6 Apr 2021

Collagen: Can pins or pills improve your health

From Healthy or Hoax, 7:00 am on 6 April 2021

There’s no doubt collagen plays a key role in keeping our bodies healthy. The question is, how do we get more of it?

Type IV collagen, molecular model. Collagen is a long structural protein, formed from amino acids that make up polypeptide strands that twist around each other.

Collagen gives our skin and other important body parts structure and support Photo: LAGUNA DESIGN/SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY

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Dr Louise Reiche, head of the Dermatological Society of New Zealand said it gives support and structure to a lot of the different components of our bodies.

“[Collagen] helps to enable us to move and to have strength,” she said, “Otherwise we would be jellylike.”

Unfortunately, as we age, we tend to produce less collagen and that makes our skin appear less firm.

There are many different ways of increasing collagen being touted at the moment, from social influencers like Khloe Kardashian joining up with NZ company Dose & Co to promote collagen supplements through to sticking needles in your face.

We sent RNZ reporter Gill Bonnett along to The Cosmetic Clinic in downtown Auckland to give microneedling a go. Her beauty therapist, Sam, explained that microneedling is about creating micro-injuries which send the body into healing mode.

“These amazing little enzymes that grow inside our skin go into overdrive making collagen and elastin. Their main thing they’re trying to do is heal the skin tissue, but a byproduct of all those things is rejuvenation, we get skin tightening, you get plumpness.”

There are other treatments that do a similar thing, but microneedling is at the less invasive end of the treatment spectrum.

“People literally come in their lunchtime and they can go back to work afterwards,” said Sam, “They’ll be a bit pink, but there’s definitely no extensive downtime.”

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Gill Bonnett having a microneedling consultation Photo: RNZ/Liz Garton

Listen to the full podcast to hear more about Gill’s microneedling treatment, although she described it as less painful than waxing.

Dr Angela Hou is a fourth year dermatology resident at George Washington University. In 2017, she reviewed the various microneedling studies available.

“So we found that microneedling seemed overall to be effective and a fairly safe option for various dermatologic conditions,” said Hou, “Most of the studies so far have been fairly small or they haven't been randomized controlled studies, but in the studies that have been done so far, it seems to work well with good results.”

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Dr Angela Hou Photo: Supplied

The Cosmetic Clinic uses the latest microneedling technology, but it costs nearly $300 dollars a go and Sam recommends at least 6 treatments for the best results.

Many different treatments fall under the microneedling banner, but Sam warned that cheaper options might not necessarily yield the same results.

And Dr Reiche had a few warnings of her own. She said there is some evidence that microneedling might accelerate aging later on.

“There's not a lot written in the cosmetic literature, but we are starting to get that impression,” said Reiche, “To start with you are making your face look refreshed and new but you’re probably postponing and allowing yourself to have accelerated aging later.”

She also said if microneedling is being as a way to compensate for years of smoking and alcohol abuse, poor diet and inadequate sleep and those habits are going to continue, then it will only be a temporary fix.

Instead, Dr Reiche suggested just making the lifestyle changes.

“That 3000 dollars [the cost of 10 treatments] would buy you a lot of gorgeous hats,” she said referring to the sun’s damaging effect on the skin. She also thought that money it would go a long way in supporting New Zealand sheep and beef farmers, fruit and veg growers if one were to focus on a healthy diet instead.

Reiche sees supplements as another problematic way to boost our collagen levels.

She said while there have been international studies which have shown dietary changes can make a difference, they are generally for people who are protein deficient.

And while the studies show collagen supplements make a statistical difference when you’re looking at the skin in a magnified sense, Reiche said the actual visual effect would be minimal.

“For instance, would my friends even notice? The answer's no. And from that perspective, I believe that the claims are a bit exaggerated,” she said.

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Dr Louise Reiche Photo: Supplied

There’s also no way of directing where the collagen will go when you are taking it in supplement form.

“The body will give preferential distribution of those nutrients to where it is needed,” said Reiche, “So if you are hoping it is going to go to your cheek, where you want to fill out a fine wrinkle it may first go to repair a tendon or a muscle where there's been a bit of injury.”

Listen to the full podcast for more information about how our bodies absorb collagen best.

As methods for improving collagen and making our skin appear more radiant, both microneedling and supplements get a Healthy or Hoax rating of 3.

“We are better to recommend the holistic lifestyle and then when you are truly healthy from the inside, your skin will in turn glow better,” said Dr Reiche.