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by Dr.Xiao-Tong Huang

Does collagen-rich diet work? Here are the nutritionists' perspective! 

Whenever someone complains about looking old and developing sagginess in the face, most of us would instinctively recommend them to eat collagen-rich food. From pig skin, chicken feet to collagen supplements, people have been jumping onto the collagen bandwagon in recent years, especially among those who pay particular attention to their appearances. However, the question concerning "whether collagen-rich diet works" is constantly under debate, and as a nutritionist, I will share with you whether this world-popular cosmetic nutrient is as wonderful as people believe!  

Is collagen a myth? Let's look at the evidence… 

To explain why we should ingest collagen, let us take a look at how collagen is formed. In simple terms, collagen is a type of protein found in the human body; it is a fibrous protein made up of three amino acids: proline, glycine, and hydroxyproline. Collagen features a helix structure and has a molecular weight in the hundreds of thousands, or event millions. Collagen makes up approximately 25%-35% of total protein, and is widely distributed in the skin, the gums, joints, and blood vessels.<Figure 1>

Collagen is especially abundant in the skin, and it supports the basal layer like steel beams of a building. This strong foundation is what makes the skin resilient, elastic, and able to retain water for a more youthful look.<Figure 2>
The protein or collagen supplement we eat is first broken down into dipeptide, tripeptide, and amino acids averaging 3000 Dalton in size in the digestive tract, which can then be absorbed through the intestine. These raw materials are subsequently formed into collagen with the help of fibroblast and vitamin C.<Figure 3>

<Figure 1>

<Figure 2>

<Figure 3>

Many people question the effectiveness of ingesting collagen because while foods such as pig trotter and chicken feet are rich in collagen, they are too complex in structure and too high in molecular weight to be effectively absorbed by the body. Fortunately, not all collagen has molecular weight as high as the above, and technologies have matured to the point where collagen can be hydrolyzed and cut into peptides for better absorption.


Professor Sato of Kyoto University discovered in a human experiment conducted in 2005 that only when ingesting hydrolyzed small molecular collagen (POOG) would result in a significant increase of dipeptide concentration in the blood. This study proves that absorption rate of collagen can be greatly increased to cause changes to the human body after processing.


So why do some people experience no benefit from ingesting collagen? This can be attributed to damage in other parts of the body or malnutrition from imbalanced diet, which the body has to accommodate by prioritizing the collagen you eat for other repairs. For example, if you don't eat enough protein for muscle growth, the collagen you eat will be broken down into amino acids and taken to build muscles first. For this reason, we should first focus on getting adequate sleep and eating healthy, and once our body is in a healthy state, the collagen we take in can be used to improve skin condition more effectively.   

Five types of people who need collagen the most

Although it is true that our body is capable of forming collagen on its own as long as we maintain a balanced diet and eat enough proteins, vegetables, and fruits, you may deplete your collagen reserve at a faster rate if you exhibit any of the following:

✔️ Adopting a western diet characterized by high volume of fried and overly processed foods, low volume of vegetables and fruits, and imbalanced nutrient

✔️ Undesirable habits such as smoking and lack of sleep

✔️ Busy and stressful work

✔️ Prolonged exposure to UV ray outdoors

✔️ Aging

If you exhibit any of the above, it is advisable to supplement at least 5000mg of collagen daily, so that you may have the materials needed to form collagen and maintain a younger look. For optimal absorption, it is best to take your collagen supplement "right before sleep" or "on an empty stomach."

Lastly, do be reminded to exercise regularly and sleep adequately in addition to supplementing collagen.

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