Collagen: What Is It + Does It Really Work?

I’ve been seeing collagen EVERYWHERE lately. People adding it to their bulletproof coffees, matcha lattes, smoothies, etc. Bloggers like The Skinny Confidential and celebs like Jennifer Anniston rave about it.

So naturally, I got curious… does it really work?

collagen latte

What is Collagen?

Collagen is a protein found in most connective tissue in humans and animals including skin, cartilage, and bones.

Collagen supplements are made of proteins derived from animal products (including fish, chicken, cows, and pigs). Most commonly used in collagen supplements is hydrolyzed collagen, which is basically gelatin broken down into smaller fragments. It most usually comes in a powder – like these from Vital Proteins or snack items like these bars. There are several types of collagen including:

  • Type I and III: For skin, hair + nails.
  • Type II: For joint + cartilage health.

There’s been a ton of hype about collagen supplements because it has a reputation for being the closest thing to the “fountain of youth” and can allegedly reduce wrinkles, smoothe skin, and give you stronger nails and healthier hair.

What are the Benefits? 

  • Skin, Hair + Nails. As we age in our 20s and 30s, collagen levels naturally decline and we produce less. Collagen supplements supposedly replace natural collagen levels in the body and add structure and strength to hair and nails and elasticity to skin, preventing wrinkles.
  • Bone + Joint Health. As collagen levels decrease as we age, we also lose collagen that makes up our cartilage. Collagen supplements have been used for treating arthritis for a while now and there’s some solid evidence on that.

The Evidence Supporting Collagen.

  • The evidence that collagen improves skin health is mixed. (1,2,3)
    There isn’t a ton of robust research on collagen’s skin benefits yet, so it may just be that we don’t quite know yet. Some studies have seen positive benefits in improving skin elasticity and hair and nail structure, but others found that the gut’s digestive enzymes break down hydrolyzed collagen (most commonly found in supplements) so it isn’t likely to be as effective as some think. One study found that type-II collagen may be able to slip through the gut without losing its chemical structure and might be more effective.
  • The evidence that collagen improves bone and joint health is better. (1,2,3,4,5) Robust research has been conducted since the 1990s that has linked collagen to reduced arthritis symptoms and improved joint health. It’s pretty safe to say collagen can help improve bone and joint health.

Are there Side Effects

As supplements aren’t closely regulated by the FDA, it’s always important to make sure you’re using trusted and reputable brands when buying any supplement – the same is true for collagen. Although there isn’t much evidence of this, collagen is basically just ground up animal parts (sounds gross, but what’s what it is), and some studies have shown that animal bones can contain heavy metals. To be safe, it’s recommended to use a brand you know or trust or check that the product has been certified by a third party for contaminants.

I use Vital Proteins, which is certified by NSF International, a third party that makes sure there are no contaminants in supplements (and fun fact – was founded by the University of Michigan School of Public Health!) So, that makes me feel more comfortable using the product.

What Kind Should I Buy?

Collagen commonly comes from several sources including:

  • Marine (fish): Some research shows marine collagen is the most effective at improving skin health, but also the most expensive.
  • Most research shows that Type I is most effective for skin, hair, and nail health and Type II is most effective for joint health.

The Bottom Line: If you buy collagen, buy a good quality brand of Type-I and III collagen for skin health (or Type II for joint health), and preferably a marine source.

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