Thinking About Trying Collagen? Let’s Weigh the Benefits.

Hi guys!

Since we’ve been talking so much about protein, I thought I’d switch gears and talk about …another type of protein.

Collagen!

There is just sooo much hype around it! I’m sure some of you are wondering if it’s really worth it or if it’s just another trend. And that’s the kind of stuff I like to dive into. So if you’re thinking about taking collagen, or you’re already taking it and not 100% sure what it SHOULD be doing for you, this is the place to be.

Let’s talk about solid collagen benefits vs. what is just hype!

gold spoons with collagen

Yes, collagen is a type of protein! 

A lot of people don’t know this! There’s actually more collagen in the body than any other type of protein.

Collagen’s main job is structure. It’s integral in connective tissues all over the body, including tendons, ligaments, and cartilage. It also makes up the extracellular matrix in your skin, which makes it look tight and youthful. Collagen is even found in muscles, hair, bones, and smooth muscle tissue that line blood vessels and intestines.

I guess you could say collagen is literally keeping us together, kinda like my morning coffee. Not the same? Okay fine.

As we age, the body makes less collagen

Collagen isn’t something you HAVE to get from the diet, because the body makes it on its own! However, production slows wayyy down as we age, eventually leading to signs of aging like sagging skin and wrinkles, and even less mobility in the joints.

Production starts slowing down in our 30’s. Some say it starts as early as 20! To all my fellow 90’s babies reading this, don’t panic. You can support collagen production through nutrition and by avoiding things that damage collagen like:

– UV exposure (wear your sunscreen!!!)

– Smoking

– Drinking excessive alcohol

– Eating a ton of ultra processed foods (hot dogs, bacon, etc.) and added sugar

foods containing collagen benefits salmon eggs citrus peptides supplement

Ways to boost collagen

You know I’m a food first kind of girl, so let’s talk about boosting collagen through food before we get into supplements. You CAN get collagen through food. The problem is, collagen comes from animal connective tissue, bone, and skin. Things most of us won’t be eating on the reg.

This is why there’s serious hype around bone broth, which is made by simmering animal bones and connective tissue over a long period of time to release gelatin, which some believe converts to collagen in the body. At the very least, bone broth is packed with vitamins, minerals, and amino acids.

Foods that SUPPORT collagen production

The best way to support how your body naturally makes collagen is to make sure it has all of the nutrients it needs to make the process happen. The MVPs of this process are vitamin C and proline, an amino acid.

Get vitamin C from things like citrus, berries, and bell peppers. Egg whites are great for proline.

Nuts and beans are great sources of copper, another important nutrient for collagen production that you might be lacking!

Collagen supplements

You can usually find collagen supplements in the form of powders of capsules. The source of the collagen can come from cows (bovine), chicken, pigs or even fish (typically called marine collagen).

Supplemental collagen comes as “collagen peptides.” All that really means is the collagen is already broken down so it’s easier for your body to digest and absorb.

Is vegan collagen a thing?

Vegan collagen is made from yeast and bacteria that’s been genetically modified to create collagen. I also read that scientists are finding ways to bioengineer it. As cool as this is, we still need solid research to say for sure if vegan collagen provides the same results as animal collagen.

A LOT of “vegan collagen” you’ll see on the market is actually not collagen. Yep. They’re actually collagen boosters, which are basically supplements with a bunch of nutrients that support your body’s natural collagen production. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but the marketing can be tricky (and slightly annoying IMO).

collagen supplement scoop

Collagen benefits – worth the hype? 

Collagen supplements are super popular because they have the appeal of making you “healthy from the inside out.” Supplements are usually unflavored and easy to take, and they promise things like beautiful skin, luscious hair, and relief from joint pain. Who doesn’t want that?! Let’s see which collagen claims are legit benefits, vs. which ones could use more research.

Skin and aging

Collagen is a big part of your skin’s structure. When collagen production slows down, the skin starts to lose elasticity and looks less supple. That’s when you notice one of the first signs of aging – wrinkles. But maybe taking a collagen supplement can help.

There are some studies that support this! For example, in one study 114 middle-aged women were given either collagen peptides or a placebo. After 8 weeks, the women taking collagen peptides saw not only significantly reduced wrinkles (this study focused on the eye area), but also an increase in procollagen 1 and elastin, two major components of skin structure.

A recent review of 11 studies in the Journal of Drugs in Dermatology (JDD) states that oral collagen supplements have promising results for aging and wound healing. The writers go on to say that collagen supplements may help to increase skin hydration, elasticity, and collagen density in the skin.

So basically, taking a supplement is one way to keep optimal amounts of collagen in the skin and lessen the signs of aging. Of course one common denominator of the studies I read was maintaining a healthy lifestyle – so don’t think of this as some sort of magic solution. 😉

Joint health

When you think about aging, don’t get caught up in only thinking about your skin! Your joints need some love too. Collagen can help maintain the structure of connective tissue in your joints. If that connective tissue wears down, you lose major mobility. Nobody wants to hobble around.

This benefit isn’t as hyped up as smooth skin, but it’s still important and actually really cool. For example – one study gave a group of 139 athletes complaining of knee pain either oral collagen peptides or a placebo, every day for 12 weeks. At the end of the study, the group taking collagen had less pain during activity and needed less alternative treatment for pain.

Other studies that focus on joint pain in aging and inflammatory conditions like osteoarthritis call collagen a “potential therapeutic agent” and emphasize the importance of other nutrients important to joint health.

Hair and nails

The truth is, there’s still not enough science to say if collagen is the secret to perfect hair and nails. In a review published this year in the Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology, the authors say that although the potential is there for some of these benefits, right now it seems that the media hypes them up more than science can really back up.

But the people who swear by it SWEAR BY IT.

It’s possible that collagen can play a role in creating luscious locks and strong nails, with the help of vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients like keratin.

Gut health

Some people claim that collagen can heal leaky gut, which in theory is caused by a weak intestinal lining. The science isn’t really there to back this up.

Another claim comes from a study that showed people with inflammatory bowel disease could be deficient in a certain type of collagen. So in theory (again, we need more science), supplementing collagen could treat this deficiency and relieve inflammation.

Heart and bone health

These potential collagen benefits aren’t as “sexy” as smooth skin and great hair, but they’re important nonetheless.

Decreased bone density is another sign of aging, but one that poses more danger to your health. It’s possible that collagen stimulates bone formation, and supplementation has been shown to help with postmenopausal bone loss in at least one study!

For your heart, collagen could add integrity to the walls of your blood vessels, decreasing the risk for atherosclerosis.

Are there any collagen side effects? 

Collagen supplements are pretty well-tolerated for most people. Some people do have issues with bloating and heartburn, but I’m sure that depends on the product and any other ingredients.

Be aware of any allergies you have when you shop for a collagen supplement! Marine collagen is made from fish, which could be an issue for anyone with a shellfish allergy. It’s possible for some products to contain egg too. As always, check the label to be safe!

Is there a “best” way to take collagen?

The “best” time to take collagen is a little controversial. Some swear by taking it in the morning on an empty stomach for maximum absorption, while others say it’s best to take it at night so it can do it’s thing while you sleep and your body is in recovery mode.

My opinion? If you decide to to take it, take it whenever it’s easiest for you to be consistent. Once you decide when to fit it into your routine, you have plenty of options for HOW to take it. You can easily mix it into milk, water, coffee, or a smoothie. You can even bake with it.

What should we talk about next?!

Thanks for reading! Hopefully you feel more confident to decide if a collagen supplement is right for you!

What do you want to talk about next? Let me know in the comments!

breanna woods ms rd dietitian signature

15 thoughts on “Thinking About Trying Collagen? Let’s Weigh the Benefits.”

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  1. Juliet says:

    Is it too late for me I’m 60

  2. Julie says:

    Hello my name is Julie and I just wanted to know which Collagen is best to take A tablet or powder form thank you

  3. what is the best time to take collagen? Can I take it before going to sleep?

  4. Nicole says:

    Liquid vs powdered collagen

  5. Kelly says:

    Thank you for the info! One question I have about collagen supplements is that when reading the food label, there is a calorie count and a number of grams of protein listed but also states it is 0% daily value for protein/ no nutritional protein. This came up for me when I was calorie counting and tracking macros and I wasn’t sure how to count the collagen. Do you have any insight on this?

    1. Hi Kelly! So the majority of food labels in the US don’t have a daily value for protein because there’s no set target by the USDA! If you check out some other labels around your house you’ll probably notice that spot is just blank, and the collagen label just seems different because they put 0% instead.
      The grams of protein should still be there, and that is what you would count towards your macros. I hope this helps!

  6. Alyson says:

    Can you use the collagen powder and protein powder at the same time or is it more beneficial to only do one?

    1. You can use them at the same time if you want! A lot of people take them separately so they can take collagen first thing in the morning and to spread their protein intake out throughout the day.

  7. Sam says:

    I never comment, but I just want to say I’ve been really loving your nutrition contributions, Breanna!

    This post in particular was a great read for me because I recently starting supplementing with collagen, and the info out there is so polarized! I’m glad you made honest notes about the science, even if it’s not what we want to hear, and that you highlighted the not-so-sexy benefits. Thank you!

  8. Thanks for writing about this, I’ve been wondering and been hesitant about collagen for so long!

  9. Paige says:

    What factors should I consider before starting a Protein Powder? X-number of minutes I workout/calories/what results I’m looking for?

    1. Hi Paige! I’ve written a couple posts recently that I think would be helpful! This one can help you figure out how much protein you need: https://www.blogilates.com/blog/how-much-protein-do-you-really-need/

      This one can help with picking a protein powder:
      https://www.blogilates.com/blog/how-to-choose-the-best-protein-powder-dietitian/

  10. Kierstem says:

    Hey! I think what this post is missing is that the body actually breaks down all protein the same. There’s really no proof that taking collagen supplements actually boosts collagen! It just adds to your bodies pool of protein

    1. Great point! Collagen is a protein, so it breaks down into amino acids just like other protein. The difference is in the specific amino acids collagen supplements provide. They’re high in proline, hydroxyproline and glycine, which are specific amino acids your body needs to produce collagen. Some of the studies I listed do indicate that collagen supplements “boosted” collagen in some aspect, but I totally agree that more research is needed to confidently make that claim.