Collagen is an important component of our skin, nails, and hair. Will taking collagen supplements improve your looks?
Q. "Lately I’ve been reading a lot about gelatin supplements. Advocates claim that the collagen from the gelatin promotes healthy skin, hair, nails, joints, and can even heal digestive issues. Is there any truth to these claims and is it worth adding gelatin powder to my diet?"
A. Any vegans can stop reading right here because gelatin and collagen are both produced from animals (usually pigs or chickens). Specifically, simmering animal bones releases proteins, including collagen, into the water. If you've ever made homemade chicken stock, you've made your own collagen broth!
Collagen is one of the major structural proteins in the body, found in bones, tendons, ligaments, cartilage, and skin. Hair and nails, which are essentially dead skin tissue, also contain collagen. This leads many to assume that taking in extra collagen will make all of these body parts stronger and healthier. But this isn't necessarily a logical assumption.
When we take in collagen from food or supplements, this large protein is broken down during digestion and disassembled into smaller proteins and amino acids that can be absorbed from the digestive tract. The body then uses these amino acids and peptides as building blocks to build new proteins as needed.
Although it's true that we tend to have less collagen in our skin and joints as we age, it's not necessarily because we don't have enough building blocks to make more. More likely, it's that our aging DNA simply doesn't build new proteins as fast as it used to. Imagine a factory full of aging workers who can't build widgets as quickly as they did when they were younger. Bringing more and more raw materials into the factory isn't going to make your elderly workers move any faster. Likewise, loading up the body with extra collagen doesn't necessarily translate into younger-looking skin or less creaky knees.
A healthy diet, including adequate protein, is important to healthy aging. You can also help slow the loss of collagen from skin by protecting it from UV radiation. To that end, I think a good quality sunscreen is probably a better investment than gelatin supplements!