How Collagen Can Ease Menopause Symptoms
In the past, many of us may have dismissed the menopause as something to worry about when we hit 50 with no deep understanding about what to expect. Some women may approach this time in their lives with dread whilst others feel it can be a time to celebrate the transition into a new stage of life.
The symptoms of perimenopause (the lead up to the menopause) may affect half of the population at some point and span everything from fatigue, sleep issues, brain fog, hot flushes, mood swings, anxiety and physical changes to our skin, hair, bones and joints. With such hormonal changes being dubbed by experts as a ‘second puberty’, these are all the hallmarks of what could be a pretty difficult time for many women which needs to be talked about.
Thankfully, a growing number of famous faces – Davina McCall included – are shining the light on perimenopause and are now speaking openly about the symptoms they have suffered and continue to experience. As more perimenopausal and post-menopausal women come forward, there is an underlying feeling of empowerment through gained knowledge; understanding our body and the changes that it undergoes and knowing how best to support it during this transitional time in our lives can help us to feel prepared and validated.
Whilst the menopause is only a single day (the 12 month anniversary of your last period) which on average, happens around the age of 51, perimenopause can start in a woman’s forties. Even as early as our mid thirties we may have, mainly undetectable, hormonal shifts that start the whole process. Although one in 100 women can experience early menopause at or before the age of 40, this life changing stage can be anything up to a decade from start to finish.
We can’t stop the natural ageing process, but there are ways to make the road a little smoother. Amongst some of the supplements and dietary changes revealed to support those experiencing perimenopause and post menopausal symptoms, collagen features highly on the list. In this article we give you a whistle stop tour of how collagen can help ease some of the many health issues associated with the change.
Collagen + Oestrogen
Many of the symptoms expereinced throughout the menopause journey are related to the flux and change in our hormone levels. Oestrogen is a well known sex hormone for it’s responsibilty along side progesterone in sexual and reproductive health, and yet it plays so many other roles in a woman's body. From supporting the health of our bones and joints to nourishing our blood vessels and heart health amongst other things, there are wide ranging functions affected once production of oestrogen slows.
It may come as no surprise that collagen also plays a key role in all of these bodily systems. The degradation of collagen can be associated with many signs of ageing from poor joint repair to loss of elasticity and fullness in our skin. Collagen production is also closely linked to oestrogen levels, and therefore as oestrogen drops, so does collagen formation.
How quickly can it happen?
In studies, up to 30% of dermal collagen was lost in the first 5 years after the menopause and that levels subsequently reduce at a rate of 2% per menopausal year.
It is important within this time to avoid anything that decreases collagen levels or destroys skin collagen fibres, such as smoking, poor nutrition, stress, and poor hydration. On top of this, reserach into collagen supplementation for peri-menopauseal, menopausal and post-menopasal women has been very promising and has provided us with these potential benefits:
1. Enhanced skin elasticity
As perimenopause hits, your skin can be impacted due to the aforementioned decrease in oestrogen, which causes collagen levels to drop. The result? Reduced collagen leads to diminished elasticity and skin strength (1). The combination of this with dryness also brought about through hormonal changes more fine lines, wrinkles and sagging becomes visible.
However, a 2015 double-blind, randomised clinical trial (2) showed that a supplement containing collagen amongst other compounds, led to significant improvements in wrinkle depth, elasticity, and hydration of the skin in females aged 45-64. In particular, Type I collagen has been shown to stimulate natural collagen production, which is what you will find in our True Collagen product. Some exciting details coming from further research show that the positive outcome of collagen supplementation persists beyond the trials. The skin-improving activity of collagen boosts the existing collagen in the dermis as well as skin integrity but also stimulates fibroblasts to produce more collagen, elastin, and hyaluronic acid.
2. Improved bone density
The loss of bone density post-menopause is a worrying side effect of the lack of oestrogen and collagen in the body. This increases the risk of osteoporosis later in life.
Similar to our skin, the fastest rate of bone loss happens in the years after menopause. One reason may be the importance of collagen in bone health. Incredibly, collagen makes up a whopping 90% of bone. Whilst bone mineral content is responsible for stiffness, it’s the connective tissue within bone that is responsible for strength and flexibility.
Many women are also surprised that their joint pain can also be boiled down to low oestrogen. Amongst its many roles, oestrogen is what protects joints and reduces inflammation, so when it drops, inflammation may increase.
In a review of over sixty scientific studies on collagen in people with joint pain, osteoarthritis or osteoporosis, it was found that supplementing with collagen peptides promotes healthy tissue regeneration, collagen synthesis and supports healthy joints and bone density (3). When looking beyond the change, a study with 102 postmenopausal women with reduced bone mineral density (BMD) found taking just 5 grams of collagen peptides daily for a year significantly increased bone mineal density, indicating increased bone formation (4).
3. Improved heart health and circulation
Healthy arteries must be supple in order to function well - provided in large part by collagen. However, the risk of atherosclerosis increases with age and is notably higher after the menopause hits. Encouragingly, small studies have concluded that collagen supplementation may contribute in part to the prevention and even treatment of atherosclerosis and support healthy circulation. (5).
4. May aid with healthy weight management
A common complaint amongst women entering the menopause is weight gain. They seemingly haven't changed their diet or lifestyle and yet are seeing weight slowly creep up. Whilst a few diet and lifestyle adjustments may need to be made, collagen supplementation can also give a helping hand! Some animal studies are showing promising results in increasing levels of satiety, which in turn can act as a weight management tool (6).
5. What about gut health and hormone balancing?
At the moment studies regarding supplementation in these areas are still few and far between, however there could be promising results for many women. It has been theorised that collagen plays a role in both gut and hormone health.
Just as our hormones change, our gut microbiome, which comprises the extremely complex community of microorganisms inhabiting our intestinal tract, fluctuates during different stages of life. Collagen plays a role in healing and sealing the gut by providing two noteworthy amino acids: glutamine and glycine. Glutamine plays an important role in improving intestinal permeability and reducing inflammation, whilst glycine has been shown to support the stomach lining. Both of these can help protect the gut microbiome (8)
What’s more, amino acids also play a key role in hormone balancing. Again, glycine and another key amino acid, tyrosine, have been shown to support thyroid function and mood regulation (9). This is certainly an exciting concept given the wide ranging mental health symptoms women experience before, during and after the menopause.
More studies are needed specifically targeting perimenopauseal and menopausal women to truly show the potential benefits of collagen, but using the knowlegde we have so far we can support each other into the next phase of life by supplying the body with what it needs to successfully make that transition.
When should you start?
Research suggests that the best time to start taking collagen is much earlier than we think. The body's natural collagen production starts to decrease more noticeably around our late twenties,so there could be benefits to getting a head start on boosting the body's collagen levels. However, the good news is there are still many advantages from taking collagen at any age.
Collagen thankfully also has a great safety profile and isn't associated with adverse side effects. On top of this, a daily dose of collagen can also help boost your protein intake which is a key macronutrient needed in our later years to help improve our overall health.