Collagen supplements can be delivered as a protein, a peptide or hydrolyzed powder. The difference between each of these is how many amino acids they contain and how easily the body will be able to digest them. When we consume proteins or peptides, our bodies must first convert or break down these ingredients to smaller digestible quantities of amino acids. Once broken down, the body will use the amino acids to create proteins that support bone, joint and tissue health.
Hair is primarily made of keratin protein, and the body uses several types of amino acids to build keratin. When we consume collagen and other proteins, the body breaks them down into amino acids and uses them to build new proteins such as keratin. Amino acids are classified as essential and non essential. Your body can make the 11 non essential amino acids on its own, but needs to obtain the other 9 essential amino acids from food.
Collagen is the most abundant protein in your body, and accounts for about 30% of its total protein. This may be why we assume collagen supplements are necessary, since collagen is the primary building block of the body’s skin, muscles, bones, tendons, ligaments and other connective tissues. It’s also found in your organs, blood vessels and intestinal lining. Proteins are made from amino acids. The main amino acids that make collagen are proline, glycine and hydroxyproline. These amino acids are considered non-essential, and are produced by the body naturally.
Collagen makes up 70% of the dermis, which is the middle layer of skin below the epidermis, or the outer layer of skin.The dermis plays a significant role in hair because it is where the hair follicle is located. The dermis has connective tissue, blood vessels, oil and sweat glands, nerves, hair follicles, and other structures. When we lose collagen in our skin, it can cause the elasticity and strength of the skin to weaken, which can result in hair falling out prematurely.
Your body produces less collagen as you age, and existing collagen breaks down at a faster rate. The collagen is also lower in quality than when you were younger. Women experience a significant reduction in collagen production after menopause, and it'snormal for everyone to experience a decline in collagen production after age 60.
There are also certain lifestyle habits that can affect your body’s collagen levels. For example smoking, over exposure to ultraviolet light or eating too much sugar or refined carbohydrates. Smoking damages and reduces the production of collagen and elastin, leading to wrinkles and slow wound healing. Nicotine constricts blood vessels near your skin’s surface, preventing the delivery of oxygen and nutrients. Sugar attaches to proteins to form advanced glycation end products. These molecules damage nearby proteins and cause collagen to become weak, dry and brittle. Too much sunlight reduces collagen production and causes it to break down more rapidly. Ultraviolet sunlight causes wrinkles, and, as we have found out, can also lead to oxidative stress that causes greying of hair.
Collagen can’t be absorbed by your body in its whole form. Your body breaks down the collagen proteins you eat into amino acids. So consuming collagen-rich foods or collagen supplements doesn’t directly result in higher collagen levels in your body. Still, many foods that provide the raw ingredients that support collagen production can be eaten as part of a healthy diet. These foods contain the amino acids proline and glycine. Vitamin C, zinc and copper are also needed for the process.
Foods that contain these amino acids, vitamins and minerals include:
Vitamin C is found in oranges, strawberries, bell peppers, broccoli, Brussels sprouts and potatoes.
Proline is found in mushrooms, cabbage, asparagus, peanuts, wheat, fish, egg whites and meat.
GlycineGlycine is found in red meats, turkey, chicken and pork skin, peanuts and granola.
CopperCopper is found in liver, lobster, oysters, shiitake mushrooms, nuts and seeds, leafy greens, tofu and dark chocolate.
ZincZinc is found in oysters, red meat, poultry, pork, beans, chickpeas, nuts, broccoli, green leafy vegetables, whole grains and milk products.
From what we have found, taking collagen supplements can help the body- but there is little evidence to support how taking these supplements can directly effect hair health. Collagen supplements have been shown to help with skin density and strength, which can create a more stable environment to anchor hair strands and prevent premature shedding.
Those who are on the fence about collagen supplements may want to focus on limiting negative lifestyle habits, consuming healthy foods, or seeking supplements that contain vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.The use of antioxidants can be helpful in the balancing of free radicals in the skin. The body naturally creates antioxidants but often will not make enough to combat these external oxidative stressors. Incorporating topicals or supplements that include antioxidants can be helpful in the repairing of the skin and preservation of the body’s collagen supply.