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Fact Checked

Collagen Supplements: Does the Research Support the Hype?

So how do you take your coffee?  Black, with a little cream, maybe some sugar?  Do you make an at-home mocha with chocolate syrup (my personal favorite)? Or what about with a little collagen powder mixed in?

I’m sure if you have scrolled through social media, you have seen plenty of people boasting about how they have added collagen supplements to their daily routine, many of which are adding the powder to their morning coffee.  Many brands are promoting collagen supplements to help create glowing hair, healthy skin and nails, and even repair body tissue.  But is there any research to support these claims?

What is Collagen?

Collagen is the most abundant protein in the body and is found in tendons, ligaments, skin and other connective tissues.  You can think of collagen as the building blocks or glue that help hold things together.  There are many types of collagen, but the most common are types I, II, and III, making up about 80-90% of all collagen:

  • • Type I is made up of tightly packed fibers to provide structure to skin, bones, and teeth.
  • • Type II is found in elastic cartilage, which helps to cushion the joints.
  • • Type III is often with type I and is found in skin, muscle and organs.

Your body naturally produces collagen, but as you age, it produces less and lower-quality collagen.  Collagen supplements have been marketed to promote joint health, improve skin elasticity, build muscle and more.

Types of Collagen Supplements

Most collagen supplements are made from animals, such as pigs, fish or cows, and have gone through the process of hydrolyzation.  This is when the collagen in the supplements has been broken down into smaller protein fragments called amino acids.  These amino acids make it easier for your body to use the collagen.

There are many different kinds of collagen supplements available online today, and they can take multiple forms such as tablets or capsules or even powders.  As a note, with any supplement, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not evaluate the claims made on how well a particular company’s product works.  It is best to speak with your primary care provider or pharmacist before starting any new medications or supplements.

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Benefits of Collagen Supplements

While there are not many studies on collagen supplements, those that do exist show that there are several potential health benefits to taking them.

Better skin health

Collagen is a major component in your skin, and it helps to keep your skin strong, elastic and hydrated.  Many people believe that collagen can help reduce the effects of aging seen on the skin, such as reducing wrinkles and dryness.

One study published in 2015 aimed to see if taking an oral nutritional supplement drink containing hydrolyzed collagen, along with other various ingredients reported to have anti-aging effects, would have a positive effect on skin wrinkles, hydration and elasticity.  This study showed that compared to the control group, the women that drank this oral nutritional supplement drink had significant improvement in wrinkle depth.  There also was a noticeable improvement in skin hydration and elasticity.

Improve joint health

Collagen helps maintain your cartilage, the tissue that aids in protecting your joints.  There is some evidence saying that supplements may prevent or restore the deterioration of cartilage.  One review article showed that hydrolyzed collagen had a positive effect on osteoarthritis and osteoporosis.  This was shown through promoting joint health, increasing bone density and symptomatic relief of pain.

Increased muscle mass

Between 1-10% of your muscle tissue is actually collagen, and it works to help keep your muscles strong and working properly.  A 2019 study looked into the use of a combination of collagen peptide supplements and strength training in active men and its effects on muscle mass.  The results showed that the combined use of supplements and strength training increased muscle mass and muscle strength more than the placebo. 

Side Effects

Collagen supplements are generally safe for most people, but mild side effects have been reported, such as a lingering bad taste in your mouth, a feeling of fullness or heartburn.

Collagen supplements are mainly sourced from animals, however, there are some sourced from common food allergens such as fish, shellfish or eggs.  People with allergies to these foods should avoid collagen supplements with these ingredients to prevent an allergic reaction.  It is best to speak with your primary care provider or pharmacist before starting any new supplements.

The Bottom Line

Collagen is an important protein in the body that can be thought of as the glue that helps hold things together.  Collagen supplements may have potential health benefits with limited studies showing an improvement in skin quality, joint health and an increase in muscle mass.  They are available in many forms – tablets, capsules, and powders.  Collagen supplements are generally safe, but it is important to speak with your primary care provider or pharmacist before beginning any new supplement.

References:

Lodish H, Berk A, Zipursky SL, et al. Collagen: The Fibrous Proteins of the Matrix In: Tenney S, ed. Molecular Cell Biology, 4th edition. New York: W. H. Freeman; 2000. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK21582/ 

Gómez-Guillén MC, Giménez B, López-Caballero ME, Montero MP. Functional and bioactive properties of collagen and gelatin from alternative sources: A review. Food Hydrocolloids. 2011 December; 25(8):1813-1827. doi: 10.1016/j.foodhyd.2011.02.007.

Collagen supplements - Google Shopping. Google.com. https://www.google.com/search?q=collagen+supplements&sxsrf=ALeKk03Bc-CoiDJCBXrK0tIVs5C_FgMlmw:1595599704169&source=univ&tbm=shop&tbo=u&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwjf6seMiObqAhXGVN8KHe_VCTgQsxh6BAgVECw&biw=1366&bih=657 Published 2020. Accessed July 22, 2020.

Borumand M, Sibilla S. Effects of a nutritional supplement containing collagen peptides on skin elasticity, hydration and wrinkles. Journal of Medical Nutrition & Nutraceuticals. 2015; 4(1):47-53. doi: 10.4103/2278-019X.146161.

Porffrio E, Fanaro GB. Collagen supplementation as a complementary therapy for the prevention and treatment of osteoporosis and osteoarthritis: a systematic review. Rio de Janeiro. 2016; 19(1):153-164. doi: 10.1590/1809-9823.2016.14145.

Gillies AR, Lieber RL. Structure and function of the skeletal muscle extracellular matrix. Muscle Nerve. 2011;44(3):318-331. doi:10.1002/mus.22094.

Oertzen-Hagemann V, Kirmse M, Eggers B, et al. Effects of 12 Weeks of Hypertrophy Resistance Exercise Training Combined with Collagen Peptide Supplementation on the Skeletal Muscle Proteome in Recreationally Active Men. Nutrients. 2019;11(5):1072. Published 2019 May 14. doi:10.3390/nu11051072.

Moskowitz RW. Role of collagen hydrolysate in bone and joint disease. Semin Arthritis Rheum. 2000;30(2):87-99. doi:10.1053/sarh.2000.9622.

Published August 5th, 2020 by Dr. Kaylea Swearingen, PharmD
Fact Checked by Chris Riley

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