What is Collagen? Your Ultimate Guide to Collagen Supplements
One of the most common questions from you all is "what are your thoughts on collagen supplements?". And rightfully so! Collagen is one of those trendy ingredients showing up everywhere. You can find collagen creamers, collagen protein bars, and collagen waters without too much trouble. Take a walk down the supplement aisle and you'll find collagen supplements in the form of powders, capsules and gummies. But what is exactly is collagen and what are the benefits? Consider this your ultimate guide to collagen supplements. It's a simple but science-based look into collagen and its benefits, plus answers to your most commonly asked questions about this popular product!
What is Collagen?
Collagen is the most abundant protein in the body. Think of it as the "glue" that holds your body together. It's the structural component that makes up connective tissues, like tendons and cartilage and it plays an important role in our bones, hair, skin and nails, our joints and even the gut (1). Needless to say, it's a pretty important part of the body!
Since collagen is a protein, it is made up of amino acids, with the majority coming from proline and glycine. Our bodies can make these amino acids, so they are considered non-essential (For a refresher on protein, check out the Protein 101: A Simple Guide to Understanding Protein post).
As we age, collagen in the body begins to deteriorate and production slows. This process starts in the late 20s early 30s and is most noticeable in our skin as fine lines and wrinkles. As we produce less collagen, other noticeable issues include brittle hair and nails, digestion issues, more pronounced cellulite and joint pain.
Types of Collagen
There are 28 different types of collagen found in different parts of the body. The different amino acid makeup of each type of collagen depends on the type of structure it's apart of (joint cartilage vs. gut lining). However, there are five main types of collagen, three of which (Type I, Type II and Type III) are popular in supplements on the market.
Type I - this is the most abundant type of collagen (about 90%) and found in almost every tissue of your body. This includes tendons, skin, bones, cartilage and connective tissues.
Type II - found mostly in cartilage.
Type III - often found alongside Type I collagen, as well as in muscles, organs, arteries and some connective tissues in the liver, spleen and more (1).
What are the benefits?
There are numerous claims supporting the benefits of collagen. These range from decreasing wrinkles and improving joint health, to aiding in weight loss and healing the gut. But what does science says?
The research on collagen is limited since it's fairly new topic of study. Most of the research has looked at collagen in regards to skin, joint and bone health. Other studies look at the main amino acids (glycine and proline) in collagen and their benefits or a collagen as a protein source. But the research looks promising!
Skin - various forms and dosages of collagen have been studies that show improvements in skin elasticity, keeping skin looking younger and preventing against the signs of aging by keeping skin firm and hydrated (2, 3, 4). Research also shows that this can increase the smoothness and help reduce the appearance of cellulite (5).
Hair and Nails - as collagen production slows, hair and nails can become brittle and weak. Collagen can help hydrate your hair and nails, helping them grow faster and thicker (6).
Bone and Joint Health - Collagen has been shown to can help reduce inflammation (7). This can be extremely beneficial for those with Rheumatoid Arthritis, Osteoporosis or another inflammatory disorders (8, 9, 10). Collagen also helps in preventing the breakdown of joints, especially in individuals osteoarthritis. Another study found that athletes given the collagen supplement had less joint pain than those that did not receive the supplement (11).
Gut Lining - Numerous studies have shown that those with inflammatory bowel diseases have less collagen in the lining of their intestines (12, 13, 14). Collagen is 30% glycine. Glycine is shown to help repair leaky-gut, a condition where the lining of the small intestine becomes damaged, causing undigested food particles, waste products and bacteria to "leak" through the intestines into the bloodstream (15). Collagen can helps restore the lining of the stomach and intestines and improves nutrient absorption (16).
Muscle gain and satiety - Protein is an important part of the diet and out of all the macronutrients provides the most satiety - meaning it keeps you full longer. Adding collagen can also help with muscle gain when combined with strength training by providing necessary amino acids for muscle growth and recovery following exercise (14).
What Causes Loss of Collagen?
Age is one of the biggest players in collagen break down. Unfortunately, we can't turn back time or reverse the process but we can make diet and lifestyle changes that lessen the impact.
Other factors that contribute to loss of collagen include a diet high in refined sugars, stress, nutrient deficiencies such as protein and other vitamins and minerals, smoking, sun exposure, and air pollution.
Food Sources of Collagen
Whole food sources of collagen come from meat, fish, and eggs. When you consume these foods you are getting collagen. However, since the best sources of collagen are found in tendons and cartilage, it's likely you aren't getting a lot from lean animal protein. Another whole food source of collagen is bone broth, which is made by simmering the collagen-rich parts of the animal and bones (hence the name "bone" broth). This broth can be used in cooking or sipping as a warm, savory beverage.
Other nutrients play an important role in collagen formation and protect the body's collagen stores from damage and deterioration. Vitamin A, Vitamin C, iron, zinc and copper are all necessary for proper collagen production. Thankfully a whole food, plant-based diet can easily provide these nutrients. Good sources of these nutrients include carrots, sweet potatoes, kale (vitamin A), strawberries, bell peppers, broccoli, kiwi (vitamin C), pumpkin seeds, cocoa powder, cashews (zinc), cashew, sunflower seeds, chickpeas (copper), spinach, lentils and black beans (iron.
Omega-3 fatty acids protect the body's collagen stores from damage and work to help reduce free radicals and inflammation. The best sources of omega-3s include hemp seeds, chia seeds, walnuts, flaxseeds and fatty fish like salmon.
This is a fantastic resource on plant-based foods that support collagen production.
Different Types of Collagen Supplements
Collagen supplements comes from connective tissue in animals like bones, skin, and hooves and fish scales. For this reason, I recommend purchasing high-quality collagen made from grass-fed, pasture raised animals or wild caught fish, and whose products have been third-party tested for purity.
Hydrolyzed Collagen - (aka collagen peptides) are collagen proteins that are broken down by an enzymatic process called hydrolysis, into a smaller, more easily absorbable form called peptides.
Collagen Peptides - (aka hydrolyzed collagen) This is a tasteless, odorless powdered form of collagen that can be added into either hot or cold liquids. It essential just dissolves into whatever it is mixed with, making it extremely easy to take.
Capsules - capsules are convenient in the sense that you don't have to add it to a liquid or food in order to take it. You just have to remember to take it! If you already have a supplement regimen in place, adding a collagen supplement in capsule form may be an easy addition.
Gummies - I typically do not recommend gummy supplements. Most of the time they are sugar-based and have added ingredients and fillers.
Commonly asked questions:
Is collagen vegan?
There are no sources of collagen that are vegan. Collagen is only made in humans and animals. However, there are plant-based foods that boost your body's natural collagen production.
Are there plant-based sources of collagen?
No. But there are foods that boost our natural collagen production. Even though your body can produce the necessary amino acids for collagen production, it's important to make sure you are getting enough proline and glycine to ensure your body has enough to support this process. Soy, beans, spinach, cabbage, cauliflower, avocados, asparagus, and sunflower seeds.
This is a fantastic resource on plant-based foods that support collagen production.
How much collagen should I take?
The recommended serving size is about 10-20g of collagen peptides (about 1-2 scoops). This ensures a good amount of protein and collagen. Remember more isn't always better.
What is the difference between collagen and gelatin?
Collagen and gelatin are often used interchangeably which can make this confusing. This is because gelatin is actually collagen that has been heated. This heating process alters the state of the amino acids and therefore changes the properties of gelatin. To make it more confusing, collagen peptides are really processed gelatin.
All that really matters is nutritionally collagen and gelatin are interchangeable. They have the same amino acid profile. The difference is with their properties and how to use them. Collagen can be dissolved in both cold and warm liquid. Gelatin "gels" in cold liquid but dissolves in hot liquid. Think of Jell-o, puddings or gummies which are made from gelatin. (This is one of the best charts that explains the two).
Can I take collagen while pregnant or nursing?
Yes, collagen just another form of protein and is safe to take while pregnant or nursing. However, make sure you read labels and make sure your supplement doesn't contain any other ingredients or fillers. As always, it is best to talk with your doctor about supplements before taking any at this special time in your life.
How to choose a collagen supplement?
Not all collagen is created equal. Since collagen is an animal product, choosing collagen from a reputable source is important. Look for collagen that comes from grass-fed, pasture-raised animals or wild-caught fish. The collagen should not have any additional fillers or additives. Overall, when choosing a collagen supplement opt for a brand that is transparent about their processes and sourcing. Also, look for collagen that is certified by a third-party quality-testing company, like NSF International or United States Pharmacopeia (USP).
Can collagen replace my protein powder?
Collagen can be a good replacement for your traditional protein powder if you are getting eating a well-balanced diet and getting other sources of protein. If you are on a plant-based diet and do not consume much or any meat, I do not recommend collagen being your main source of protein since it is missing essential amino acids your body needs.
Do you use collagen?
Yes, I eat mostly plant-based and still use collagen almost daily. I let there be room to flex and listen to my intuition. For me, this is where collagen fits in.
It's easy to use and I like that dissolves into basically anything. I do not use this as my only protein source and still also use a plant-based protein powder. I love the results I've seen with my hair and skin and it's easier on my digestion that some of the other protein powders I've tried. I also like that I can buy individual packets of collagen and take them with me on the go, especially on trips. I keep one in my purse just in case I'm in a pinch or feel like I need a source of protein to round out a snack or meal when the options are limited.
How to incorporate collagen into my diet?
Adding collagen into your diet can be pretty easy since it dissolves into pretty much anything. Try adding it to a liquid such as a smoothie, juice, water, tea or coffee, or boosting the protein content of your favorite foods oatmeal, baked goods, raw treats, snack balls, pancakes, salad dressings and sauces.
I recommend purchasing high-quality collagen made from grass-fed, pasture raised animals or wild caught fish, and whose products have been third-party tested for purity. Naked Nutrition Collagen is sourced from European cows that are pasture raised and like all of their products are third party tested.
The Bottom Line: Should you take collagen?
Consider your diet as a whole. Whole foods have a variety of nutrients that support collagen production and protect it from breaking down due to environmental damage.
Your body has the ability to produce the amino acids to make most types of collagen. However, some types require essential amino acids, that we must get through food. If you are lacking any of these, your body cannot produce enough of the collagen.
A well-balanced diet with adequate protein should provide you with enough of the necessary essential amino acids for your body to support collagen.
Consuming collagen doesn't mean the body uses it to directly restores collagen, improve joint health, heal the gut, ect. Collagen is broken down into amino acids during the digestion process just like other proteins. The body is smart and prioritizes which proteins to make from the pool of amino acids based on where proteins are needed in your body.
However, If you are not eating animal products or much protein taking a collagen supplement may provide you with the necessary amino acids your diet might be lacking.
I hope this post helps answer your questions and provides you with the information you need in order to decide if a collagen supplement is right for you.
I'd love to know your thoughts on this type of post and what topics you'd like covered! Make sure to let me know in the comments below.