Do Collagen Supplements Actually Work?
Since production of collagen slows in your 30’s, bumping up your levels via collagen supplements seems to be a smart move, right? Logically, it makes sense to take in nutrients that your body needs yet isn’t producing. However ingested nutrients (particularly in supplement form) don’t always translate into your body absorbing and being able to use the nutrient. Is this the case with collagen?
WHAT COLLAGEN SUPPLEMENTS ARE THERE?
Similar to how your body contains different types of proteins (check out our "What is Collagen and How to Use It" guide if you need a recap), so do many collagen supplements. The most commonly used types are:
- Hydrolysed collagen: This type is derived from bovine (cattle), marine (seafood), poultry (chicken or eggshells), pigs and other animal sources and it’s broken down into smaller and easier-to-absorb peptide particles.
- Undenatured collagen: This is raw collagen derived from chicken cartilage.
- Gelatin: This is cooked form of collagen, usually derived from animal sources.
There are currently no vegan substitutes for collagen.
COLLAGEN SCIENCE: DO COLLAGEN SUPPLEMENTS WORK
The first thing to point out is that as collagen is a new topic of study the research on it is fairly limited. A lot of the research that does exist is also industry funded (which one would expect to an extent), however in the scientific world this links it to a higher degree of bias.
Lab based studies on collagen show that ingesting hydrolysed collagen induces collagen synthesis, but the real question is if this translates into observable health benefits in humans. Of the human research done, most has looked at collagen in terms of joint and bone health.
Some research (yet less) has looked into the benefits of collagen on skin health. Although scanty, this research does look promising! Caveat that however, as hardcore scientists would caution from getting too carried away as the evidence is still definitely not strong enough.
Collagen Supplements Effect on Bone and Joint Health
A randomised trial (good quality research) looking at people with knee osteoarthritis found that taking type II collagen supplement leads to a significant decrease in pain and stiffness, even if only in the short-term.
Although the review noted that the quality of studies pooled was low and there was no long-term evidence available, other studies have shown that collagen is important in helping reduce inflammation, a key issue in joint pain. Some other human studies suggest that doses of 10 – 40mg of undenatured collagen per day may also improve bone health.
Collagen Supplements on Skin
A recent review of human studies done to date concluded that the oral ingestion of a mix of collagen peptide supplements reduced signs of aging and increased skin elastically. What is important to note is that within the supplements given in these studies included other nutrients like vitamin C, zinc, biotin and vitamin E, so it could have been the collagen peptides or all the nutrients together having a positive effect on the skin.
What’s more, it is still very unclear what dose of collagen is optimal. Another interesting observation in the research is that many of the changes reported with improved skin (reduced dryness, improved elasticity etc) were retained only for one month post treatment, pointing to the need to take these supplements long-term for continued benefits.
Collagen Supplements Effect on Gut Health
Collagen supplementation has grown in popularity for the support of gut conditions like “leaky gut” and for inflammatory bowel diseases. Collagen is 30% glycine (an amino acid) so the proposed benefits centre on the use of glycine by the cells that line the intestine. It is thought that glycine helps restore the lining of the stomach and intestines therefore improving nutrient absorption. The research to prove these claims has been mostly done in animals and in the lab so more research is definitely needed.
In summary, when looking at the science, it’s helpful to remember that while the evidence to date does look promising, it is still inconclusive. More research is needed to fully understand the benefits. Collagen is a safe supplement to take, with no recognised upper limit. If you choose to take a collagen supplement, ensure that you invest in the very best.
Choosing a collagen supplement
Not all collagen is created equal. Since collagen is a product derived from animals, I recommend choosing collagen from a reputable source. For example, look for collagen that comes from grass-fed, pasture raised or sustainably sourced fish. The less additional fillers and additives the supplement has the better.
WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN LIQUID COLLAGEN vs. COLLAGEN POWDER
When it comes to the world of collagen supplements, you have a number of choices. There’s liquid, power and even powder in capsule form. While some manufactures claim that liquid collagen is the most bioavailable type of collagen there is currently no evidence suggesting that one form is more superior than the other. The choice of which collagen supplement to take for now can be based on personal preference.
Liquid collagen has the benefit of being instantly ready to consume. Powder forms can be mixed up in more or less anything liquid (cold or hot). If you don’t mind swallowing pills, then capsules may be a good option for you. You won’t have to worry about mixing or tasting anything as the collagen powder is tucked away in a gelatine capsule.
What is the Right Collagen Supplement Dose?
Currently there are no official guidelines regarding how much collagen to take per day. To determine the correct dosing for you, work with a dietitian or nutritionist to ensure that you match the collagen type and amount to the reasons why you want to take it! This way you will maximise its potential benefits.
When Should You Take a Collagen Supplement?
You may have heard some people swear by taking collagen in the morning on an empty stomach. Yet others love taking pills before bed! The reality is that no studies have shown that one time of day will provide better results than the other, with or without food.
The most important thing is that you are taking collagen within a routine that is easy for you to remember as you will need to take it daily for at least 8-12 weeks for a noticeable result. And oh, if you’re looking for long-lasting effects, get ready to take them for a lifetime.
TAKE HOME MESSAGE
Collagen is a key nutrient that your body needs especially as you age. Diet first always. Real food is always better; however, a supplement may be a convenient help. Finding the right one makes a big difference.
- Choi FD, Sung CT, Juhasz ML, Mesinkovsk NA. Oral collagen supplementation: a systematic review of dermatological applications. J Drugs Dermatol. 2019;18(1):9-16.
- Liu D, Nikoo M, Boran G, Zhou P, Regenstein JM. Collagen and gelatin. Annu Rev Food Sci Technol. 2015;6:527-557.
- León-López A, Morales-Peñaloza A, Martínez-Juárez VM, Vargas-Torres A, Zeugolis DI, Aguirre-Álvarez G. Hydrolyzed collagen-sources and applications. Molecules. 2019;24(22):4031.
- Bolke L, Schlippe G, Gerß J, Voss W. A Collagen supplement improves skin hydration, elasticity, roughness, and density: results of a randomized, placebo-controlled, blind study. Nutrients. 2019;11(10):2494.
- Laing S, Bielfeldt S, Ehrenberg C, Wilhelm KP. A dermonutrient containing special collagen peptides improves skin structure and function: a randomized, placebo-controlled, triple-blind trial using confocal laser scanning microscopy on the cosmetic effects and tolerance of a drinkable collagen supplement. J Med Food. 2020;23(2):147-152.
- Lugo JP, Saiyed ZM, Lane NE. Efficacy and tolerability of an undenatured type II collagen supplement in modulating knee osteoarthritis symptoms: a multicenter randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study. Nutr J. 2016;15:14.
- García-Coronado JM, Martínez-Olvera L, Elizondo-Omaña RE, et al. Effect of collagen supplementation on osteoarthritis symptoms: a meta-analysis of randomized placebo-controlled trials. Int Orthop. 2019;43(3):531-538.
- Dressler P, Gehring D, Zdzieblik D, Oesser S, Gollhofer A, König D. Improvement of functional ankle properties following supplementation with specific collagen peptides in athletes with chronic ankle instability. J Sports Sci Med. 2018;17(2):298-304.