What is collagen?
Designed by nature, collagen is the most abundant protein found throughout the body, especially in our connective tissues, skin and bones; in fact, collagen makes up one third of the protein in the human body, and certain types of collagen are actually stronger than steel. Essentially, collagen acts to increase the strength and elasticity of tissues in the body. Over time, things like diets high in sugar, smoking, UV exposure, autoimmune disorders, and aging breaks down collagen in our bodies.
Collagen not only gives skin its structure; it is found in our connective tissue, cartilage, bones, joints, blood vessels, organs, hair, and nails. It’s no surprise then, that collagen supplementation during pregnancy can be beneficial to support the immense amount of changes in the body.
Both pregnancy and breastfeeding require a heightened nutrient intake – if there isn’t enough of a particular nutrient available in the body, mommy is the one who goes without, so it is crucial to support your body through this period of drastic change.
The physical changes of pregnancy can be simultaneously beautiful and also frustrating for women. One of the biggest concerns women have is to do with skin, in particular, on the body.
As pregnancy progresses, the skin on the belly, hips, thighs, and breasts expands, and many women develop stretch marks – a very normal occurrence during pregnancy. Post-pregnancy, loose skin on the stomach is very common, and skin may never go back to its original elasticity. Despite popular belief, creams and lotions can’t prevent or treat stretch marks and loose skin.
So, how is collagen specifically helpful during pregnancy and postpartum?
Bone, Joint, Hair, and Skin Health.
Due to intense hormone shifts and common nutrient deficiencies that accompany pregnancy and breastfeeding there is concern about increased risk for osteoporosis. Women also report experiencing hair loss, dry skin, and joint pain.
- Bone Health: While 90% of our bone is laid by the time we are 18, we have until we are 30 to build up our complete bone length and density. After that we can only retain it or lose it. During pregnancy and breastfeeding, women are at risk of bone resorption. This means your bone density may be compromised. Nutrition plays a strong role in bone building and retention at all times, especially during pregnancy and while breastfeeding. Research shows that hydrolyzed collagen has properties which support bone health through stimulation of bone-forming cells and optimal calcium absorption. Therefore, a daily collagen supplement may in turn reduce a woman’s risk of osteoporosis later in life.
- Hair and Skin Health: Peptide collagen is a dream for the skin. Facial skin can undergo significant changes too – think extra pigmentation, breakouts, and texture changes. Many facial treatments and products are unsafe during pregnancy (think Botox, retinol use, fillers etc.), so for those who want to look after their skin safely, collagen is an excellent option. Consistent intake of hydrolyzed collagen has been found to have a positive influence on the strength and moisture content of your skin and hair. This is of prime interest during pregnancy as hormone and micronutrient shifts can lead to dry skin/hair, as well as hair loss, in the later stages of pregnancy and up to a year postpartum.
- Joint Pain: There is a hormone released during pregnancy called “relaxin”. This is important for relaxation of the muscles surrounding the uterus as the baby grows, as well as during delivery. However, it also leads to joint pain and weakness in other areas of the body. Collagen has been shown to help reduce joint pain in non-pregnant individuals leading to the hypothesis that it could do the same during pregnancy and the early days of postpartum.
- Glycine levels in the body support quality sleep and neurological functioning. Glycine is the amino acid of greatest abundance in collagen. While this is a non-essential amino acid, meaning the body can make it, research has shown that even when protein recommendations are met, the body does not always make glycine in optimal amounts.
- Sleep is something that is hard to come by for a women in her third trimester of pregnancy, and in the first few months of motherhood. Ideally, when a mom is able to sleep, it is quality sleep. For this reason and more, it may be beneficial to include a collagen supplement in their diet. One scoop of Sproos hydrolyzed collagen offers 2180 mg of glycine.
Gut Health and Immunity
- Amino acids are used in the body for more than just building body proteins. They are also the basis of creating enzymes for digestion and antibodies to support immunity. Hydrolyzed collagen provides amino acids that have been shown to have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant capacities which support optimal gut health and immunity. Glycine specifically, the amino acid mentioned above, may help guard against many chronic diseases such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, and metabolic disorders.
Recovery from Labour and Delivery
- Wound healing is optimal when there is adequate vitamin A, vitamin C, zinc, and high-quality (aka compete) protein. Whether a mom is recovering from a vaginal delivery or c-section, there is important healing that must take place. Collagen can be part of a healthy, balanced diet including other high-quality protein sources to support optimal recovery post birth.
But is it safe?
Now you may now be thinking, “Okay, I see the benefits, but is it safe?”
Natural Health Products are always challenging to discuss with respect to safety during pregnancy and breastfeeding. This is because ethics prevents the conducting of direct research with them. We do know that collagen is simply a supply of amino acids, so the main caution is to ensure that you are not using it in quantities that lead to an over-abundant intake.
All peptide collagen (aside from marine collagen) is safe during pregnancy, but it is always best to check with your doctor or midwife before starting any supplement or medication.
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- Kovacs, CS. (2016) Maternal Mineral and Bone Metabolism During Pregnancy, Lactation, and Post-Weaning Recovery. Physiological Reviews.96(2):449-547.Retrieved from: https://www-physiology-org.proxy1.lib.uwo.ca/doi/full/10.1152/physrev.00027.2015
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