With the amount of attention collagen has received in the media today, it’s no surprise we’re left sorting through the facts to see whether it’s a good fit for our health.
Is the high price of collagen supplementation really necessary? If so, who’s it best for? We dive into the research surrounding collagen and list what population this may be a good option for.
What is collagen?
First off, collagen is a protein abundant in animal sources and an integral part of the human body. Made up of amino acids (predominantly glycine, proline, hydroxylysine and hydroxyproline), collagen gives skin, bones, tendons and cartilage their structure.
While there are 27 different types of collagen that have been reported, the main three are referred to as Type I, Type II and Type III.
Type I fibers are typically from mammalian tissue and form 90 percent of bone mass. They are found widely in tendons, skin and interstitial connective tissue. This is also the type traditionally found within consumer products.
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Type II fibers are found within the cartilage of mammals and are crucial for making and repairing connective tissue throughout the body. Because they are more challenging to extract and have a low yield, Type II fibers are not widely applied in industries.
Type III fibers are abundantly found in Type I fibers, giving support to the structures of the human body like the interstitial tissues of the lungs, skin and blood vessels, as well as elastic tissue.
In order for collagen to be synthesized, vitamin C is necessary. Vitamin C (or ascorbic acid) allows collagen to form the necessary structure for its various roles throughout the body. Thus, it’s crucial to promote collagen synthesis in the body by consuming adequate vitamin C.
Are collagen and collagen hydrolysate the same thing?
Yes and no!
“While both certainly contain collagen, the big difference is that collagen is made up of long-chain amino acids, while collagen hydrolysate has been processed and broken down into short-chain amino acids that are easier absorbed by your body,” says Lindsey Janerio, RDN, CLT, of and a collagen connoisseur. “Hydrolyzed collagen, collagen hydrolysate and collagen peptides are terms that can be used interchangeably.”
If our body biologically contains collagen, why should I supplement?
While the verdict is still out on this question among Western practitioners, naturopaths beg to differ.
DeJarra Sims, a naturopathic physician and professor at Bastyr University in San Diego, believes collagen supplementation can absolutely be beneficial. “Collagen peptides provide the body with beneficial amino acids that when consumed orally can improve one’s health,” Sims says.
Sims notes that benefits of collagen supplementation can range from improving skin elasticity and hydration to alleviating joint pain and improving digestive health. Collagen supplementation also can strengthen the cardiovascular system.
Are there any specific benefits for improving athletic performance with supplementation?
While research is ongoing in this area, there’s promise for those who suffer from joint pain related to training demands.
A 2018 scholarly review published in the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism found increased collagen production, thickened cartilage and decreased knee pain with collagen hydrolysate supplementation at about 10 grams per day or gelatin (the cooked form of collagen) at 5 to 15 grams with 50 milligrams of vitamin C.
Janerio agrees that collagen supplementation may be beneficial for some athletes.
“Research suggests collagen may reduce and prevent joint pain and bone density loss,” Janerio says. “A 2008 24-week study looked at hydrolyzed collagen as a dietary supplement to help athletes with activity-related joint pain, noting possible benefits of collagen like supporting joint health, reducing joint pain that could inhibit athletic performance and possibly reducing the risk of joint deterioration in certain individuals.”
What amount should I consume? Are there any recommendations on choosing a collagen supplement?
Because the body naturally produces and contains collagen, there’s no daily value one must meet through their diet or supplement intakes.
However, for those looking for the potential extra health benefits as outlined above, there are a few different things to take into account before purchasing a collagen supplement.
- Look for collagen that has been tested for heavy metals by a third party. Since collagen is derived from mammals, it’s important to note that heavy metals are present in animal bones to varying degrees. Even marine collagen still has the potential for high levels of mercury because of the metal present within the fish. While Janeiro notes the research is pretty sparse in this area, it’s still important to pay attention, too.
- Pay attention to ingredients — the fewer, the better. Evaluate what suits your dietary needs, lifestyle and preferences. While there are many on the market (and some with flavor enhancers), they also may contain added sugars, additives and dyes.
- Evaluate quality. While there are no set standards or regulations for supplements, you can certainly do your due diligence and research the brands before making your choice. Janeiro suggests evaluating the quality of the animal sources and opting for pasture-raised and grass-fed animals treated ethically.
Collagen supplementation is not necessary for all individuals, but it may benefit athletes who struggle with joint pain, as well as those concerned with skin aging. Talk with your registered dietitian before making the leap to spending your hard-earned money on collagen supplements.