What Are Collagen Supplements?
Collagen supplements are made by taking collagen from the connective tissues and cartilage of animals such as cows, chickens and fish.
Tissues in the body need collagen to help them stretch, keep their shape and cushion joints. As we age, our bodies stop producing as much collagen. People turn to collagen supplements to help replenish the body’s stores.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration doesn’t test collagen supplements for safety and effectiveness, so it’s up to the manufacturer to produce the best products and the consumer to research them.
In its natural form, collagen is difficult for the human body to break down. In order to help the body absorb it, supplement makers expose collagen to high heat and break it down into smaller pieces of collagen called hydrolyzed collagen, collagen hydrolysate or collagen peptides. These terms are interchangeable.
There are a few claimed potential benefits to taking collagen supplements, although scientists haven’t fully studied all of them.
Collagen Powder and Other Types of Collagen Supplements
Many people find collagen powders to be the most versatile because they can be added to foods or beverages, but supplements also come in pills, liquids and capsules.
Research hasn’t proven which way to take collagen is the best. So, it comes down to a person’s preference.
Supplement makers use three main types of collagen that support different body parts. Type I, type II and type III collagens are found in skin, joints and muscles and are the most popular types included in collagen supplements.
Multi-collagen supplements include a combination of types.
Three main forms of collagen supplements:
- Hydrolyzed collagen – Also known as collagen peptides of collagen hydrolysate, this form is exposed to high heat and broken down into small proteins.
Gelatin – This form is partially broken down into smaller proteins.
Raw – This form is also called undenatured and contains whole collagen proteins.
Some research shows that breaking down collagen proteins into collagen peptides makes it easier for the body to absorb.
What Do Collagen Supplements Do?
In theory, collagen supplements revitalize the body and help replace collagen lost to the aging process. The most popular reasons that people take collagen supplements include skin health, joint pain relief and muscle gain.
When a person takes a collagen supplement, it’s broken down during digestion into smaller proteins called amino acids. The body absorbs them and builds collagen and other proteins.
Collagen isn’t considered a complete protein source. But some studies, such as a 2019 study in Nutrients, suggest that once collagen peptides are digested, they can provide positive health effects and reduce risk of disease.
How to Take Collagen Supplements
There is no one way to take a collagen supplement and no specific dosing requirement. Make sure you follow the dosing instructions on the product’s label.
Since collagen supplements come in powders, pills, liquids or capsules, you can take them in any way that suits you. You can even bake and cook with them. For example, collagen powder can be mixed into smoothies, added to foods or even coffee without changing the thickness or texture.
You can drink liquid supplements out of the container or take pills on their own like you would any other vitamin or supplement.
One study published in Nutrients in 2019 suggests that taking 2.5 to 15 g of collagen peptides a day is effective and doesn’t exceed the maximum level of collagen that can be added to the standard American diet.
Do Collagen Powder and Other Supplements Work?
Several companies that make collagen powder and other supplements claim a wide variety of health benefits. The truth is the science on collagen benefits is still in its infancy and more studies are needed.
However, a few studies have shown some positive results for a handful of claims such as skin health, bone strength, increased muscle mass and joint pain relief.
Collagen benefits suggested by research include:
- Stronger bones by increasing bone mineral density and preventing the breakdown of bone.
Increasing muscle mass and strength when accompanied by strength training.
Increasing skin elasticity and hydration and decreasing wrinkles.
Reduction of joint pain with activity in athletes.
Reduction of joint pain in people with osteoarthritis.
Collagen supplements may have other benefits that haven’t been widely studied. Most of these claims come from people who say they received these benefits or product marketing. So far, there isn’t enough scientific evidence to properly substantiate these claims.
These claims include: Heart health, hair and nail growth, gut health, brain health and weight loss.
Is It Safe to Take Collagen Supplements?
Because the FDA doesn’t regulate collagen supplements, manufacturers are not required to conduct clinical trials for safety or efficacy.
But in general, the existing data on collagen power and other supplements says they are safe for most people.
Side Effects of Collagen Supplements
Available research shows collagen causes relatively few mild side effects, including: a bad taste in the mouth, heartburn and feelings of fullness.
People with food allergies should make sure they take collagen that doesn’t come from foods they are allergic to. For example, some collagen supplements are made from fish, shellfish or egg membranes.
Do Dermatologists Recommend Collagen Supplements?
Dermatologists are mixed on whether or not they recommend collagen supplements because of the lack of research.
Some dermatologists are concerned about the safety of collagen that comes from cows because of diseases like bovine spongiform encephalopathy, also known as mad cow disease.
“I tell patients that the jury is still out on taking collagen. If they pick a safe collagen product, there’s probably very little harm from trying it.”
Despite concerns, however, a 2019 review of available studies in the Journal of Drugs and Dermatology found “collagen supplementation is generally safe with no reported adverse events.”
Dr. Ohara Aivaz, a dermatologist at Cedars Sinai, said that bigger studies are needed to determine long-term effects of the supplement.
Choosing the Best Collagen Supplement for You
If you’ve decided to try a collagen supplement, there are a few things to consider to find the best supplement for your needs. These include collagen type, where it comes from and its form.
Choosing the type of collagen you need is influenced by the health benefits you want to receive. For example, type I and type III collagen promote healthy skin, while type II helps form cartilage that cushions joints.
Supplements most often contain one or more of these three types, but some are multi-collagen blends that contain at least five types.
Where Does Collagen Come From?
Collagen comes from animal sources such as chicken, cows (bovine collagen) fish or eggshells. Try to find high-quality products made from wild caught fish or pasture raised animals. If you’ve got food allergies, avoid collagen made from allergens such as eggs or fish.
Plants don’t make collagen, so if you’re a vegan you will have to take a nutritional supplement that supports your body’s natural collagen production as opposed to a collagen supplement.
Collagen supplements come in many types of delivery methods, including: Liquids, pills, capsules and powders. Think about your lifestyle and how you prefer to take your supplements.
Pills may be more convenient to take, while powders can be added to a morning smoothie, coffee or food. Are you a person that enjoys added flavor? Supplements come in flavored and unflavored varieties.
Quality and Safety
The FDA doesn’t regulate supplements. Make sure you read the labels and look for a third party certification seal.
For example, the U.S. Pharmacopeia seal that indicates the ingredients have been verified. Another organization that certifies that product labels match the ingredients is NSF International. NSF also checks for unsafe levels of contaminants or masking agents.
Best Collagen Supplements
There are a plethora of collagen supplements on the market. Always read the labels to make sure the product is right for you.
Here are a few products that have been highly rated.
- Sports Research Store Collagen Peptides Powder
- This product has more than 47,000 five-star reviews on Amazon, is non-GMO, has no additives and is unflavored.
- Great Lakes Collagen Hydrolysate
- This product uses pasture-raised cows to make their collagen powder. It’s non-GMO, keto-certified, verified glyphosate free, and is backed by the third party testing company Consumer Labs.
- Vital Proteins Animal Peptides
- Sourced from grass-fed cows raised with high animal welfare standards, includes vitamin C and hyaluronic acid to help with collagen production.
- Rae Vegan Collagen Boost
- Vegan alternative to a collagen supplement that helps boost the body’s natural collagen production. It’s colorless and flavorless with ingredients like vitamin C and bamboo extract.
- Thrive Market Chocolate
- Chocolate-flavored, grass-fed collagen peptides that are free of preservatives and have no added sugars.
- Vital Vitamins Multi-Collagen Complex
- Collagen pills that have five types of collagen from beef, chicken and fish.
- CB Supplements Unflavored Multi-Collagen Protein Powder
- NSF Certified Sport, unflavored, colorless, non-GMO, contains five collagen types from four sources: Grass-fed beef, cage-free chickens, eggshell membrane, wild-caught fish.