Collagen Supplements: Are They Worth The Hype?

Updated: Sep 11, 2020

No matter your concern, it seems collagen is being marketed as the solution. You can find it in powders, capsules, bars, tea, chocolate…you name it, there’s probably a version with added collagen. And a few dollars. Is it worth the hype though? Here’s what we know.


What is it?

Collagen is a type of protein. In fact, it is the most abundant protein in our body. It is found in tendons, ligaments, cartilage and bone...so it's kind of important.

There are just about 30 different types of collagen, though the three most common you’ll see are:

  • Type I: found in skin, tendons, ligaments, bones and teeth.

  • Type II: found in cartilage most notably.

  • Type III: found in skin, muscles and blood vessels.


Where can you find it?

Collagen is in many diets, without supplementing it. You can find collagen in meat, fish, poultry, products what contain gelatin and bone broth (though the amounts can vary significantly and is not always reliable). From food sources, collagen isn’t very well absorbed, although this is does not mean it’s something you’re likely “deficient” in.


Our body breaks down all types of protein (which is composed of amino acids- think lego blocks, and protein being the different structures they make up with different combinations), into individual amino acids. This is how they are absorbed and contribute to a ‘pool’ of amino acids in our body. From this pool, our body can create the proteins needed, including collagen. So, you don’t need to consume collagen to make collagen.


This process of protein breakdown into single amino acids is why many are unsure collagen supplementation can be individual of benefit- doesn’t it all end up the same? Wouldn’t meeting your protein requirements be the best way increase collagen production? Really, we don’t know enough just yet, though there are some circumstances collagen-specific peptides seem to make a difference.


Joint Pain/Health

The current evidence looking at collagen supplementation on improving joint pain and/or health is mixed, but it is promising. Collagen supplementation has been investigated for the potential to treat and prevent osteoarthritis primarily.


The current evidence suggests that collagen supplementation may aid in reducing exercise-related joint pain and joint pain in those with osteoarthritis. Other research has suggested that collagen supplementation may aid in reducing inflammation in those with rheumatoid arthritis. Though again, the evidence is still emerging and for this reason, is not a first-line of defence. If you do want to give it a go, we still don’t know what dose is best, but it seems 10g of hydrolysed collagen per day would be the goal.


The takeaway: There is some evidence to support the use of collagen for joint pain in those with osteoarthritis, though the evidence is still emerging. There isn’t enough evidence to say collagen supplementation prevents the development of osteoarthritis.


Injury Recovery

The current evidence is mixed, but there have been some studies showing promising results using collagen supplementation for tendon/ligament injuries, by promoting collagen synthesis, and so, recovery. The circumstances seem more specific than for other uses- needing to be more than 15g, taken about an hour before targeted exercise and in conjunction with vitamin C.


This is due to it taking around an hour for the amino acids to peak in our blood stream, while vitamin C is required for collagen synthesis. Without the added vitamin C, the benefit is not found, however all participants were fasted in the current research. There is still a lot to understand!


The takeaway: Collagen supplementation may help with ligament/tendon injuries, though the method of consumption needs to be well considered- and the evidence is still emerging, I’d only consider if you have the money.


Skin

Collagen is an important component of our skin. It is needed for skin elasticity, and as we age, we naturally lose collagen, leading to the formation of wrinkles. So, supplementation seems logical, right?


At present, there is some evidence suggesting that hydrolysed collagen supplements may improve skin elasticity and hydration, reducing wrinkles and improving collagen levels. There are others that don’t show positive changes when compared to a placebo. However, it is important to consider much of this evidence is funded by the industry, don’t use robust methodology and all require further evidence.


There is no evidence supporting the use of collagen to improve eczema or acne at this time.


The takeaway: There is emerging evidence that collagen may benefit skin elasticity and hydration, however this evidence is far weaker than having a balanced diet, using sunscreen, not smoking and drinking water.


Hair & Nails

This is another common area many turn to collagen supplementation, seeking improvements in the strength, growth and thickness of our hair and nails.

The current evidence is not convincing. The strength of the available evidence is poor and some studies use supplements also containing other ingredients, so it is difficult to draw any benefit to be specifically from collagen.


The takeaway: When it comes to hair and nails, there current evidence on collagen supplementation is not compelling. What should not be overlooked is the impact of a balanced diet on the health of our hair and nails- changes to these can be an indicator or poor nutrition, and this is the reason many supplements (often multi-vitamins) do provide changes. It’s best to get to the root cause!


Gut Health

This is one of the strongest marketing tactics I’ve seen collagen supplements focus on- improving your gut health, repairing your gut, healing your gut.


There is no current evidence to support the use of collagen to improve “gut health”. There’s so little evidence that I think the biggest issue to point out is that claims are being made from essentially thin air. There is lots of evidence supporting a diverse, plant-based diet in improving gut health, however!


The takeaway: Stick to diet, exercise and managing stress.


Muscle Growth

Collagen is a type of protein. Protein is beneficial for muscle growth. However, there is no evidence to suggest that collagen specifically has any more benefit on muscle growth than adequate or increased protein intake.


It’s also worth noting that collagen powders do not provide all essential amino acids (amino acids we cannot produce ourselves, so we must consume). This means collagen is not a complete protein, or ideal for protein synthesis. For this reason, it is not my preference when it comes to protein powders or supplements.


When compared to whey protein, it has been shown to be less efficient in this process.


The takeaway: Collagen rather than other protein sources/powders has not been shown to be superior for muscle growth.


Bone Health

As collagen is an important component of bone, many understandably are looking to collagen supplementation to improve their bone health.


Now, there are some studies which suggest collagen may increase the production of cells that encourage bone production, or that supplementation could help to maintain and improve bone bass. However, as collagen is a type of protein, again, it’s unclear whether the benefit could be from protein supplementation in general.


The takeaway: The evidence supporting collagen supplementation for improved bone health is not strong at this point. You can probably guess what I’m going to say, but focus on diet and lifestyle changes that we know do improve bone health before only looking at supplements like this.


Weight Management

This one was only mentioned to me recently, until then, I had no idea collagen was being marketed for weight loss.


The evidence here is not great- the studies are not strong, don’t show any weight reduction and only show some satiety. This satiety is also found with protein…so, I think this could be where that’s come from.


The takeaway: There is very little evidence supporting collagen supplementation for weight loss.


Even more to read:

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