(CNN)As you age, a glance in the mirror may reveal a few fine lines, wrinkles, age spots and sagging skin. You may become more worried about the thickness of your hair, your creaking joints or a loss of muscle.
Is ingestible collagen the fountain of youth? Maybe
Ingestible collagen, the protein supplement that's skyrocketed in popularity, is said to help improve all of those things. So should you begin popping a collagen pill, or sprinkling it in your coffee, as part of your anti-aging routine?
While the evidence on collagen is far from conclusive, most clinicians agree there's little downside in trying it if you wish -- as long as you keep expectations in check and a few things in mind.
Collagen is the most abundant protein in the body. It provides structure and support to tissues, including skin, hair and nails, as well as muscle, bone, cartilage and tendons.
"It's like the frame within your mattress," said Dr. Joshua Zeichner, the director of cosmetic and clinical research in the Department of Dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York. "Within skin, the frame is the collagen, the springs are the elastic fibers, and the stuffing is the hyaluronic acid."
Our body continuously makes new collagen, but the process begins to slow down after about age 30. This is what contributes to wrinkling and a crepey appearance of skin, according to Zeichner.
Other factors, such as stress, sunlight, pollution, smoking and a diet high in sugar, can also accelerate collagen loss. On the other hand, eating a protein-rich diet, along with proper sunscreen use and a good skincare routine, can preserve collagen.
Beef, pork and marine life are all popular sources for collagen supplements, which offer the protein in a hydrolyzed form. That means it's broken down into smaller units, including amino acids and peptides, that are easily absorbed and can find their way into tissues, including the skin.