Is Collagen Worth the Hype?

Julia Malacoff
by Julia Malacoff
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Is Collagen Worth the Hype?

Check out the shelves of any health food store or browse clean eating Instagram accounts and you’re sure to encounter collagen peptide supplements. Touted as the “next big thing” in anti-aging, joint health and even gut health, collagen supplements seem like they could be part of the answer to many of our health and nutrition woes.

“Collagen is the main structural protein in the body,” explains Amanda Barnes, RD. “It forms connective tissues, skin, hair, cartilage and is used to build muscle.” The most common form of collagen supplement is collagen peptides, also known as hydrolyzed collagen, which means it contains protein fragments that are easier to digest than full collagen molecules. These supplements are usually made either from fish parts (marine collagen) or cow parts (beef/bovine collagen). While what they’re made from might seem a little unsavory, collagen peptides are usually administered in the form of a tasteless, easily dissolvable powder, making them simple to untraceably consume in hot beverages, soups, smoothies and more.

Essentially, collagen is one of the building blocks of the body, but as we age, the amount we have decreases. That’s part of why our skin gets wrinkly and our bone and joint health isn’t quite what it used to be. Because of this, it makes sense people would want to supplement with it, especially since collagen production begins to decline as early as age 20.

Luckily, there are lifestyle choices that can help preserve your existing collagen. “A healthy diet with adequate proteinproper hydration, and avoiding smoke and sun damage can decrease the amount of collagen lost over time,” Barnes says. Collagen supplementation advocates would argue that adding collagen to your daily nutritional intake can help, too.

HOW DID COLLAGEN SUPPLEMENTS GET SO POPULAR?

There are 10s, maybe 100s of different anti-aging supplements out there, so it’s natural to wonder why collagen is gaining so much traction. “These supplements are getting a lot of attention right now because collagen is one of the first things we could be eating that actually restores our skin elasticity while also providing many other health benefits,” explains Amanda Perrin, RD. Most people are familiar with collagen in a cosmetic sense as an ingredient in skin-care products, but the health and wellness world is moving more and more toward beauty starting within the body rather than on the outside, Perrin says. “People are looking for the foods we can be eating or introducing to help prevent, treat or cure anything associated with aging or disease. Collagen peptides could be one of the answers.”

While there are many supposed benefits to collagen, the two primary ones are healthier, younger-looking skin and better joint health, making it appealing to those interested in aesthetics and performance alike. “The other claims are improved gut health, decrease in symptoms of osteoarthritis, reduced cellulite, help in muscle recovery after exercisebetter sleep and help resolving acne issues,” Perrin says. “These come from either the collagen itself, or from the amino acids [building blocks of protein] that are present in the collagen supplement.” With all these potential benefits, it’s easy to understand why people are interested in trying collagen peptides.

DO THEY REALLY WORK?

Here’s where the situation gets a little bit sticky, says Kelly Hogan, MS, RD. “Despite much anecdotal evidence to the contrary, peer-reviewed research supporting perceived benefits of collagen is lacking.” There are small studies showing collagen supplementation with vitamin C may help prevent injuries and promote tissue repair in athletes, and other small studies suggesting collagen supplementation may improve skin elasticity. However, more large-scale clinical trials on a diverse sample size are needed before most clinicians can recommend supplementation with complete confidence.

Still, “collagen supplements are generally considered safe because it’s a natural substance found in animal proteins,” Barnes points out, so there’s no harm in trying them. “The only downside is the effect it will have on your wallet, as these supplements can be quite expensive.”

WHO SHOULD TAKE COLLAGEN SUPPLEMENTS?

“Young people will not see the same benefits of supplementation, as your body is still producing collagen,” Barnes says. “For older individuals who have joint pain or leaky gut, it can’t hurt to try out supplementation if you think you might benefit.”

“Collagen can also be a great way to add more protein to your diet, but it’s important to keep in mind it’s not a complete protein,” says Hogan. This means it doesn’t contain all nine essential amino acids and is not as efficiently absorbed by the body as a complete protein, like a whey protein powder.

Moreover, if you’re consuming an adequate amount of protein, as well as foods rich in vitamin C, zinc and copper (Think: vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, beans and shellfish), you probably don’t need a collagen supplement, adds Hogan.

HOW TO PICK A COLLAGEN SUPPLEMENT

There are a lot of choices out there, so if you do decide you want to try a collagen supplement, it’s a good idea to go into the shopping process knowing what you’re looking for. “Rather than getting a synthetic version, you want to choose a supplement that is coming from a natural source,” Perrin says. These will be labeled as bovine/beef or fish/marine collagen peptides.

And just a friendly reminder: “Collagen supplements are made from animal parts, so if you are vegan or vegetarian this is not for you,” Barnes notes. Ideally, you want to find a brand that’s using grass-fed animals if you’re opting for the bovine variety, she says. “Also, you will want to make sure it is hydrolyzed and try to find one with added vitamins or minerals, as this will help the body digest all of the amino acids.” Lastly, she suggests looking for a supplement that is NSF-certified, which means it’s been tested for quality standards. That way, you know exactly what you’re getting when you spend your hard-earned cash.


READ MORE > EXPERTS DEBATE: SHOULD YOU SUPPLEMENT?


A popular vehicle for collagen, which is tasteless, is in coffee or other hot beverages. “However, collagen proteins can be denatured at high temperatures, negating any perceived benefits,” says Hogan. A 2011 study found collagen fibers started degrading at around a temperature of 302°F (150°C). “Though coffee is typically brewed at temperatures closer to 200°F (93°C), collagen powder, which has already been broken down for easier digestion, may not maintain its integrity and I wouldn’t recommend using it with a hot beverage,” she says. Instead, Hogan recommends adding collagen to a smoothieyogurt, iced coffee or overnight oats.

Vitamin C helps support the body’s natural production of collage, so taking collagen along with foods that contain vitamin C may be helpful. For example, use collagen powder in a smoothie made with citrus fruits, strawberries, blueberries and leafy greens like spinach.

In terms of when you should take collagen, “to date, there is no research that defines a specific time to consume collagen supplements for enhanced absorption and desired results,” says Hogan. “Take it at a time of day when you’ll remember it consistently, so you are more likely to reap possible benefits.”

HOW TO SUPPORT COLLAGEN PRODUCTION NATURALLY

“In addition to vitamin C, the body also requires the minerals zinc and copper to support the production of collagen,” says Hogan. Consuming foods rich in these minerals, like nuts, beans, whole grains, fish and meat, is key. Another great option is bone broth, which is rich in collagen thanks to the slow simmering process of beef, chicken and fish bones. Adding bone broth to the diet, especially as collagen production decreases with age, may also be helpful.

THE BOTTOM LINE

Ensuring the diet is rich in vitamin C, zinc, copper and quality protein sources is key for collagen production, and the ideal place to start, says Hogan. While more research is needed on the possible benefits, we do know that collagen supplementation is generally safe. If you’d like to try it, consider tracking your intake with an app like MyFitnessPal and check in with yourself after a month or two to see if you notice a difference (e.g., If you want stronger nails, are you seeing an improvement after consistently taking collagen?). If you aren’t perceiving the desired benefits, you might want to spend your money elsewhere and prioritize whole foods.

Originally published March 2018, updated with additional reporting by Kelly Hogan, MS, RD

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About the Author

Julia Malacoff
Julia Malacoff

Julia (@jmalacoff) is a seasoned writer and editor who focuses on fitness, nutrition, and health. She’s also a certified personal trainer and Precision Nutrition Level 1 coach. Based in Amsterdam, she bikes every day and travels around the world in search of tough sweat sessions and the best vegetarian fare.

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12 responses to “Is Collagen Worth the Hype?”

  1. Avatar Michael McGowan says:

    There is nothing in this article to recommend collagen supplements. The fact that they appear harmless is not a good enough reason to spend money. Those in the supplements industry who are selling these expensive supplements ought to provide conclusive evidence of the benefit. Small inconclusive studies are not enough. A theory is only as good as the evidence that supports it and it appears that there isn’t much to support taking collagen supplements. It’s good to see that the blog writer provides clear information on the existing studies, but she shouldn’t shy away from taking a firm position that right now, evidence is lacking and you are probably wasting your money if you are spending it on collagen supplements.

    • Avatar Steve says:

      Okay, I get what you’re saying. And, I don’t disagree. But, after taking collagen supplements, if you notice an improvement, then perhaps it’s worth it. As long as there is no evidence that it’s harmful, I am willing to spend money for a better quality of life (ie. less joint pain).

  2. Avatar Amber Thomas says:

    I’ve been taking CP for a few months now and I can say without a shadow of a doubt it has helped my joint pain so much, I’ve also noticed other benefits like my skin is much better, less pimples, softer and healthier, etc, along with staying fuller longer but I started taking them to help with my joints and muscles and it is the only thing that I have changed so there’s no other explanation, I ran out at one point and forgot to order more, by the time I ordered it on line and received it I had swelling and pain in my knees again and my bad leg/ankle, a month later I’m back to feeling great!
    I don’t really care what the studies say, it has 100% helped my joint health and that’s all that matters for me, the longer I can put off complete knee replacements the better!

  3. Avatar Melissa Barnhart says:

    The only thing I have noticed taking it is less hair falls out. I used to have handfuls now I have maybe 20. I’ve been taking it for about 3 months and my hair is just starting to feel a little thicker.

  4. Avatar Lisa Kelly says:

    I’m really shocked that such a poorly researched article is appearing on myfitnesspal. Collagen is a polypeptide. A large molecule. To be able to absorb such a large molecule it must be digested by protease enzymes in to its monomers, namely, amino acids to be able to cross the membranes in the small intestine. So you can’t absorb the collagen, just like in the skin btw, only the components of it. How does that impact its effectiveness? What are these studies you refer too? Why does the whole article constantly tell me that, because there is no clear evidence “it’s not all bad news” likely you are trying to sell me something? Why is a “fitness buff” getting articles published on myfitnesspal? What are the qualifications of this person? A nutritionist? Where did she study?

    Sorry for the rant, but I really am sick of the dumbing down of biology. Guess what I do for a living?? I’m looking for science based advice on how best to look after my body, so I can be healthy. I’m not looking for a sales pitch from someone who used to work in fashion. If this stuff is good for me, fine, but after reading this, I’m no more informed than when I taught protein synthesis to my G12 this afternoon!

  5. Avatar Pauline Pantaleo says:

    I have been working in the supplement industry for a while. I have seen some amazing results from people with many supplements and some with none. Collagen is, from my experience, an effective supplement for many, including myself. I pay close attention to my body having several health challenges. I use it every morning with Fermented vegan Amino acids and a multi (making sure vitamin c is supplemented with collagen helps I become more effective. ) the results for people can vary for many reasons- absorption rates, other vitamins and nutrients, genetic adaptability, list goes on.

  6. Avatar Ryan says:

    I’m not a nutritionist, biologist, chemist, etc. but I have been taking a collagen protein supplement for a little over a year and I can say that I definitely noticed a difference when it came to my joints and GI regularity. The first thing I noticed after starting a collagen protein regiment was with my GI tract. I’ve always eaten a diet higher in protein and fat, and admittedly didn’t consume enough fiber daily. As a result of that, I wasn’t “regular” in terms of my trips to the porcelain throne. After starting collagen, my “regularity” is every day now and things seem to be runninging smoothly along the old “colon highway.”

    Secondly, I noticed a difference in my joint mobility. I had a knee surgery back in 2006 and since the surgery suffered from stiffness in my knee. After starting the collagen, my knee didn’t feel as stiff. While that’s subjective, I will say that in March of 2018 I had major shoulder surgery, consisting of re-anchoring of rotator cuff tendons and my biceps tendon. Following my surgery I spent 6 weeks immobilized in a sling, but I continued my collagen regiment. After my 6 weeks in the sling and I was cleared to start physical therapy, I had roughly 120 degrees (of 180 degrees) range of motion lifting my arm up over head from out in front of me. I know several people who’ve had the same type of shoulder surgery I had, and following their 6-week sling time, they were lucky to have 60-90 degrees range of motion. My shoulders were in good shape prior to the surgery, but following the surgery I had atrophied badly, so I find it hard to believe that my range of motion had to do my muscle strength (which I’m still trying to get back). I personally attribute my range of motion to the collagen, especially since that’s the only difference between my knee surgery recovery and my shoulder surgery recovery.

    Again, I’m not a scientist or nutritionist. I’m just a regular guy who’s taken collagen for some time, and these are my personal experiences with collagen for whatever they’re worth.

  7. Avatar Dennis Cameron says:

    Oral supplementation of specific collagen peptides has beneficial effects on human skin physiology: a double-blind, placebo-controlled study.

    Proksch E1, Segger D, Degwert J, Schunck M, Zague V, Oesser S.

    This is from NCBI US National Library of Medicine, National Institute of Health
    I have seen my allergy doctor reference things on this site…..for what thats worth to you.
    Study is mainly relates to collagen study on skin in elderly women.

    Below is a link to WebMD and their input on the subject.
    I hope this helps some out there!

    Various dietary supplements are claimed to have cutaneous anti-aging properties; however, there are a limited number of research studies supporting these claims. The objective of this research was to study the effectiveness of collagen hydrolysate (CH) composed of specific collagen peptides on skin biophysical parameters related to cutaneous aging. In this double-blind, placebo-controlled trial, 69 women aged 35-55 years were randomized to receive 2.5 g or 5.0 g of CH or placebo once daily for 8 weeks, with 23 subjects being allocated to each treatment group. Skin elasticity, skin moisture, transepidermal water loss and skin roughness were objectively measured before the first oral product application (t0) and after 4 (t1) and 8 weeks (t2) of regular intake. Skin elasticity (primary interest) was also assessed at follow-up 4 weeks after the last intake of CH (t3, 4-week regression phase). At the end of the study, skin elasticity in both CH dosage groups showed a statistically significant improvement in comparison to placebo. After 4 weeks of follow-up treatment, a statistically significantly higher skin elasticity level was determined in elderly women. With regard to skin moisture and skin evaporation, a positive influence of CH treatment could be observed in a subgroup analysis, but data failed to reach a level of statistical significance. No side effects were noted throughout the study.

  8. Avatar Ingrid says:

    I’ve been educating myself and I’ve found that there are certain nutrients we can add to our diet that will actually promote our body to produce collagen which is far better and those nutrients are glucosamine and curcumin, also bone broth is a good option. I’m sure there most be certain benefits of consuming the collagen but making your body to produce it will always be the best option.

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