Collagen supplements: Friend or Foe for Fertility?

So many women now take collagen supplements, thanks to the marketing prowess of influencers touting luscious long locks and glowing skin. There’s a lot to think about when trying to conceive and having a baby, so I’m sure you’ve wondered if collagen supplements are safe for your fertility and for your future baby.

Furthermore, what are they and do they even work? Let me run you through what collagen supplements are, their safety during fertility treatment through to breastfeeding and the benefits. 

What is collagen? 

Collagen is a natural protein in our bodies that forms connective tissues such as our skin, bones, tendons and ligaments. Collagen is also found naturally in foods such as bone broth, gelatine, meat, eggs and fish.

While collagen supplements can come in either a powder or tablet form, most supplements are a hydrolysed form of collagen, meaning it is broken down for easier absorption. The collagen used in supplement powders is derived from either bovine, porcine or marine sources such as the skin and bones of cows, pigs and fish.

What are the benefits? 

There is little research within the area of collagen supplementation specific to pregnancy. This is because there are ethical restrictions for conducting studies with natural health products in pregnant women. However, there is substantive evidence to suggest collagen can support skin, joint, hair and nail health. Here are some of the benefits:

Skin elasticity

Collagen can help your skin to stay healthy and hydrated. Studies have shown that women who took a collagen supplement for 8 weeks experienced increased skin elasticity and reduced skin dryness.

Joint/ligaments

Pregnancy increases strain on your joints and ligaments as your body adjusts itself to make room for your baby. The hormone ‘relaxin’ also increases throughout pregnancy to support changes in pelvic connective tissue. This is a natural part of pregnancy; however, it can cause increased back pain and strain on joints. Collagen has been shown to improve joint pain in non-pregnant individuals but has yet to be studied in pregnancy.

Hair & nails 

Hydrolysed collagen supplements have been shown to improve hair and nail integrity. This is believed to be through the effect of collagen supplements increasing the water binding capacity of the proteins that form the building blocks for our hair and nails. This is relevant during the post-partum period as the hormonal and physiological changes which occur can cause hair and nails to become dry and brittle.

After pregnancy and childbirth women often experience a reduction in progesterone and a relative increase in oestrogen, which is linked to hair loss and weaker nails. If you are considering collagen supplementation this would be the time to do so, so long as you have stopped breast feeding. 

How much is enough? 

Collagen is a naturally occurring protein in the body, therefore one of the main concerns with supplementation is the correct dosage. If you are considering supplementing your diet with collagen it is recommended that you consult with a registered dietitian. 

Are they safe? 

Collagen supplements have been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (USFDA) centre for Food Safety and Nutrition and are recognised as safe for human consumption. However, their safety during pregnancy is yet to be studied. So, there are a number of factors to bear in mind when considering collagen supplementation during pregnancy. 

Allergies

Collagen supplements are made from products which are common allergens, such as eggs, fish and shellfish. Some individuals may also have a rare allergy to hydrolysed collagen. Therefore, it is important to check nutritional labels, consult with a dietitian or doctor and avoid these products if you suspect you may be allergic.

Heavy Metals

Since collagen powders are derived from animal products, they can contain traces of heavy metals and toxins such as mercury and cadmium if they haven’t been treated through the necessary purification processes. Heavy metals are harmful for consumption during pregnancy and breast feeding as they can be transferred across the placental barrier and through breast milk, harming the baby’s development. 

As a natural health product, the purification processes required for collagen powders are not standardised across the industry, as a result some collagen powders may contain toxicants. In 2019, a popular American testing company consumerlab.com tested 14 popular collagen supplements, all products contained the levels of collagen they said they did, but one also contained high levels of a toxic heavy metal, cadmium.

So what do we know…

Collagen supplements have been found to be beneficial for hair, skin and nail health in non-pregnant women. They have also been deemed safe for non-pregnant individuals by the US Food and Drug Administration (USFDA) centre for Food Safety and Nutrition. 

Preconception and pregnancy are a time of critical importance on the lifelong health outcomes of your baby, therefore careful consideration of nutrition in supplementations is paramount. 

Although there are proven benefits from collagen supplementation, there are associated risks such as the potential contamination with heavy metals and other toxicants which are harmful for babies in utero and after birth through breast milk exposure. 

Since natural health products are un-regulated there is no guarantee that product claims are accurate. Collagen powder supplements are safe for use post-partum once you have stopped breast feeding. More research is needed before collagen supplements can be recommended widely for use during pre-conception, pregnancy and during breastfeeding.

If you or someone you know is thinking about trying to conceive, going through fertility treatment or pregnant. Optimise your chances of success and give your baby the best start in life by having a nutrition assessment with me, your Fertility Dietitian at Fertility Nutrition. Book online now via my website and let’s customise my specialist knowledge to your needs.

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Share your fertility, pregnancy, and women’s health challenges with me. (Don’t hold back – I’m a great listener.) Then, I will advise whether science-backed nutrition treatment can help.

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