Should we be drinking anti-aging collagen tea? That’s the question I was asking myself having seen a supplier of specialist supplement materials suggesting that we should take them up on exactly that proposition. Collagen is one of the longest standing cosmetic buzzwords and it has been turning up on ingredient lists, in marketing copy and as part of product names since the nineteen fifties. Most people who are interested in what the personal care world has to offer for fighting the ravages of time will have a collagen anti aging cream or serum in their cupboard.
Collagen supplements are nothing new, but does the nature of collagen lend itself to putting it in a drink?
Does collagen help anti-ageing?
On the face of it, this is a terrible idea. We already ingest a great deal of collagen whenever we eat meat. It is a very common protein form indeed. So if collagen does have beneficial effects on the skin, surely we will be getting them already without having to take a supplement. On top of that there’s also the fact that vegetarians who don’t eat any collagen at all seem to have skin that’s just as good as anybody else’s. So that doesn’t really support the notion that ingesting collagen can improve how your skin looks.
Collagen in the body
Add to that what we know about what happens to proteins when they enter the digestive system. So we have a pretty good idea of the consequences of drinking collagen.
In the stomach the low pH disrupts the collagen’s structure. Once this has happened enzymes called pepsins get to work breaking the molecule down. First into peptides then into individual amino acids. This process of controlled destruction is known as proteolysis. The millions of individual amino acids that form the complicated structure of collagen are broken down to its component parts. It is very efficient so we can be confident that no intact collagen survives its visit to the stomach.
I’ve already discussed this in a bit more detail in my post on collagen shots.
Does collagen make you look younger?
All in all the idea of a collagen supplement sounds like a non-starter. And yet there is a paper in the scientific literature that purports to show skin benefits from collagen supplementation. The benefits are not very great. But as Doctor Johnson said about a dog playing chess – it isn’t a question of how well it is done. It is remarkable that it is done at all.
The paper reports on a proper double blind study. Double blind studies are pretty much the gold standard for proving efficacy. You can’t get a license for a drug without showing that it works better than the corresponding placebo. Few supplements have this kind of backup data. But having an effect is one thing. Having a big enough effect to be worth the effort is another. The data on this extract was assessed by the European Food Standards Agency. They concluded that the data on this grade of collagen was not sufficient to justify a claim of increased skin elasticity
Since this paper came out there been a few more studies indicating that collagen supplements might have some beneficial effects.
How does collagen increase elasticity?
How might it be working? Here’s a possible explanation. Collagen in the skin is continuously being broken down and rebuilt. My guess is that this is the best way of keeping it in good shape. The skin is the part of the body most exposed to UV light and free radicals. Like most things in the body, this process is controlled by enzymes. And the details aren’t well understood. As we get older the rate of breakdown begins to exceed the rate of rebuilding, so the length of the collagen chains decreases.
I wonder if the enzymes are triggered by particular peptide sequences in the collagen molecule. If so, the enzyme to build the collagen might spring into action if it encounters a short peptide chain that had the correct sequence of amino acids. Could there be a form of collagen such that it this same short sequence was released during digestion in the stomach and got into the bloodstream? It is, to be honest, a bit hard to believe. But how else would the supplement be working?
Collagen Tea – The Bottom Line
So in a nutshell, there may be a form of collagen that can modify the way enzymes handle collagen in the skin. And it could in theory give increased elasticity to your skin. Nobody has taken this idea to market yet, or at least not in a big way. I don’t think if I was looking to invest some money in a new product idea I’d be convinced enough to do so. But I’d be intrigued to see how it got on if someone did. The idea of an anti-aging hot beverage is quite appealing.
PS – I haven’t named the specific grade of collagen in this post, but you can easily find it from the references I have provided. It isn’t the same as the nature-identical collagen I’ve talked about recently that has been bioengineered for topical use and the two grades are not in any way comparable. Which one is the best collagen for skin is yet to be established.
Proksch, E. et al. “Oral Supplementation Of Specific Collagen Peptides Has Beneficial Effects On Human Skin Physiology: A Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Study”. Skin Pharmacology And Physiology, vol 27, no. 1, 2014, pp. 47-55. S. Karger AG, doi:10.1159/000351376. Accessed 3 Apr 2022.
Czajka A, Kania EM, Genovese L, Corbo A, Merone G, Luci C, Sibilla S. Daily oral supplementation with collagen peptides combined with vitamins and other bioactive compounds improves skin elasticity and has a beneficial effect on joint and general wellbeing. Nutr Res. 2018; 57:97-108
Inoue N, Sugihara F, Wang X. Ingestion of bioactive collagen hydrolysates enhance facial skin moisture and elasticity and reduce facial ageing signs in a randomised double-blind placebo-controlled clinical study. J Sci Food Agric. 2016; 96:(12)4077-4081