Coffee and collagen for your skin

I don’t feel [__] years old. Why should I look old?

If this thought has crossed your mind, was your skin one of the main reasons?  Aside from hair, skin is the first thing that greets us when we look in the mirror.  While women can obsess too much about minuscule or imagined flaws, it’s a fact that age is not kind to skin.  Skin thins, loses elasticity and sags;  wrinkles and discolorations become more pronounced.  Overall skin tone becomes less vibrant.  Thanks to modern technology, some of these issues can be minimized or eliminated.  A nutritional intervention would be great, but so far there isn’t a known nutritional fix for any of these aggravations.

Which doesn’t stop marketers from trying to sell you stuff.  Consider collagen.  It’s a large protein and a critical structural component of skin, bone, blood vessels, cartilage and muscles.  It helps hold all these tissues together (the word collagen derives from the Greek word for glue).  We lose about 1% of our collagen every year.  By the time we reach our 40’s or 50’s, the impact of that loss starts to show up as wrinkles and sagging skin.

As you know, proteins are made of amino acids.  Collagen is especially high in glycine, proline, alanine and hydroxyproline.  So you might expect that collagen-containing foods — such as meat and fish — would be high in those amino acids and support collagen production.  Bone broth is now being touted as a collagen source, although amounts vary widely depending on how the broth was manufactured.  Regardless of the source,  collagen is broken down into its individual amino acids during digestion.  The amino acids are absorbed and your tissues make collagen as necessary.  So skin health does depend on your intake of protein, and if you consume collagen from food you will be getting a supply of those key amino acids that make up this important protein.

Supplement manufacturers have of course taken note of our concerns skin health.  Collagen supplements are available, marketed for improving skin.  Do they work?  ConsumerLab (subscription required) recently posted information about collagen supplements, referencing a few studies that investigated whether specific brands did anything for aging skin.  Here’s the best result they could find: older women who took 2.5 grams/day of a brand name supplement had 20% less “wrinkle volume” compared to a group taking a placebo at 8 weeks.  Four weeks later the difference was down to 11% less wrinkle volume.  In other words, you have to take this every day.

The main question I have is: how do you measure “wrinkle volume”?  What exactly is that?  And how subjective is the measurement?  At this point, I’m not impressed and I personally don’t want to have to take a (potentially pricey) supplement just for wrinkles every single day.  I’ll stick with getting amino acids from food along with all the other nutrients important for skin integrity, such as vitamins C and A, zinc, fatty acids from olive oil and fish, and a diet low in added sugars.

Speaking of coffee..

Meanwhile another skin-related headline caught my eye: “Coffee may be good for women’s skin“.  Yay!  Oh wait, the actual details tell a slightly different story.  This study compared incidence of rosacea in women to coffee consumption.  One of the standard recommendations for rosacea is avoid hot beverages.  But this study suggests that blanket assumption may be off base.  In fact, women who drank 4 or more cups/day had a significantly lower risk for rosacea compared to non-coffee drinkers.  Tea and caffeinated soft drinks had no relationship, so it’s not likely a caffeine effect.  The authors speculate that other bioactive compounds in coffee may have a beneficial effect.  But, if you read the headline and concluded that coffee fights wrinkles or sagging skin, you’d be wrong.

As for looking older than you feel… I expect that skin care and treatments in the future will become more effective, less invasive (such as face lifts) and perhaps less expensive, to capture the growing customer base of older adults, women and men, who don’t feel as old as they may look.  But even then, good nutrition to support skin health is going to remain essential.