The science behind how and why ingestible collagen supplements work and finding a good one

The scientific community hasn’t been necessarily convinced of the power of ingestible collagen supplements up until now, but the research is starting to take on a rosier view. Just days ago, The Sydney Morning Herald investigated ingestible collagen supplements and found “A systematic review of the effects of collagen supplements on skin health, published in 2020, found taking peptides consistently led to improvements in skin luminosity, hydration, elasticity.” And we all have plenty of anecdotal data points that say the stuff works. It’s all over social media and it seems like a new collagen supplement launches every day, so how does it work? Why would you want to take one? Why are we all suddenly obsessed with the supplement?

Enter Dr. Michele Squire, the pHD scientist and life-long student of skincare behind the telehealth pioneer Qr8. She also created a suite of skin and wellness products under the Qr8 umbrella, including MediSkin, Rx and Nutrition, which is how she came to partner with local marine collagen superstar Vida Glow. Here she spills the science on why we’re all taking ingestible collagen supplements now and what’s up with marine collagen supplements specifically.

PB: What does marine collagen do? What are the benefits?

“There is a substantial, and ever-increasing, body of scientific evidence supporting the safety and efficacy (objectively measured in randomized controlled trials, the gold standard of scientific evidence) of ingested low molecular-weight collagen peptides for clinical anti-aging benefits, such as improving skin’s collagen and elastin density, elasticity, and hydration to plump fine lines and wrinkles.

There is also early evidence to suggest that collagen peptides have antioxidant ability, and can reduce signs of UV damage in skin. Vida Glow’s own studies (performed at the renowned research institute, Centre de Pharmacologie Clinique Appliqueé à la Dermatologie, which specialises in skincare clinical trials) support these findings.”

PB: Why do people take ingestible collagen supplements?

“Collagen in its native (dietary) form isn’t ‘absorbable’ by the body – it must first be digested by intestinal enzymes into peptides and amino acids. Until these peptides and amino acids are liberated from the parent collagen molecule by digestion they are not available to the body for collagen building activity (‘bioavailable’). The end stage of intestinal digestion is called ‘hydrolysis’, and there are a number of names for the resulting smaller peptides, that can be used interchangeably. These are: hydrolysed collagen (HC), collagen hydrolysates (CH), or bioactive collagen peptides (CP).

Many people think you can get enough collagen from your diet, or by consuming gelatin. But the amount of bioavailable collagen peptides from dietary sources is highly variable. It depends on the animal, what body part it is from, how much you eat and how it was cooked. Even prepared bone broth, considered the most superior dietary collagen source, has marked variation between amino-acid content depending on how it’s prepared.

And with all the best intentions, none of us eat a 100% healthy diet every day, and we may not absorb all the nutrients optimally either, especially as we age. So dietary collagen is an unreliable source, geared more towards basic nutritional adequacy, rather than optimal skin health. That’s where a quality collagen peptide supplement comes in.

Good collagen supplements like Vida Glow don’t contain ‘native’ (i.e. dietary) collagen, but rather a purified, concentrated and reliable dose of collagen peptides and amino acids, already in an absorbable (‘broken down’) form. These tiny peptides have a low molecular weight of 2-4 Kilodaltons (2000-4000 Daltons) and are soluble, tasteless and bioactive. Scientific studies show that they can cross the gut without being further digested, enter the bloodstream in large numbers and reach the skin.”

PB: Who should take an ingestible collagen supplement?

“From a prevention perspective, it’s never too soon to start thinking about preventing collagen loss.

This is because our skin is subject to ageing influences, like declining cellular and hormone function and UV exposure, that start to deplete our collagen stores from our mid-to-late 20s (much earlier than people think!). This is especially true with our culture of sun exposure in Australia. For example, Australian women report moderate to severe signs of ageing 10-20 years earlier than their US counterparts. Early signs of sun damage are also apparent in children as young as 13 years of age. Our collagen stores are also not replenished as quickly as we age, which, coupled with collagen loss and other ageing factors, leads to sagging, less elastic skin and wrinkles.

This is why I recommend collagen supplements to my clients (and take them myself!) as an evidence-based, future-proofing strategy to complement a great skincare routine and healthy lifestyle choices.”

PB: Are there good or bad types of collagen supplement?

“There are many collagen supplements available in the market, and not all supplements are created equal. Different source materials and processing methods can result in very different collagen purity, concentration, amino acid composition and peptide size. This means that quality and dose can vary enormously between brands (which is likely why some people report little result from collagen supplementation).

When deciding on a collagen supplement, look for one that contains:
• highly purified collagen from a sustainable source
• a high concentration of collagen in the finished product (so you can take the minimum dosage and still get results)
• low molecular-weight peptides (between 2-4 Kilodaltons) for maximum absorption/bioavailability (scientific studies show that collagen peptides of this size can cross the gut without being further digested, enter the bloodstream in large numbers and reach the skin)
• a high concentration of collagen-rich amino acids like proline and hydroxyproline

I also recommend a high-quality brand that can demonstrate the scientific data supporting its claims and provide transparency around ingredients and their source. This translates into a greater likelihood that the consumer will see results from their collagen supplementation.”

PB: Why do you think there are suddenly so many on the market?

“Skincare consumers have changed significantly in the last few years. They are now well informed, and understand that ageing well starts with prevention and a focus on emotional, mental and physical health (or as I like to say – good skin is an inside job!). Consumers are looking for intelligent, high-performance, science-backed age management solutions that fit within a busy lifestyle – like good quality collagen supplements!”

PB: Is there a best way to take it?

“Taking the right dose is key to getting results. There are so many collagen supplements available, and dosage isn’t standardised. You will need to read the nutritional information panel on the label to see how much collagen your product contains in order to take an effective dose.

Subjects in the clinical trials took 2.5-10g/day for 12 weeks before results were measured (I aim for 5-10g/day initially, then 3-5g/day after 3 months). Results should be evident by 3 months, although may be apparent earlier, depending on dose, the quality of the supplement and the skin’s own collagen requirements. The thing to remember is that collagen supplements are like good skincare – consistency is key!

You can mix Vida Glow powdered supplements into either cold or hot beverages (I keep mine on my desk so I don’t forget to take it). The Collagen Elixir is also a convenient single dose.”

PB: What sort of research is out there to back up the claims?

“Of the thousands (more than 6000!) available studies on collagen supplements, there are 19 recent high-quality studies conducted on 1,125 human subjects specifically in the field of dermatology. These studies show that collagen supplements can stimulate increased collagen, elastin and hyaluronic acid production in the skin, plumping out wrinkles and increasing the skin’s hydration and elasticity levels in the process. Although it is still emerging, the body of scientific evidence supporting the benefits of collagen supplements for clinical anti-aging benefits in the skin is exciting.

There are 2 systematic reviews linked in the Qr8 Instagram link in bio that explain all these studies here and here.”

PB: How did you choose a brand to work with?

“I have used many different types of collagen supplements over many years as part of my overall skin health strategy. Anna Lahey and I found each other serendipitously at a time when I was searching for a high-quality collagen supplement to recommend to our Qr8 MediSkin patients, and she was looking for a scientific professional to help consumers navigate the huge body of science around collagen supplements.”

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