Before we get into the details of collagen supplementation, we want to stress the importance of checking with your credentialed healthcare professional before taking any supplements.
Reduced joint pain. Better skin. Increased muscle mass. Improved gut function. That’s a lot to ask of a white powder extracted from the hide, cartilage, and bones of a cow – how many of these claims are true? Well, as is the case with many trendy food products and supplements, these claims come from what some studies may have found to be true in a particular population, under certain circumstances. While these claims may hold shreds of truth, they often don’t paint a complete picture of what you can expect from including these products in your diet.
Let’s take a look at what collagen is, how it supports the body, and the possible health benefits of consuming a supplement:
What is collagen?
Collagen is an important structural protein found in skin, bone, cartilage, and tendons, and also gives support and shape to blood vessels and vital organs like the heart, kidneys, and liver. Our bodies produce collagen from amino acids [building blocks of protein] but as we get older, collagen production declines, leading to wrinkles, aching joints, and less-durable blood vessels. Age isn’t the only factor that affects collagen – smoking, excessive alcohol and sugar intake, and sun exposure also contribute to collagen breakdown.
Collagen is extracted from materials like pig skin, bovine hide, cartilage, and bones using hot water – the resulting product is gelatin. Gelatin is further reduced to collagen hydrolysate (hydrolyzed collagen), which is the form of collagen most commonly seen in powders on the market today.
What happens when I take a collagen supplement?
Here’s a tidbit that supplement companies would rather you not know – when you take a collagen supplement your body breaks it down [thank you, stomach acids and protein enzymes] to individual amino acids. Essentially, the digestive process breaks collagen apart and your body has to put the amino acids back together to use as collagen. It would do the same with any protein you eat.
What are possible health benefits of collagen supplementation?
Some research suggests that collagen supplementation may help with skin appearance and joint pain, but results may be more a result of consuming extra protein and not specifically collagen. Additionally, many research studies have been in vitro or have been conducted using animal models and therefore results lack clinical significance. More evidence is needed to understand the effect that collagen supplementation may have on health.
For now, let’s consider the possible health benefits of taking collagen as a protein supplement and some of the reasons why we recommend our favorite, Vital Proteins Collagen Peptides:
- It’s an easily digestible protein that is rich in the amino acids glycine, lysine, and proline – important for collagen building and gastrointestinal health. This may be particularly beneficial to those with certain gastrointestinal conditions.
- The ingredient list is one item: Collagen. Many protein powders have undesirable ingredients lurking on their labels.
- It contains 18 grams of protein in two scoops.
- The powder is water-soluble and virtually tasteless – it is invisible in your morning smoothie, yogurt, oatmeal, or coffee. We find this feature particularly helpful for individuals lacking appetite while having increased requirements for protein. It can also be helpful for children who have higher protein needs.
One final note: Vitamin C is essential for collagen synthesis, so a diet lacking in this micronutrient will disrupt its natural formation. If you take this protein supplement, be sure to have adequate intake of vitamin C – citrus fruits, cauliflower, and red peppers are our favorite sources.
Living Plate 501 c (3) receives a small affiliate fee from Vital Proteins. We use affiliate fees to support our mission and would never recommend a product we don’t use or stand behind.
- Gavura, S. (November, 2011) Collagen: An implausible supplement for joint pain. Science-Based Medicine. Retrieved from: https://sciencebasedmedicine.org/collagen-an-implausible-supplement-for-joint-pain/
- Pountos, I., Panteli, M., Lampropoulos, A., Jones, E., Calori, G. M., & Giannoudis, P. V. (2016). The role of peptides in bone healing and regeneration: a systematic review. BMC Medicine, 14, 103. http://doi.org/10.1186/s12916-016-0646-y
- Song, H., Zhang, S., Zhang, L., & Li, B. (2017). Effect of Orally Administered Collagen Peptides from Bovine Bone on Skin Aging in Chronologically Aged Mice. Nutrients, 9(11), 1209. http://doi.org/10.3390/nu9111209