Collagen supplements have been around for decades, and they come with truly promising claims, from plumper, more youthful-looking skin and shinier hair, to stronger bones. But how effective are these protein-packed drinks and capsules? Do they come with any side effects?

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Female Network spoke to Irene Gaile C. Robredo-Vitas, MD, a dermatologist at BeautiqueMD and a fellow at Philippine Dermatological Society, to learn more about collagen supplements and to help you weigh in whether they're worth investing in your 30s, 40s. 

Female Network: Collagen supplements, drinks have gained popularity among Pinays in recent years. But in your own opinion, are they really effective? What are these supplements made of? 

Irene Gaile C. Robredo-Vitas, MD: Collagen make up 70% to 80% of the skin and it is what gives it structure and tensile strength, enabling it to perform its numerous functions. However, as we age, not only does collagen synthesis decline, but the collagen and elastin content in our skin also decreases, leading to the formation of fine lines and wrinkles. Many other factors contribute to the inevitable process of skin aging, such as an unbalanced diet and stress-related deficiencies in micronutrients. What we consume affects not only our overall nutritional status but also our skin. 

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A systematic review and several published studies on the dermatological applications of oral collagen supplementation have shown that collagen supplements can increase skin hydration and elasticity.

Collagen supplements are being given in the form of bioactive collagen peptides. [They contain] hydrolized (or broken-down) collagen that are extracted from animal connective tissues or marine sources. [Because] these broken-down collagen have a low molecular weight, they're easily absorbed by the body.

It has been suggested that these peptides not only increase collagen, but also increases the hyaluronic acid production in the skin. Most bioactive collagen peptides are composed of peptides of different lengths and, depending on the collagen source, they're characterized by a special amino acid composition. 

FN: What are the benefits of taking oral collagen?

IV: Studies show that oral administration of bioactive collagen peptides strengthen the dermis by inducing collagen synthesis. It can improve skin moisturization, texture, elasticity, wrinkles, UV-induced erythema and pigmentation. One recent study even showed enhanced wound healing effects with collagen supplementation, particularly marine collagen. Apart from skin benefits, collagen supplements have been shown to help relieve joint pains, inhibit bone breakdown that may lead to osteoporosis, and increase muscle mass or slow down loss of muscle mass in the elderly.

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FN: Are there downsides to taking oral collagen? Some women say that these pills are "nakaka taba", as they've noticed an increase in their appetite. How true is this?

IV: Taking collagen supplements has been demonstrated in several studies to be safe with no reported adverse effects. However, there are some [collagen supplements], which are made from common food allergens such as fish, shellfish, or eggs. People who are allergic to these ingredients should avoid taking these supplements.

Collagen supplements have not been reported to cause weight gain, but some individuals have reported digestive side effects such as bloatedness and a feeling of fullness and even diarrhea.

You must also keep in mind that not all collagen supplements are the samesome brands and forms of collagen are better than others. Look for products that contain hydrolyzed collagen, which exhibit high absorbability, and avoid those that offer a combination of several ingredients or additives that could interact with collagen or modify how it is supposed to work.

Although many published studies demonstrate the efficacy of collagen supplements, additional clinical studies with larger sample size representative of a larger population are needed in order to fully understand and appreciate the effects of oral collagen supplementation in the skin. 

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FN: Is there a difference between collagen powders and capsules? Which would you say would be the most effective?

IV: There are no studies that claim superiority of one type over the other. In my opinion, it is rather a matter of choice, in terms of convenience and preference.

Some patients would prefer to use collagen powder and mix it into their drinks, while others would rather take capsules at a certain time of the day. It is more important to find the type that suits your needs and lifestyle.

FN: How many times a day should women take them?

IV: Most studies demonstrate efficacy after eight to 12 weeks of daily intake with a dosage of 1000mg to 2500mg per day, depending on the type of collagen.

I personally take my collagen supplements at bedtime because I find that they help me sleep better at night. Also, it is when we are asleep when our body scavenges for available nutrients it can use to regenerate and repair our cells.

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FN: What are the other ways we can increase the collagen production in our skin?

IV: There are many sources of collagen that can be incorporated in our diet, such as food that are high in protein—these are bone broth, beef cartilage, chicken skin, pork skin, beef, fish, beans, eggs and dairy products.

Avoiding prolonged exposure to ultraviolet radiation and applying sunscreen regularly help slow down collagen degradation. 

Using topical creams that contain ingredients such as vitamin C and retinoids boost collagen formation and also slow down degradation of collagen.

And finally, undergoing procedures such as collagen-induction therapy (a.k.a microneedling!) that injure the skin triggering a wound healing process or energy-based devices such as radiofrequency, laser and micro-focused ultrasound that heat the dermis and connective tissues to form new collagen.

FN: Finally, who would you recommend collagen supplements to? Is it just right to start taking them in your 30s?

IV: I would definitely NOT recommend collagen supplements to individuals less than 30 years old. They say that intrinsic production of collagen starts to slow down in your early 20s and stops just before you turn 30. 

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