The Collagen Hype is Real (and Justified)

FROM THE WEBMED ARCHIVES

Dec. 12, 2019 -- In January 2019, Jessica Sansevera looked in the mirror and discovered the holidays had not been kind to her skin. Winter dryness and stress had deepened her fine lines, and overindulgence in caffeine and sugar had left her with welts of rosacea-related acne around her mouth.


 

“My skin was just not where it should be for a woman my age, and I wanted to do something preventive before those lines got too etched in,” says Sansevera, a 30-something mother of two and schoolteacher from Westchester, NY.


U.S. consumers are expected to spend $293 million on collagen products in 2020.

Due to her sensitive skin, fancy treatments and expensive creams were off the table. So, at the advice of her dermatologist, she took a different “inside-out” approach. She began spiking her morning smoothie with a scoop of collagen.

Within a month, her acne abated, replaced with a rosy glow. And within 3 months, she noticed a host of other unexpected changes. Her nails were thicker. Her hair stopped falling out in the shower. And she could dance without pain from her knee osteoarthritis. “It is not a miracle,” she stresses, noting that she also cleaned up her diet and added a probiotic to her daily routine. “But I absolutely believe the collagen is helping.” Sansevera’s discovery is hardly a new one.

For centuries, Chinese women have viewed collagen -- a protein that binds tissues in fish and animals -- as a fountain of youth, routinely consuming foods like pig’s feet, shark fins, and donkey skin in hopes of smoothing withered skin and preserving aging joints. In the United States, collagen became best known in the 1980s as an expensive injectable filler to plump lips and soften lines. But only in recent years, as companies have come up with more appetizing ways to take it (including fruity chews, vanilla-flavored-coffee creamers, single-serving sachets, and easy-to-swallow capsules) has edible collagen begun to catch on here. Instagram endorsements from celebrities like Kourtney Kardashian (who starts her day with a hot collagen beverage) haven’t hurt. And thanks to a small but growing body of evidence suggesting it can improve skin, ease arthritis symptoms, promote wound healing, and fend off muscle wasting, former skeptics in the medical field are also beginning to come around.


In 2020, in the United States alone, consumers are expected to spend $293 million on collagen supplements, up from just $50 million in 2014, according to market research firm Nutrition Business Journal. Globally, as collagen makes its way into more foods and beverages, topicals, and even the operating room, the market is projected to reach $6.5 billion by 2025.

But despite its popularity, questions remain about how well it works and how safe it is. “It’s definitely among the top three products people ask me about, and I believe it does hold promise in some diverse areas of medicine,” says Mark Moyad, MD, director of the complementary and alternative medicine program at the University of Michigan Medical Center. “It’s also one of the most wacky and controversial.”


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