On account of my skepticism, I never planned on writing about collagen supplements. I had taken some name brand ones before, but hadn’t noticed any changes. They made for a nice coffee creamer and that’s about it as far as I was concerned.
So, when I was handed some Ingenious collagen supplement samples at the Editor’s List Live event in London last month, I almost didn’t take them. Fast forward 6 weeks and I have noticeably brighter, more supple skin. I’m amazed. Nothing else has changed in my skin care routine or diet. Could it really be down to the supplements? Quite possibly. More than likely even, as the science behind the brand is compelling.
Intrigued, I reached out to Ingenious’ co-founder, award-winning pharmacist Pupinder Ghatora, to find out more.
Collagen is the most abundant protein in our bodies, accounting for one third of all protein. It is the primary building block of skin, muscles, bones, tendons and ligaments. It helps fibroblasts form in the dermis which helps new cells to grow. It also aids in replacing dead skin cells and it gives structure, strength and elasticity to the skin.
Unfortunately, collagen production begins to drop for both men and women at the rate of about 1.5% from the age of 25. Not only that, but the quality of the collagen produced diminishes with age. Sun exposure, smoking, excess alcohol, and lack of sleep and exercise speed up that degradation, as does menopause.
Signs of decreasing collagen include wrinkled, sagging skin, hallowing in and around the face and eyes, shrinking muscles and stiffer tendons and ligaments. With an aging population worldwide, it’s no wonder that the collagen supplement market is growing by leaps and bounds, valued at over $2 billion in 2022.
Collagen supplements come in many forms from pills, powders and liquids to gummies and capsules. They usually comprise collagen peptides — smaller, more easily digestible and absorbable fragments of the “massive” collagen molecules.
The problem with most supplements, however, is that they get degraded by the acidity in the stomach. Not having survived the hostile journey to the gut, the collagen won’t reach your skin, hair or nails. Therefore, it is crucial that the supplements remain intact until they enter the small intestine which is where nutrient absorption is maximized. This is where, I learned, that Ingenious distinguishes itself.
With most brands of supplements, some of the collagen may indeed reach the small intestine, “however the dose that you get isn’t going to be consistent or repeatable because the stomach may break down 90% on one dose and 70% on another dose,” explains Pupinder. “But with ours, we can say the capsule is delivering 627 milligrams of collagen peptides to the small intestine or 95% up to that level every time you’re taking it.” That’s because of the unique encapsulation.
“We had a capsule produced to our own specification that does not break down in the stomach,” explains the pharmacist. “But as soon as it hits the small intestine where the acidity levels are lower, that triggers a structural change in the capsule shell. The capsule then releases all the active ingredients in the small intestine so you have a very high bioavailability which means a lot of absorption of collagen peptides getting into the bloodstream.”
The key to effectiveness is getting those collagen peptides (strings of amino acids — the building blocks of proteins) into the bloodstream. “The reason you want to do that is that once your body senses these collagen peptide fragments floating around in the blood, it perceives that there’s collagen breakdown going on and it causes your cells to kickstart production of your own collagen, hence improving skin health, increasing hydration, increasing elasticity, reducing fine lines and winkles and so on,” says Pupinder.
In essence, “those collagen fragments that are in your blood from the supplements trick your body’s own fibroblast cells into producing more of your own collagen.”
Here are some Before and After photos at 12 weeks with the Beauty capsules.
Two decades of research went into the formulation of the capsule, made of plant cellulose. “We’re the only company in the world that has done this and we own the patent on the concept,” reveals Pupinder. The co-founder, David Hyland, and I studied this and worked on it for 20 years. We’ve only really started to grow the company in the last three and that’s because we wanted to ensure that we had all our science and evidence absolutely bullet proof before we went to market.”
That evidence includes an independent, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial — the gold standard of clinical trials — conducted at the end of 2019 on 116 women aged 30-60 with the results showing that 98% of the group experienced a significant improvement to the quality of their skin.
Other brands can point to studies too, but these are only for the active ingredients, indicates Pupinder, and are provided by the suppliers of these ingredients. So, the efficacy of those ingredients may differ according to the formulation of the supplement. Because collagen supplements are considered a food supplement, “you can make all sorts of claims without any issues. Dave and I have taken the approach of treating these as if we were releasing a pharmaceutical and ensuring that all our evidence and science is absolutely solid.”
The source of the collagen peptides in the Ingenious capsules is marine, derived from the skins of sustainably-caught, free-swimming Tilapia fish according to Pupinder. As to why marine collagen is used rather than bovine collagen, the founder explains that he finds marine collagen to be of higher quality with a higher bioactivity (ie absorption rate) than bovine collagen due to its very small molecular weight. Marine collagen is also a cleaner product, explains Pupinder, emphasizing that “a lot of bovine collagen comes through as a biproduct of the meat industry.”
Active ingredients also include hyaluronic acid, Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Zinc and the antioxidant, Astaxanthin. 6000 times more powerful than Vitamin C, Astaxanthin is “like Vitamin C on steroids,” according to the founder.
There are 3 formulations – Beauty, Active and Vegan. As I exercise regularly, I was given the Active version which contains ActiGin, a natural compound shown to enhance endurance levels and speed up muscle recovery. The Active regimen requires 4 capsules taken daily, while the Beauty and Vegan regimens require 3.
It’s worth noting that even though collagen peptides act as a stimulant, your body is only going to produce collagen where it needs it most, so it won’t necessarily go to the skin first. “Your bones may need it, joints, eyes, muscles, and so on,” says the pharmacist, “it’s a non-selective process hence it sometimes takes a long time for the skin to come through or the hair or nails.” Thus, while most users will see changes at 12 weeks, it may take longer for the supplements to take effect in others. Weight is a factor. “For someone heavier, it may take 6 or 9 months for the results to kick in,” explains Pupinder.
To add another dimension, intriguingly, some of the ingredients such as the hyaluronic acid complex and the astaxanthin used in the supplements “are really good at mopping up senescent cells,” says Pupinder. This is part of a much larger discussion, but in short, senescent cells are damaged cells which resist removal, linger and cause harm by triggering inflammation. As a result, this phenomenon has been linked to a multitude of age-related ills, including cancer, diabetes, osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease, stroke, dementia, and osteoarthritis. Senescent cells may also contribute to sagging and wrinkling skin. In other words, cellular senescence is a hallmark of aging and targeting these cells may hold the key to healthier aging.
What does this mean for Ingenious? Stay tuned for “we’re looking at cell regeneration and rejuvenation,” was all Pupinder was prepared to reveal.
In the meantime, I will continue taking these supplements, anticipating the effects they will have on my hair and nails in the coming weeks. But, is there a cut-off? Are we locked into this regimen for life? It seems so. That’s because collagen levels will always decrease with age. “Think of it as a leaking bucket,” advises Pupinder. “At 25, you’ve got a bucket full of collagen. At 25, a little pinprick appears at the bottom and as you age, that pinprick gets bigger, so you’re losing more and more collagen because you’re not as efficient at joining up those amino acids. Therefore, you need to continuously top up.” That’s one more ritual – a well worth one – added to the daily skin care routine then.
What about diet? I asked Pupinder. Is it possible to increase collagen levels naturally through a high protein diet?
In short, no. “Any animal protein — meat, chicken, fish, eggs — contains massive amounts of collagen. But, your stomach breaks down that collagen into amino acids, the basic building blocks for structures in your body. We could eat beef every day and look 25 forever but that’s not the case because your body becomes less and less efficient at joining up those amino acids into the necessary collagen peptides.
“In terms of foods, a high protein diet is useful because it provides amino acids which your body will use wherever necessary, like for making enzymes. Even if they are used to make collagen, it won’t be at that increased efficiency level such that you would notice a change in your skin.
“It’s also worth having a diet high in antioxidants, so dark-skinned fruit and dark-skinned vegetables — all of those things help to mop up free radicals which can damage collagen. Also, a low sugar diet helps to maintain collagen levels because you get something called glycation if you have a lot of sugar in your diet and that causes collagen breakdown.
“In addition, Vitamin C and Zinc are very important in collagen production. I would also recommend Vitamin D with K2. Vitamin D is activated by Vitamin K2. Vitamin D has a huge number of functions in the body – a small one being collagen synthesis. If you just take Vitamin D on its own, it won’t be as effective as if you took it with Vitamin K2.
“Smoking also should be avoided and alcohol too because the dehydration can affect the collagen structures in your skin. That’s not to say you can’t enjoy these things, just be mindful and aware of the amounts that you’re having.”
All photos courtesy of www.feelingingenious.com.