Have you jumped on the collagen bandwagon yet? You may have heard of collagen in skin creams or even collagen fillers, for natural, younger looking skin, but supplemental collagen is the newest trend. Reported benefits include younger, healthier looking skin, stronger nails, reduced joint pain and better gut health.
I’m often asked if collagen supplementation works and if it’s actually worth the money. Below, I’ve decided to give a little collagen 101 and explain what collagen is, what the benefits are, if you should supplement with it, what it’s used for and how to take it.
Collagen is actually the most abundant protein found in the body. It’s what gives skin its elasticity (think of it like your skin’s scaffolding), it plays an important role in the integrity of bones, nails and even your gut. It also makes up a large component of connective tissues like joints, tendons and cartilage.
In about your mid to late 20s, collagen production naturally starts to decline. Regular sun exposure, smoking, chronic stress, heavy alcohol consumption and a diet high in refined sugar seem to further reduce it. An anti-inflammatory diet full of antioxidants helps prevent collagen breakdown, along with protein from a variety of sources. Vitamin C is also essential for the production of collagen so eating raw bell peppers, leafy greens and citrus fruits is helpful. Lastly, many minerals, including copper, zinc and chromium are needed for collagen production, which is yet another reason for eating a variety of vegetables, legumes, seeds and some whole grains.
While I am often an advocate of a food-centric approach, collagen is concentrated in the parts of animals that we no longer really consume, such as the bones (unless of course you drink bone broth).
Collagen benefits may include:
Observationally, I have personally developed much stronger and longer nails and more elastic skin. I know a lot of people who swear by collagen for the same reasons, as well as others who have experienced benefits with their joints and gut health, and a quicker workout recovery.
Studies have shown that the peptides in collagen peak in the blood 2 hours following ingestion, demonstrating that it can be absorbed through the GI tract. Research also shows that this collagen is then delivered to the connective tissues such as the skin and tendons. In other words, collagen is highly absorbable and is actually used by the body to support collagen production.
The thing is, your body can’t absorb and utilize collagen the way you ingest it, so it undergoes a process known as hydrolysis. During hydrolysis, large molecules of collagen are broken down into smaller units called “peptides”. Then, your body uses these peptides in areas like the skin and joints.
Supplement labels often say hydrolyzed collagen or collagen peptides. If you see hydrolyzed collagen, collagen peptides or collagen hydrolysate, it means the same thing.
There are many different ‘types’ of collagen but 80-90% of them are types I, II and III. Marine and bovine collagen for example, are mostly type I collagen, consistent with your skin, which is also 80% type I.
There are also two main sources of collagen peptides on the market:
Not all collagen supplements are created equal. For some, collagen can be a relatively expensive addition to your supplement routine and it’s worth knowing that you are getting a good quality, well researched product. Genuine Health’s clean collagen checks all of those boxes for me. Plus their bovine collagen is sourced from pasture-raised grass fed cattle and their marine collagen is from sustainably sourced wild caught fish from the North Atlantic. They are made from parts of the animals that are by-products of other industries and would otherwise not be used.
Unflavoured collagen is tasteless and can be added to hot or cold drinks such as coffee, smoothies, or tea. It doesn’t denature in heat so you can add it to baked goods or other recipes as well. Some people also prefer the flavoured ones because you can just add it to cold water. This makes for a great drink during workouts. One scoop a day is generally all you need.
*This article was written in partnership with Genuine Health, but thoughts and opinions are my own.
Chen, et al. Collagen peptides ameliorate intestinal epithelial barrier dysfunction in immunostimulatory Caco-2 cell monolayers via enhancing tight junctions. Food Funct. 2017 Mar 22;8(3):1144-1151.
Kim, et al. Oral Intake of Low-Molecular-Weight Collagen Peptide Improves Hydration, Elasticity, and Wrinkling in Human Skin: A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Study. Nutrients. 2018 Jun 26;10(7).
Konig, et al. Specific Collagen Peptides Improve Bone Mineral Density and Bone Markers in Postmenopausal Women—A Randomized Controlled Study. Nutrients. 2018 Jan;10(1):97.
Kumar, et al. A double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomised, clinical study on the effectiveness of collagen peptide on osteoarthritis. J Sci Food Agric. 2015 Mar 15;95(4):702-7.
Zdzieblik, et al. Improvement of activity-related knee joint discomfort following supplementation of specific collagen peptides. Appl Physiol Nutr Metab. 2017 Jun;42(6):588-595.