Collagen supplements seem to be everywhere these days — in powders, bars, bottled drinks, and snacks. But what is collagen and what advantage does it have if any for health?
What is collagen protein?
Collagen protein is a type of protein found in bone and connective tissues of the body, including cartilage, tendons, ligaments, bone, hair, skin, and nails. Muscle also contains a significant amount of collagen, since the muscle fibers are surrounded by connective tissue.
In supplement form, collagen protein is different than other types of protein such as whey, soy or pea protein powders because it contains high amounts of the amino acids glycine, proline, and hydroxyproline, which are linked together to form peptides, and are essential to the formation of connective tissues. Without sufficient amounts of these amino acids and peptides our bodies cannot effectively grow and repair our own bone and other tissues.
Where can I find collagen in foods?
Collagen protein is found in animal foods like meats, fish, poultry, pork, bone broth, and gelatin. Animal foods that contain collagen provide our bodies with the raw materials needed to produce our own collagen in the body.
What if I’m Vegan/Vegetarian?
Unfortunately collagen protein peptides are not found in plant foods, but that doesn’t mean that your body is unable to efficiently repair its own collagen tissues. Your body compensates by making some of its own peptides to help out where our diets do not. Ensuring that vegan diets are rich in a combination of plant-based proteins (beans, nuts/seeds, grains) means that our bodies will have the essential building blocks it needs to produce collagen in the body. Some vegetarians who eat eggs will be able to find collagen supplements made purely from eggshell membrane (a part we don’t normally consume).
What does the research show?
There has been research on collagen supplementation that suggests a benefit for joint, skin, and muscle health, but more research is needed in all areas. Most of the research has been on joint health, with supplementation showing a reduction in activity-related joint pain among athletes (1, 2). Studies on skin health show an improvement in skin elasticity, wrinkle reduction, and hydration with supplementation (3, 4, 5). But again, collagen research is in its infancy, making it difficult to recommend precise supplement dosage, frequency, and variation according to condition.
How much should I eat or supplement per day?
If your diet is nutritionally adequate in macronutrients (protein, fat, and carbohydrate) as well as micronutrients (vitamins and minerals from eating a wide variety of foods including a diet rich in plants), our bodies will likely be able to produce the collagen it needs. However, each body is different and there is a difference between adequacy and optimization. Collagen protein supplements are now popularly used to enhance and optimize collagen synthesis, with claims that it will help build stronger connective tissue and muscles, joints, hair, skin, nails and bone. However, research on whether or not these supplements have a direct benefit to the body when supplemented above and beyond our dietary protein needs remains unknown. There is research that suggests benefit in some areas, but we do not yet have enough studies that can help inform us on exactly how much to use, for whom, and for how long.
The good news
A balanced diet including optimal amounts of protein can give your body the protein building blocks (amino acids and peptides) it needs to repair and restore collagen. If you are concerned about getting enough protein in your diet, are an athlete, or deal with other chronic health issues, or simply want to optimize your protein or collagen intake, you should reach out to one of our dietitians today who can work with you to create a customized plan based on your health goals.
Written by Christine Weiss RD, CD
Sources and additional reading
1. Clark KL, Sebastianelli W, Flechsenhar KR, et al. 24-Week study on the use of collagen hydrolysate as a dietary supplement in athletes with activity-related joint pain. Curr Med Res Opin. 2008;24(5):1485-1496.
2. Lugo JP, Saiyed ZM, Lau FC, et al. Undenatured type II collagen (UC-II®) for joint support: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study in healthy volunteers. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2013;10(1):48.
3. Czajka A, Kania EM, Genovese L, et al. Daily oral supplementation with collagen peptides combined with vitamins and other bioactive compounds improves skin elasticity and has a beneficial effect on joint and general wellbeing. Nutr Res. 2018;57:97-108..
4. Asserin J, Lati E, Shioya T, Prawitt J. The effect of oral collagen peptide supplementation on skin moisture and the dermal collagen network: evidence from an ex vivo model and randomized, placebo-controlled clinical trials. J Cosmet Dermatol. 2015;14(4):291-301.
5. Proksch E, Schunck M, Zague V, Segger D, Degwert J, Oesser S. Oral intake of specific bioactive collagen peptides reduces skin wrinkles and increases dermal matrix synthesis. Skin Pharmacol Physiol. 2014;27(3):113-119.
Holwerda AM, van Loon LJ. The impact of collagen protein ingestion on musculoskeletal connective tissue remodeling: a narrative review Nutr Rev. 2022 Jun; 80(6): 1497–1514.