Health Benefits of Collagen Supplements
What is collagen, and does it really have any health benefits? On this episode of The Sitch, we’re talking all about collagen and collagen supplements!
Whether sold as a powder or as an oral supplement, collagen is all the rage on social media.
From food bloggers to health practitioners, collagen has become a daily staple in many people’s diets. It’s added to smoothies and coffee, snacks, soups, dips, desserts, you name it – people are putting collagen in it. It’s also promoted in many beauty products, from creams to cosmetics.
Some of the commonly reported benefits associated with collagen intake include anti-aging, antioxidant, anti-tumor, anti-inflammatory, wound healing, weight management, gut repair, and bone and heart health.
But is collagen all it’s cracked up to be? First, let’s break down what collagen actually is.
WHAT IS COLLAGEN?
Collagen is a naturally occurring protein in the body and the main structural component of connective tissue – meaning skin, hair, muscles, bones, cartilage, blood vessels, and even teeth. It makes up 1/3 of the total protein in mammals.
Collagen supplements are typically made from proteins sourced from the bones, skin, and scales of cows, chicken, pigs and fish. Collagen supplements include collagen peptides, collagen hydrosylate, and gelatin, which is basically cooked collagen.
As I said before, our bodies make collagen. It’s synthesized in the body using vitamin C and the amino acids proline and glycine – both non-essential amino acids – meaning our bodies also makes those.
So if our body produces collagen and the amino acids that make collagen, why would anyone need to take it as a supplement? Well, collagen synthesis declines as we age, and some medical conditions are associated with increased collagen breakdown.
So the idea is that if we eat collagen, we’ll make more collagen. But is that actually the case?
RESEARCH ON COLLAGEN SUPPLEMENTS
1. Anti-aging benefits and skin health
One study in women showed that supplementation with 2.5 or 5 grams of collagen a day for 8 weeks showed improvements in skin elasticity over placebo. This study was conducted by the Collagen Research Institute.
Another study showed that 1 gram of collagen a day for 12 weeks improved skin hydration, wrinkling, and elasticity in middle-aged women. This study was funded by a manufacturer of collagen.
A third study showed improvements in skin texture with the daily consumption of a collagen peptide mixture. This study was conducted by the makers of gold collagen.
As you can see, it’s hard to disentangle any benefits of collagen for skin health with industry funding.
2. Benefits for bone and joint health
A plethora of research has been done on the use of collagen for the degenerative joint disease, osteoarthritis. Many of these studies found that supplementing with 7-10 grams of collagen hydrosylate per day for 3 months resulted in improvements in pain and joint function.
A 2018 meta-analysis noted, “large and clinically important effects for pain reduction” with supplementation of collagen in patients with osteoarthritis in the short term. However, they noted a high-risk of bias in the majority of these trials due to industry funding or conflicts of interest. They also found that the supplements did not have long-lasting effects over placebo.
In athletes, one study found that supplementing with 10 grams of collagen hydrolysate a day for 24 weeks resulted in significant improvements in joint pain. Unfortunately, this study was industry funded as well.
3. GUT HEALTH
All the influencers are proclaiming digestive delight from adding collagen to their coffee.
While research does show altered levels of collagen in patients with digestive conditions like inflammatory bowel disease, there are no studies to date on the effects of collagen supplementation on gut health.
So – it looks like the research isn’t too solid on this structural protein. But are there any harmful side effects to collagen supplementation? Some studies have reported mild to moderate gastrointestinal disturbances. Additionally, some experts are concerned about the potential for contamination in collagen products.
One concern is bovine spongiform encelphalopathy – aka mad cow disease. This virus is transmitted via contaminated nerve tissue and bones. The FDA has banned the use of some cow parts to prevent the spread of the disease, however, for whatever reason, they exempted gelatin.
Another concern is contamination with heavy metals, such as lead and arsenic. A recent study of protein powders showed that out of 134 supplements tested, including collagen, the majority were contaminated with one or more heavy metals. Because of this concern, some collagen and gelatin companies specifically test their supplements to verify purity.
Finally, collagen is protein, and if you’ve seen my video on protein and cancer, then you know that consuming too much protein isn’t a great thing. Taking collagen supplements may also displace other important essential amino acids in the diet.
ARE COLLAGEN SUPPLEMENTS BENEFICIAL?
While many of the health claims about collagen make sense theoretically, there is insufficient scientific data to support the majority of claims. Additionally, because of the varied data, the exact dose and type of collagen supplement needed for these benefits isn’t clear.
So what can you do to support healthy bones and connective tissue without eating animal by-products?
Well, first you can make sure to get in plenty of vitamin C by way of fresh produce! Vitamin C is required for the biosynthesis of collagen, and simply eating a plant-based diet increases your intake of vitamin C.
Foods rich in vitamin C include bell peppers, strawberries, spinach, and citrus.
You can also increase your intake of antioxidants. Studies have shown that foods like olive oil can reduce oxidative damage during healing of tissue. Calcium, phosphate, and vitamin D are also essential nutrients for bone and joint health.
You can ensure you’re meeting your needs for those nutrients by munching on plenty of cruciferous vegetables and legumes and make sure to get a daily dose of sunlight – our main source of vitamin D.
Check out some plant-based recipes on my blog to support a healthy diet and meet your nutrient needs.
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Weigh in: Have you tried collagen? Have you experienced any of these purported benefits?