Pregnancy is often a time in which those who are expecting naturally reconsider their health habits. This period of time comes with certain do’s and don’ts regarding the safety of some food, supplement, and lifestyle choices.
Under the supervision of their doctor, many expectant mothers take vitamins and supplements before, during, and after pregnancy as targeted support for their health and the health of their baby. But questions might arise, such as: Can I continue taking my previous supplements during pregnancy?
One such supplement often asked about is collagen. Does collagen fit into a safe and healthy regimen during pregnancy? And how much collagen is appropriate? We’ll discuss the ins and outs of taking collagen during pregnancy.
Collagen is a key protein in the body found in skin, bone, muscle, tendons, and ligaments. In fact, it is the most abundant protein in the body!
It is important to note that few studies exist to prove that collagen supplements are indeed safe during pregnancy. However, as collagen is such an essential component in the body, it makes sense that collagen supplements are considered safe for pregnant women. Of course, there are some best practices with collagen, which we’ll cover throughout this article.
Collagen protein is found naturally in some foods and can also be taken as a supplement to support various aspects of health. The key is looking for high quality collagen if considering supplementing. Indicators of quality include third party testing, non-GMO, grass-fed if from a bovine source, and no unnecessary additives. We’ll discuss those aspects of quality further below.
During pregnancy, a woman’s body changes to support the increasing needs of the growing baby. Nutrient and protein demands increase as part of this process, including the need for collagen formation.
Fetal growth and development require healthy levels of nutrients, amino acids, and even collagen. In the mother, a lot of structural remodeling occurs throughout pregnancy, such as in the reproductive tract and pelvic floor regions. This remodeling may decrease collagen content in these connective tissue regions. Collagen supplementation and collagen-supporting nutrients may be helpful to restore internal collagen amounts.
Collagen plays an indispensable role in joint health and function. However, there are no specific studies of pregnant people and joint health.
Research has shown that collagen supplemented orally accumulates in cartilage and promotes cartilage formation and promotes joint comfort. A six month clinical trial in athletes showed improved joint health related to exercise-induced joint discomfort.
These findings may be promising for the use of collagen for pregnant women, who bear an increasing load of weight on their joints as the pregnancy progresses.
Collagen is widely known for its beneficial use for bone health in women. Available research suggests that while bone mass does decrease somewhat during pregnancy, there is no consensus on whether or not this decrease is permanent.
During pregnancy, the mother’s body has both a higher demand for calcium and lower estrogen levels, which theoretically may contribute to bone density issues over time.
Collagen in bone provides mechanical support and a matrix on which bone cells can grow. While collagen has been shown to support bone health in women, two of the main foundational nutrients for bone health in pregnancy are vitamin D and calcium.
Sufficient and strong mass is also important for bone health, since muscles surround the bones, providing a protective cushion. Collagen is an important component in skeletal muscle mass.
Pregnancy brings several changes to the mother’s body, including increased stretching of the skin.
Collagen is a major component in the skin and plays a key role in keeping skin strong, moisturized, and flexible. Numerous studies show the benefits of collagen supplementation for skin health, including improvement of skin hydration, elasticity, and even wrinkling associated with aging.
Stretch marks are a normal part of pregnancy and often show up during the last trimester. They occur when the skin stretches or shrinks rapidly. This sudden change causes the proteins collagen and elastin to break. Stretch marks appear as the skin begins to heal. Having more elasticity in the skin can help the body cope with the swift stretching of the belly. While these stretch marks are not painful or harmful, some may want to reduce the appearnace of such marks. Collagen may be supportive for managing the visibility of stretch marks. According to the American Pregnancy Association, simple steps to maintain healthy skin throughout pregnancy include keeping skin well hydrated and supple while also increasing foods rich in collagen and supportive nutrients.
Protein forms an essential component of a healthy diet in humans to support growth and bodily maintenance. Structural forms of protein include keratin and collagen. Enzymes, transport proteins, and hormones are examples of functional forms of protein.
The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) of protein for non-pregnant women is 0.8 g protein/kg/day, which increases to 1.1 g protein/kg/day during all stages of pregnancy. Of note, protein needs increased based on level of activity. Highly active adults should consume additional protein each day.
Research shows that around 41% of adult women do not eat enough protein. It makes sense, then, that one study found that despite the increased demands during pregnancy, average protein intake is inadequate in this population. For some women, this difficulty getting enough protein in the diet may be partly due to nausea, which is a common occurrence during pregnanc; this may make it hard to stomach certain protein foods. Collagen powder supplements can be an easy option for increasing protein intake, since the powder can be added to a variety of food and drinks for an easy protein boost.
Prenatal vitamins such as Care/of’s Prenatal packs are a great way to bridge the gap between nutrient intake and increased needs during pregnancy.
There are no known side effects on the use of collagen supplements during pregnancy. Overall, collagen supplements are generally considered safe. In fact, one important study showed that intake of collagen peptides well above the effective therapeutic amounts used in research (typically 2-15 g per day) are safe to still ensure proper amino acid balance in the body.
Collagen is also considered safe while breastfeeding. Just be sure to choose a high quality supplement, and always talk to your doctor or midwife before starting any supplements.
Numerous studies have used collagen at varying dosages with good benefits. While the science is still emerging and dosage may vary based on desired health benefit, the general range of collagen dose for therapeutic effect is 2.5 g to 15 g per serving.
While not an essential nutrient per se, collagen peptides contain a variety of amino acids that are essential as well as conditionally essential (meaning they become nutrients of concern during certain health conditions or periods of life).
Collagen is notable for lacking one of the essential amino acids– called tryptophan– and is therefore classified as an incomplete protein. However, a 2015 study evaluating protein quality showed that up to 36% of protein in the diet could be substituted with collagen peptides while still maintaining adequate amino acid requirements. For someone who is aiming for 100 g of daily protein intake, that’s 36 g of protein that can come from collagen!
Servings of collagen in supplements can vary greatly, from some containing as little as 40 mg to others containing 20 g, like in collagen powders.
Look for formulas that contain hydrolyzed collagen or collagen peptides, which is a form of collagen broken down ahead of time to increase its absorption in the gut.
Avoid collagen formulas that contain unnecessary additives. Especially if you have allergies or food sensitivities, be sure to check if the added ingredients are right for you. Avoid any potential allergens or sensitive ingredients.
Look to buy supplements from companies that have high quality standards for sourcing their ingredients. Choose non-GMO products, which, in the case of collagen means sourced from animals not fed GMO feed. And opt for grass-fed forms if the collagen is derived from bovine sources.
Be sure to choose products that display strict principles of quality, like third-party testing. This is a process by which products are tested three times throughout the supply chain. At Care/of, this looks like testing the ingredients when received, again during manufacturing, and finally testing the finished products. This approach ensures the products meet exact specifications and are safe.
Care/of also introduces products only if backed by science and only if quality ingredients are available in the supply chain.
In addition to being available in supplement form, collagen is also found in certain foods.
Collagen-rich foods include animal foods containing the connective tissues such as fish, beef, and the skin of chicken and pork. Gelatin is another source of collagen found in foods such as bone broth.
Vitamin C is an essential nutrient in collagen formation, so be sure to include vitamin C-rich supplements or foods like citrus fruits, peppers, broccoli, and pineapple.
Make sure you meet your protein needs daily in order to get all the amino acids that your body needs to make collagen. The amino acids glycine, proline, and hydroxyproline are the prominent amino acids in collagen.