Amino acids in the body help build muscle, bone, cartilage, skin, hair, connective tissue, and more. Of the many different amino acids, the most abundant type of protein is collagen. It’s what makes hair strong and shiny, nails nice and tough, skin elastic, wrinkle-free and hydrated, and protects cartilage for healthy joint function. Sounds like the fountain of youth, huh?
So, if having abundant collagen in the body aids in most all its functions, it stands to reason that supplementing (especially because collagen declines with age), is a smart move for everyone. That’s what supplement companies began banking on in recent years. From capsules and powders to bars and protein drinks, collagen lines store shelves and is bursting online. Some of these options come with hefty price tags, so knowing whether or not they actually work should be of concern before you drop that hard-earned cash.
WebMD states, “Collagen makes up about 75% of the dry weight of your skin, providing volume that keeps skin looking plump and keeps lines at bay. It’s also rich in in the amino acids proline and glycine, which you need to maintain and repair your tendons, bones, and joints. As we get older, we break it down faster than we can replace it” (1). That’s why everyone from nutritionists to dermatologists suggest adding it to your diet. Top claims include (2):
- Improved gut health
- Strengthens and grows hair and nails
- Improves wrinkles
- Helps with joint pain
- Weight loss (improved metabolism)
- Provides structure to arteries, thus improving heart health
- Boosts muscle mass
- Helps bone mass (bones are made from collagen)
What the Studies Say
This is where things get a little tricky (like with most health-related topics) because studies often conflict one another. This is where you need to become the best consumer possible! Read, research and try things for yourself.
Some doctors and nutritionists warn that digestion and biochemistry don’t always turn something you eat into something your body produces naturally. Meaning, the collagen shake you drink doesn’t work the same way naturally occurring collagen does. Furthermore, Dr. Adam Freidman of George Washington University states, “The collagen is going to be digested by your GI tract because it isn’t built to survive the massive pH changes in the gut (3).”
This study shows that increasing collagen consumption in the diet changes our levels of amino acids, and therefore, facilitates the production of more collagen. So, you can eat collagen-rich foods, like bone broth and other foods that play a role in protein synthesis, like citrus fruits, oysters and meat, or, you can try supplementing with various collagen products to test it on yourself (4).
The bottom line: several experts are for, and others are against, how much collagen is digested.
While taking collagen is perfectly safe and there are little to no risks whatsoever, it bears mentioning what the product actually is. Collagen can be made from ground-up fish, chicken, pig, and cow parts. Depending on how these animals were raised and farmed, their parts may contain contaminants and heavy metals. So make sure you’re buying organic or grass-fed products. We like checking third-party tested sites for all supplements. You really cannot trust Amazon reviews for things going into your body! Check out Labdoor’s top options.
Avoid brands with fillers, dairy, soy, sweeteners and “natural flavors.” Those additions are usually the culprits of any stomach distress one might experience. Flavored brands tend to have a lot longer ingredient list. Stick to brands with a diverse amino acid profiles, Type I and III collagen, and pasture raised/organic.
Types of Collagen
90% of the collagen in your body is classified as Type I, II or III. Technically, there are 16 different types, but we will discuss the three most important.
- Type I is versatile and the most common. Its found in skin, tendons, ligaments, bones, teeth, and between organs. It’s the type responsible for beautiful skin and nails.
- Type II best helps joints and primarily found in the eyes and cartilage.
- Type III complements Type I well because it’s located in the skin, muscles and blood vessels.
The best supplements contain Type I and Type III. You can do without Type II (unless you find one with all three) and you really don’t need any of the others.
Also, look for hydrolyzed collagen. This means the amino acid chains have been broken down smaller, enabling better absorption and ease to dissolve in hot or cold liquids. Most serving sizes are two scoops, which delivers around 18 grams of protein.
Our Favorite Recipes
Yep! You can even cook and bake with it! Check out some of our faves:
Adding collagen supplements pose no real consequences, and might just help you boost your own for healthier skin, joints, hair and nails. Just buy third-party tested brands, try them out for yourself, and see how they work for you. Pay attention to how hair and nails grow. How do those knees feel walking up and down the stairs? If you notice positive changes, stick with it. If you give it a good shot for a couple of months and experience nothing, don’t buy more.
Comment below: do you supplement with collagen? Which brands do you love?