From what is collagen made of to what is it actually good for, we know that you likely have a lot of questions about this trending ingredient. From online to your local grocery store, there are numerous products and options to choose from if you’re looking to get more collagen in your life. And you likely have a LOT of questions about it.
We sat down with renowned dietitian and thought-leader Keri Glassman MS, RD, CDN to get her answers to your top collagen questions. She is the author of four best-selling books, including The New You and Improved Diet and The 02 Diet. You also may recognize her from her appearances on The Dr. Oz Show, The Today Show and Good Morning America.
Let’s start with a simple but complicated question…
What is collagen?
Collagen is a protein in the body that makes up joint-supporting connective tissues, is responsible for skin elasticity (AKA wrinkle defender), and helps maintain the lining of the digestive tract. It’s the structural support in tissues (skin), joints, bones, etc. and are long chain amino acids (the building blocks of proteins) found naturally in the body, but decrease with age.
And what are collagen peptides?
Collagen peptides are long chain amino acids (collagen) broken down into fragments through a process called hydrolysis. They are easily digestible and absorbed into the body (bioavailable). Plus they easily dissolve in liquid which makes it great for adding to water or coffee.
Are collagen peptides the same as gelatin?
While collagen peptides and gelatin are both shorter segments of the long amino chains that are collagen, gelatin is only partially hydrolyzed (or a bit longer) than the fragments that are collagen peptides (the short length makes them most easily digestible and bioavailable).
Ok, so what is collagen actually made of? And are there different types?
Collagen are most commonly derived from animal mosts (often bovine) and sometimes from marine sources (like fish scales!).
It has been said that there are at least 28 different types of collagen (that we currently know of) but in products you’ll find on the shelf, it is most often categorized into type 1, 2 or 3. While they all have the beneficial amino acids needed to support your hair, joints, and skin.
- Type 1 is often used because it affects the most tissue in the body, including all of the more appearance focused benefits: hair, skin, nails, but also support of your joints, tendons, and bones.
- Type 1 is most commonly found in products because of its ability to have an effect on many different tissues, organs, and has benefits you can ‘see’.
- Type 2 is important for cartilage.
- Type 3 is found in bone marrow, called ‘reticular cells’ which form the fine meshwork that support the tissue of the inner bone.
I’ve heard collagen is good for my hair, skin and nails. What other benefits does it have?
Actually, the most research has been done on collagen’s effect on joint health. Collagen provides structural support to your joints, so there is research on regular consumption over time providing positive benefit to joint health.
Collagen fibers also help maintain bone structure against curving or twisting, as we put stress on our skeletal system everyday, through activities like high impact exercise, or even walking!
Do foods contain collagen? If so, which ones?
Yes! Foods like bone broth (because it’s made from animal bones) contain collagen. The protein in meat is made up of essential amino acids the body can’t make on its own. But meats like beef and chicken also contain non-essential amino acids, some of which make up collagen.
Other foods that don’t contain collagen contain compounds that activate molecules that are required for collagen synthesis. For example, oysters contain both zinc and copper, which are required for synthesis.
You mentioned that collagen decreases with age. What are some of the best ways to get more collagen?
Vitamin C, zinc, and copper are required for collagen synthesis in the body, so ensuring you are getting enough of these in your diet can help, as well as supplementing with collagen peptides.
When it comes to supplementing with collagen peptides, here’s some tips to finding the best collagen supplement:
- Look for collagen peptides (a.k.a. hydrolyzed collagen or collagen hydrolysate) because it’s easier to digest.
- Locate the best-absorbing collagen supplement because size is everything when it comes to collagen. The smaller the peptides, the better your body will be able to absorb them.
- Find the best collagen source such as bovine collagen. And make sure it is grass-fed and pasture-raised.
- Make sure it tastes good so that you look forward to drinking it every day.
- Avoid artificial sweeteners and flavors because it may be an attempt to mask the quality of the collagen. Look for natural flavors.
For more on this topic, check out this ultimate guide to collagen.
How much collagen do we need to take to experience the benefits?
Studies have been done on as little as 2.5-5 g a day making an improvement on skin appearance, with some supplement products provide up to 20 g per serving.
There is research that supplementing with collagen can support your gut and joint health too. It’s important to get it from a high quality bovine source. Not all supplements are created equal.
Do I need to take it every day?
Regular intake of collagen (similar to any supplement) is what will provide the real benefit. It’s not a one and done!
When you are looking for a collagen supplement, it’s similar to packaged food products, first things first: take a good look at the ingredients label! Buy the simplest version, and ensure that it is created from a high quality source.
Is there such a thing as too much collagen?
It’s not dangerous, per se, but taking a lot every day could become a pricy lifestyle! And may not be necessary.
What are some of the ways to use collagen protein powders?
Add them to smoothies, blend with coffee, add to your healthy baked goods, or even mix with water or almond milk to enjoy.
And now it’s time for a quick rapid fire round!
- Do collagen creams work? Collagen in topical creams do not fully penetrate and absorb into the bloodstream, so (similar to caffeine) while it could potentially improve appearance of skin temporarily, it will not provide long lasting results.
- Are collagen peptides keto? They contain no carbs (it’s all protein!) so by definition, it could fit into a healthy keto diet plan.
- Will collagen help with hair loss? I’m not sure if it will contribute to hair regrowth, but the amino acids can certainly help provide support, structure, and elasticity to hair follicles and surrounding tissues.
- Will collagen help with stretch marks? Stretch marks are permanent scar tissue on the skin’s surface. So while it won’t help get rid of them, collagen can help improve skin structure, meaning that your stretch marks could potentially appear less prominently.
- Will collagen help with cellulite? While the exact solution to ridding of cellulite is still debated, collagen can help provide more taught, structured skin, which could reduce the appearance of existing cellulite.
- Will collagen help with wrinkles? Because collagen is a major component of the skin (and reduces as we age) supplementing can help prevent wrinkles and improve appearance of existing ones.
- Will collagen help build muscle? Collagen is a large component of muscle tissue, so supplementing with it can help in the support and building of new tissue.