Collagen: Giving your face a natural lift Trout pouts and pillow cheeks aside, the protein collagen is essential for our inner and outer body’s maintenance. Has Metro stumbled upon the secret of eternal youth?
Many Japanese trends could politely be described as quirky – who knows why the grass-growing loo seat or the dumbbell-cum-phone didn’t catch on? However, the latest craze from the Far East is more mainstream – there, at least.
In the land of the rising sun, collagen, the connective protein that holds muscle tissue together, is added to just about everything, from bath gel to yoghurt. It’s even crept on to restaurant menus in recent years: innocuous-looking hotpots containing melting cubes of the translucent, tasteless, jelly-like substance, and ingredients naturally rich in collagen such as pig’s trotters, chicken skin and, controversially, shark fin, are must-have lunch options for beauty-conscious women.
It’s taken the West a while to develop an appetite for the idea but, with Oprah Winfrey talking up a powdered collagen drink on her show in 2008 and Yo! Sushi’s Market Place branch in London adding a collagen drink to its menu this summer, we could finally be entering the era of the trotter.
Collagen supplements are becoming popular too – Harvey Nichols, Holland & Barrett and numerous health websites stock them. But what’s the secret of this so-called wonder protein?
‘Collagen accounts for 30 to 45 per cent of the body’s protein,’ explains Kate Butler, a nutritionist for Holland & Barrett. ‘It’s the essential structural component of all connective tissue and makes up approximately 75 per cent of the body’s skin tissue. As a result, the depletion of collagen within the skin is thought to lead to the formation of wrinkles and the appearance of ageing.’
As well as plumping you up on the outside, collagen is vital for healthy joints. ‘It can protect the cartilage and synovial fluid surrounding joints against deterioration from everyday wear and tear,’ Butler says.
Research has shown that collagen levels diminish at a rate of 1.5 per cent a year from the age of 25. By the time we get to 40, we’ve lost a third of our collagen, leading to arthritis, sagging skin, osteoarthritis, musculoskeletal injuries such as lower back pain and joint injuries, and osteoporosis.
The University of Munich and Stanford University in the US carried out a study on 2,000 men and women with osteoarthritis of the hip and knee – sufferers given capsules of collagen felt a reduction in pain and saw increased mobility in more than three-quarters of cases.
However, some experts believe collagen is no more effective than any other protein-rich food. Dr Toni Philips, leading cosmetic doctor and clinical director for Renew Medica, says: ‘You can’t increase collagen by ingesting it or by applying it topically – the molecules are too large to enter the skin. Collagen tablets or pills don’t work but there are ways to help the body produce more collagen naturally such as Vitamin D. Potent antioxidants such as Vitamin C will help protect the collagen in the body and slow down its depletion.’
This is why choosing the correct supplement is critical – one that also contains collagen-building ingredients such as amino acids, lysine, proline and Vitamin C, or one containing ‘hydrolysed’ collagen, which can be rapidly absorbed by the intestinal tract.
Nathalie Pelletier, head of nutrition at Functionalab, has 20 years’ experience as a nutritionist and helps athletes optimise their performance through nutrition. She says: ‘No cream can help support collagen synthesis. As the body loses its ability to make collagen, it starts to break down. This is why our skin loses its elasticity and starts sagging, wrinkles appear, our hair becomes thinner, our joints are stiffer and less flexible, and our body loses its tone. By replenishing our collagen, we can help support optimal collagen synthesis for optimal health.’
She recommends eating a balanced diet, ‘with good sources of vitamin C and adequate protein intake’ to support natural collagen production but admits: ‘It might be difficult to get the needed quantities to stimulate collagen synthesis through diet only – supplementation may be needed to support better collagen synthesis.’
So will a collagen-rich diet, or collagen supplements, keep us all looking as fresh-faced as the Japanese? The jury’s still out – and only time can tell.
Converted to collagen: Stephanie Swann, 36, a photographer from Holland Park, was a keen cyclist until a knee problem threatened to force her to hang up her helmet for good. Stephanie Swann's knee problem improved two months after she started taking Pure-Col Stephanie Swann's knee problem improved two months after she started taking Pure-Col ‘I was suffering from acute pain in my left knee. It was getting worse and, since I cycle everywhere, I was really upset at the prospect of not being able to do so anymore. I went to the doctor, who said it sounded like a cartilage issue and suggested I should see a specialist, with the possibility of needing some sort of surgery.
‘I had heard from various friends that having a knee op should be avoided if possible. One had a bad experience where her knee was worse afterwards and another, who is a chiropractor, said it would mean they would take away cartilage and I would therefore run into problems later.
‘One day, I read about Pure-Col in a fitness magazine. Lots of athletes endorses it due to its ability to heal cartilage, as well as other physiological conditions. I was really excited at the prospect of being able to try something natural before going down the road of surgery. ‘The company said that I would need to take Pure-Col for between three and six months before I would see a result. I was slightly sceptical but was so desperate to get better naturally, I decided to try it and see. ‘Within two months, I was already feeling a huge improvement. The pain was definitely less and the swelling that I was starting to see after a long cycle was also reduced. Within three months I felt a huge improvement and within six months, the pain and all the symptoms had completely gone.’
Pure-Col is available from www.lookand health.co.uk, £29.95
The contents of this site are for information purposes only, and not intended to diagnose illness or prescribe treatment. Always consult a medically qualified practitioner with a knowledge of natural supplements before starting a course of supplements and before making any change to prescribed medication.