intended organs where they can serve as the building blocks for the production of additional collagen is questionable,” says Dr Niketa Sonavane, celebrity dermatologist and the founder of Ambrosia Aesthetics, Mumbai.

What’s the collagen scorecard? “Remember, taking collagen supplements means committing to a long-term relationship. In order to see long-term results from collagen, you'll need to take supplements for as long as necessary. This is because an enzyme called collagenase is constantly being produced by our bodies. Collagenase constantly breaks down our collagen naturally,” says Sonavane.

As for vegan supplements, no scientific evidence exists to support the claims that plant-based or vegan collagen products can boost collagen production, even though they claim to do so. “These products are bereft of collagen, instead containing vitamins, antioxidants and herbs that claim to increase collagen production or reduce collagen depletion. Marine, porcine, or bovine sources are the most common sources for collagen extraction in manufacturing supplements,” shares Sonavane.

A few studies show that regular collagen supplementation can improve skin elasticity, hydration, and density in as little as six to 12 weeks—as collagen works as a humectant—but then, most such studies are funded by supplement makers. “Instead work on what you eat. Homemade broth with chicken, beef or fish is a good collagen aid,” says Agarwal. “Bone broth is a rich gelatin, amino acids and collagen. Food that helps with anti-aging such as salmon, avocado, sweet potatoes, bell peppers and citrus fruits should be included as they’re an excellent source of vitamins and Omega 3,” says Agarwal.

Quick tips

✥ Streamline sugar consumption. The villainous ingredient retards your skin’s ability to repair collagen bonds.
✥ Cut out refined carbohydrates from your daily intake. It makes your skin sag, gifts fat folds and jowls.
✥ Apply sunscreen every day even if you work from home. It prevents fine lines from setting in as UV exposure catalyses premature ageing.
✥ Moderate alcohol intake is fine, but give up smoking for good skin heath.

“Collagen supplements suggested for bone and tissue health can be started at any age depending on the concern. Anti-aging treatments and solutions are advised in mid-20s to slow down signs of early aging.”
Dr Madhuri Agarwal, Founder and Medical Director, Yavana Aesthetics Clinic, Mumbai

“We begin to lose about 1 percent collagen each year in our 20s. Sunlight, cigarette smoke, and pollution all contribute to its breakdown.”
Dr Niketa Sonavane, Dermatologist and Founder, Ambrosia Aesthetics, Mumbai

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The New Indian Express