What you can do to reduce stretch marks, according to a dietitian
What pregnant women can do to prevent stretch marks, according to research
I always viewed stretch marks as a badge-of-honor, but some other women do NOT agree. There are lots of products on the market that claim to prevent stretch marks, but what does the evidence say? Well, the results may be disappointing.
Traditionally, women are told to rub some belly cream on their bellies. Looking on the websites of many creams, lotions, and balms, they present statements like “clinically proven” to reduce stretch marks. Of course, I had to dig deeper.
LETS START WITH THE CREAMS
Yes, there are some studies that support that claim. But when I evaluated ALL of the research and what I deemed to be good clinical trials from reputable sources, the results told a different story.
There is weak evidence that hyaluronic acid prevents stretch marks according to the studies. Tretinoin holds promise for reducing the severity of new-onset stretch marks, but studies are limited in pregnancy. Cocoa butter and olive oil do not appear to be effective for preventing stretch marks in pregnancy. In one article where resaerchers evaluated tons of the available data, they concluded that reliable methods for preventing stretch marks are scarce. Furthermore, available topical choices generally lack strong evidence from rigorous, well-designed, randomized controlled trials with ample numbers of subjects.
Side note: treating tummy ichiness is another story. It appears that aloe vera and sweet almond oil creams reduce the itching and prevent their progression.
DOES NUTRITION PLAY A ROLE?
I see a ton of women who are taking collagen peptides during their pregnancy to prevent stretch marks. Honestly, I see better compliance with pregnant women taking collagen than I see with women taking in adequate DHA and choline during their pregnancy!
I did not find any clinical trials studying collagen peptide ingestion and stretch mark prevention. This is not to say that there is no evidence that collagen plays a role in pregnancy progression. Specific studies evaluating the relationship between stretch marks and collagen peptide intake were not easy to come by (if anybody comes across one, please send it my way!)
There are plenty of studies supporting the use of oral collagen intake and it’s positive effect on skin integrity, elasticity, cellulite reduction, and moisture. (CITE). Typical doses are between 2.5g/d to 10g/d in clinical trials.
Just because there are no clinical trials supporting the use of collagen peptides during pregnancy for the prevention of stretch marks does not mean that it does not work. Being a dietitian who practices evidence-based medicine, I will not proactively recommend collagen peptides based off of speculation and extrapolation of data. BUT, if a woman decides that she wants to take collagen peptides on her own, I will certainly not discourage her to do so. The only caveat is that I would encourage her to utilize the expertise of a registered dietitian to evaluate the best and safest options for her to use during pregnancy since collagen peptides are not considered food and therefore are not regulated.
WHAT WILL I RECOMMEND?
The one item that appears to have a direct link to developing stretch marks is rapid weight gain. Remember the eating for two idea? That doesn’t mean that you should gain 50 pounds right after you see those two pink lines. It is best to gain weight at a steady pace to support your baby’s growth and development. The icing on the cake is that gaining weight this way may help reduce your risk of developing stretch marks.
In theory, nutrients that have been shown to support skin health and collagen synthesis should support healthy tummy skin. Collagen won’t hurt, but you can also consider making a point to consume high-quality protein, specifically those that are rich in the amino acids proline, glycine, and hydroxyproline which make up approximately 50% of the amino acid content of collagen (and gelatin, since gelatin is hydrolyzed collagen). Glycine has been shown to promote protein synthesis and wound healing.
You can also obtain these amino acids through food.
Some food sources of GLYCINE and/or PROLINE include
Low-fat sesame flour
Dried egg whites
Bacon (I recommend nitrate/nitrite free)
Soft bones of fish (like sardine bones)
A balanced diet incorporating a variety of amino acids would likely be beneficial, if not for stretch mark prevention, then for the growth and development of baby. Mom should also be sure to include Vitamin C and zinc-rich foods to support skin integrity. Over-supplementing is NOT recommended during pregnancy. Sneaking in foods that are rich in Vitamin C and zinc is encouraged.
I would also ensure that she is hydrated. When mamas are putting the belly butters on her tummy, she is trying to keep her skin hydrated. Let’s tackle it from the inside out.
Vitamin E-rich foods and foods that are rich in healthy fats (like avocado and walnut) would be good additions to mama’s diet as well.
A word on protein supplementation during pregnancy
A subcommittee from the Institute of Medicine has stated that the additional requirement for protein during pregnancy can be met from dietary sources. They continue by stating that evidence suggests possible harm from some specially formulated high-protein supplements. If there is concern about the safety of the collagen you are choosing, you can always check with your dietitian, or just opt for real food.
As always, shoot me an email if you need any help!