Collagen for Menopause - Are Supplements Worth It? | Stella
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Collagen and menopause

byDr. Lucy Wilkinson

From smoothies to expensive supplements, collagen appears to be a must-have addition to menopause self-care regimes. It’s an especially hot topic when it comes to plumping up ageing skin and preserving a youthful glow. But does it live up to the hype? Read on to find out the evidence behind collagen and how it can help your symptoms.

What is collagen?

Selling a product requires persuasion and collagen is often made out to be the stuff of miracles. But strip away the marketing language and you’ll find that collagen is simply a type of protein. It’s one of the most essential parts of the human body and is found in bone, cartilage, muscle, skin and other soft tissues.

There are currently known to be over 20 different kinds of collagen, but the most common in the human body is called Type 1.

Your body builds collagen from amino acids it gets from your diet. Amino acids are the tiny building blocks that all proteins are made from. 

When you eat protein, such as a portion of chickpeas or a steak, your digestive system breaks it down into smaller chunks, including lots of tiny amino acids. These are then easily absorbed by your gut and reassembled into more complicated molecules like collagen.

What happens to collagen during menopause?

Collagen levels decrease during menopause and affect all tissues in your body, such as tendons and ligaments. You may notice it first in your skin and wrinkles, sagging, dryness and slow wound healing are common

Hormonal changes during menopause are thought to be to blame. Almost a third of skin collagen is lost over the first five years after menopause. Beyond this, loss continues at a rate of about 2% per year. We know it’s not the news you want to hear, but don’t worry, there are ways to slow down this effect and boost your skin health.

Read our complete guide to menopause skin changes.

Do collagen supplements work?

You may have heard claims that collagen can reverse signs of ageing – but is there enough evidence to back this up? 

The truth is we are still learning about how collagen in your diet affects your skin. This is a very tricky area to research, as there are so many different things that can influence study results, such as:

  • The type of collagen
  • How much is used
  • Lifestyle choices of the study participants  

That said, there is a small amount of evidence that collagen supplements may work. This is especially true for hydrolyzed collagen. This is a type of collagen that has been broken up into smaller parts, making it easier for the body to absorb.

Anti-ageing and wound healing

One 2019 research review looked at the experiences of 800 people. The researchers found that oral collagen – which means supplements such as pills and powders that are swallowed – can “increase skin elasticity, hydration and dermal collagen density”. It was also “promising” in terms of wound healing and skin ageing. Since, there have been further reviews reaching similar conclusions. So there is some evidence that collagen supplements can help your skin stay plump and ‘youthful’.

Joint issues

Research is limited at the moment and studies tend to be small, but some suggest that collagen supplements can improve symptoms of osteoarthritis. This is often referred to as ‘wear and tear’ arthritis and can lead to painful, stiff and sometimes swollen joints.

There is also some evidence to suggest that hydrolyzed collagen can improve joint pain even when there is no underlying disease. Athletes found that their joint pain improved after taking collagen supplements for six months. However, it’s important to note that we don’t know how well these results translate to non-athletes and other groups. More research is needed to find out whether those with menopause symptoms experience the same benefits.

Joint issues are a common menopause symptom. Learn why this happens and what might help in our blog on aches and pains in menopause.

Bone health

Lower oestrogen levels in menopause make your bones lose density, leaving them weaker and more prone to fractures. A study of about 100 postmenopausal women found that collagen supplements did improve bone mineral density after a year.

Read more about osteoporosis and bone health in menopause.

More research is needed

Despite this, there are still many questions that need to be answered before we can say for certain that it is worth splashing out on collagen supplements! 

We do not know how much collagen is needed, or which types work best. Similarly, we do not know if taking collagen supplements is more effective than simply increasing the amount of protein in your diet overall. We hope these questions will be answered as research continues.

Do collagen supplements help with menopause symptoms?

There is some evidence that collagen supplements could help with menopausal skin changes and joint issues.

But low oestrogen levels during menopause cause more than 30 other symptoms, none of which collagen supplements can help. 

A range of treatments is available for your symptoms, which may include hot flushes, mood swings, vaginal changes and bladder symptoms. Lifestyle changes and hormone replacement therapy (HRT) could both be important. Work with your doctor to help find the treatment combination that’s best for you.

Can you use collagen and HRT together?

Yes, absolutely. It’s fine to use HRT and a collagen supplement at the same time.

In fact, HRT will likely have a much greater effect on your skin’s collagen levels than any supplement! Studies have shown repeatedly that HRT can increase your skin’s collagen levels, increasing thickness, elasticity and hydration.

Can you use HRT to boost collagen levels?

While HRT will improve your skin’s appearance and collagen levels, you have to consider the bigger picture.

HRT comes with certain risks and isn’t suitable for everyone. It is the best treatment currently available for some menopause symptoms including hot flushes, disturbed sleep and mood swings. But doctors will only prescribe HRT when the benefits outweigh these risks.

Doctors will not generally prescribe HRT for skin concerns, as the risks are thought to outweigh the benefits. However, if you need HRT for another reason, improved collagen levels are a welcome side effect!

Are there any risks with collagen?

Collagen supplements are a safe and easy way to boost protein intake for most people. One study found no negative side effects among 800 people taking collagen.

There are some people who should not add extra collagen to their diet. For example, collagen may cause problems if you have any kidney issues.

 If you have a history of renal failure, also known as chronic kidney disease (CKD), your doctor may recommend a lower protein diet to protect your kidneys. This means that extra protein in the form of a collagen supplement is not advisable. Likewise, some types of kidney stones can reoccur when the by-products of collagen digestion accumulate in the kidney.

If you aren’t sure of your options, ask your doctor for advice.

What else can you do to improve your skin during menopause?

There are lots of ways to improve your skin health without taking supplements. These include:

  • Avoiding intense sunlight and wearing SPF every day – even in the winter months and when it’s cloudy! Aim for at least factor 30 and make sure your product has at least a four-star rating for UVA protection too
  • Not smoking. Speak to your doctor if you need help quitting
  • Drinking less alcohol
  • Moisturising regularly. Try and find a moisturiser with a built-in SPF and use it every morning
  • Moving more. Read more about the best exercise for menopause
  • Eating a balanced diet. For good skin health, this means getting enough protein and healthy fats

Read more about menopause skincare and how to fix five common issues.

Final word

Current evidence suggests that collagen supplements, particularly hydrolyzed collagen, could help improve your skin’s appearance during and after menopause. But don’t rely on a supplement to do all the work – eat a balanced diet and follow a healthy lifestyle for the best results!

Find out more about menopause on our blog or in our symptoms library.