Reality Check: Is collagen powder really an antidote to aging?

It’s said to aid wound healing, reduce muscle waste and improve skin elasticity as we get older, but does collagen powder really stack up?

Collagen powder has become popular for its touted benefits for improving everything from joint health to the appearance of the skin.

As part of our new Reality Check series, which breaks down the latest health, fitness and beauty fads, here’s what to know before you jump aboard this trend.

What is collagen?

Collagen is the most plentiful protein in your body, accounting for about a third of its protein composition.

It is a structural protein that binds cells and tissues together and is found in everything from bones to muscles, skin, ligaments and tendons.

While your body makes collagen, as we get older production of it slows down and cell structure weakens.

“Collagen decreases as you age, which contributes to wrinkles, stiffer and less flexible tendons and ligaments, weakening muscles and joint pain caused by worn cartilage,” says Sydney dietitian Skye Swaney.

It may be possible to boost your body’s collagen production through the diet by consuming plenty of nutrients such as vitamin C, proline, glycine and copper, which help the collagen-making process, as well as protein-packed foods such as bone broth.

Collagen supplements, usually in the form of powders, are also increasing in popularity, and can simply be added to meals.

What does collagen powder do?

“Collagen powder is essentially ground up collagen made from animal bones, skin and connective tissue,” Skye says.

Using a supplement such as collagen powder is said to have a range of potential benefits.

“Early research suggests it may do everything from improving joint pain and promoting muscle growth to aiding weight regulation and reducing wrinkles,” Skye says.

A 2015 study found collagen supplementation in elderly men who were strength training were able to increase their muscle mass, while German research found women who took collagen supplements improved their skin elasticity.

A US study also found collagen supplements reduced pain in people experiencing osteoarthritis over a 70-day period.

“I use it a lot with athletes that I work with, both for injury recovery but also in helping to prevent injuries occurring,” says Skye.

Fellow Sydney dietitian Chloe McLeod says collagen powder is particularly good at helping to improve the strength and health of ligaments.

What to be wary of when buying collagen powder

Chloe advises reading the ingredients list before buying any collagen powder.

“Ideally it will be 100 per cent collagen or if it’s not 100 per cent collagen it might have some vitamin C added into it,” she says.

“(Also) make sure it doesn’t have any unnecessary additional fillers, which can be added to make a product a bit thicker or to make it go a bit further, but aren’t necessary.

“Look at where the product is made and where the ingredients have been sourced from.”

Supplements are strictly regulated in Australia, so Chloe says she’s more likely to recommend using a collagen powder made in Australia using Australian ingredients.

Is collagen powder just another health fad?

Both Skye and Chloe agree more research needs to be done to back up claims surrounding collagen powder and its use.

“There’s no harm (using collagen powders)… but it’s not at a point yet where I would say when I’m working with a client, ‘Let’s add collagen into (your diet to) help improve your gut symptoms or have it reduce your wrinkles’,” Chloe says.

“Even if collagen supplements are shown to be beneficial, it is unclear whether they are necessary to achieve these results, or whether the same results could be achieved through improving diet.”

“There are plenty of food sources of collagen, so if you’re eating a balanced diet, supplements shouldn’t be necessary,” Skye says.

Written by Tania Gomez