Collagen Is All the Rage... But Is It Worth It?

Article By: Whittany Gibson, RDN

Whittany is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist who specializes in bariatric nutrition counseling, providing education and support prior to and following weight loss surgery.

Wouldn’t it be perfect if our skin stayed smooth and free of wrinkles for years on end? And wouldn’t it be dreamy if skin bounced back after extreme weight loss? What about a head full of healthy hair forever? Well, I hate to burst your bubble, but these thoughts are fairly unrealistic without a little cosmetic surgery intervention. Saggy skin and hair shedding are two of the biggest concerns many weight loss surgery patients may have. Of course, the benefit of achieving a healthy weight after surgery far outweighs these concerns, but there’s still that bit of vanity lurking. After all, you’ve worked hard to get here, and you want to look and feel your best while finding confidence with your new and improved body. With lifestyle modifications and a healthy diet and exercise, patients can help combat these image concerns, but one should have a realistic expectation that there will be some saggy skin and a few less hairs on your head, at least for a short amount of time.

By this point most everyone has heard of collagen. Just do a quick Google search of the word “collagen” and see how many types of supplements pop up. Collagen is naturally produced by our bodies through what we eat, and its job is to make connective tissue which literally connects tissue, just as the name implies. It is a major component in bone, tendons, skin, muscles, and cartilage, so it’s pretty darn important. As we age, we make less of it, hence the wrinkles and saggy skin when we get older, but the things we do and the way we live can expedite that loss. Common culprits include too much sun exposure, smoking, too much alcohol, inadequate sleep, and high stress which increases cortisol levels. There’s no wonder the hype that has been created with collagen supplements. But do they work?

1) What’s the deal with collagen supplements? Honestly, at this point, the effectiveness of collagen supplements has not been widely studied and research is lacking. However, many people can attest to its skin glowing benefits, growth of new hair and healthy nails in addition to relief of joint pain. As with anything else, certain products may work better for you than others. And depending on lifestyle factors, collagen supplements can be a great support to a generally healthy lifestyle, but it’s no “magic pill”. After bariatric surgery, it can be difficult to get a variety of foods in the diet, much less an abundance of foods that contain collagen in its natural state. However, collagen production is dependent on dietary sources for our bodies to make adequate amounts so here’s a breakdown of foods that can boost it:

  • Animal-based products: fish, shellfish poultry, meat, eggs, and dairy
    • Fun fact: shellfish is high in zinc which helps support collagen production
  • Plant-based foods: soy, legumes, whole grains, nuts and seeds, leafy greens, fruits, and some vegetables
    • Fun fact: fruits like berries and citrus and some vegetables such as tomatoes and bell peppers are high in vitamin C which helps support collagen production

2) Collagen vs. collagen peptides? Also known as hydrolyzed collagen, collagen peptides are said to be more bioavailable than just pure collagen. This means it is already broken down into the most absorbable form and can be absorbed by the body more effectively. There are three types of collagen: Types 1, 2, and 3. Types 1 and 3 are sourced from bovine, but Type 1 can also be from marine sources in case you have cultural or dietary preferences. If there are no preferences, opt for the collagen peptides. Collagen supplements come in many forms such as powders, capsules, gummies, and pre-mixed bottled drinks. Powders can easily be added to water or flavored waters, coffee, and teas.

3) The takeaway? While you may feel that more is better, you may be spending your money on something that’s not doing much for you. I generally advise my clients to ensure they are meeting all their basic nutrition needs first before incorporating “extras” that may interfere with the intake of what they truly need. Collagen protein should not be counted toward your daily dietary protein goals as it does not contain the same amino acid profile to classify it as a complete protein. For instance, when we are comparing the value of protein coming from chicken breast versus from collagen peptides, it’s just not the same. Instead, treat it as another supplement and fit it in wherever you can without compromising your daily intake of foods and fluids.

Other than quality nutrition choices, make lifestyle modifications if necessary. Ensure you limit your time in the sun, do strength training exercises to build muscle which can make skin appear less saggy, control your stress levels, avoid excessive amounts of alcohol, and hydrate well. If you opt for a collagen supplement, try different products and evaluate the results over time. It may take some time to see what might work best for you. As with anything, results may vary.

BariMelts provides general recommendations, not to be construed as medical advice. Please consult your doctor.

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