Is collagen protein safe and effective?

Naomi writes:

When opening a new container of Vital Proteins Collagen I saw a warning about possible lead content. Should I change my choice of collagen or stop using it altogether?  I am 65 and thought it would be beneficial for my hair and skin.

It’s hard to know for sure without a chemical analysis, but this warning may just be a corporate cover-your-hiney thing. I don’t think you necessarily need to throw away your new (and probably fairly pricey) container of collagen protein. But I’m also skeptical about its benefits for joints, skin, hair, or nails.

Taking a collagen supplement doesn’t necessarily increase the amount of collagen in your body. Collagen is a very large protein and when we take it as a supplement, it is not absorbed into the body as collagen. Instead, it is broken down into its constituent amino acids.  The body then recombines these amino acids to produce all the different proteins needed in the body, including collagen.

We tend to make less collagen as we age–which is one of the reasons our skin is less plump and our joints more achy. But the loss of collagen is generally not due to a lack of the necessary building blocks but simply diminished production activity as a feature of aging.

Collagen protein may still offer some benefits. Despite the high-protein diet craze, seniors are likely to be deficient in protein and this contributes accelerates the loss of muscle and bone density that lead to frailty.  Bumping up your protein intake can help slow age related muscle and bone loss. But collagen would not be my first choice.  In terms of its amino acid balance, it’s actually a fairly low quality protein.

You’d get more benefit from a plain unflavored whey protein, which is a much higher quality (and usually less expensive) source of protein. Not only that, it is generally very low in environmental contaminants such as lead, cadmium, and arsenic.

See also: New Ways to Use Whey Protein Powder

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