By Sam Davis, BHS, CPT, FNS
The collagen industry is absolutely booming. As a result, in 2018, consumers ended up spending around 122 million dollars on collagen products alone, and many companies are now adding it to a ton of their products. You can find it in protein bars, coffee, and even in your coffee creamer.
The biggest questions about these oral collagen supplements: Are they worth it? Do they actually work?
Studies are creating a very controversial topic of conversation in not only the skin industry, but also the fitness, health and wellness industry. Unfortunately, there isn’t much out there to support the effectiveness behind oral collagen supplements—but here, we will dive into what we know about the pros, cons, availability, and risks of taking an oral collagen supplement.
First, it’s important to understand exactly what collagen is and how it works in our body.
Collagen is a protein that binds tissues. It is basically what holds everything together. We naturally produce collagen everyday—but as we age, right around 25, that production slows down and we actually break it down faster than we can produce it. That, in turn, causes wrinkles, sagging skin, and achy joints.
We hear most about collagen in the skin industry as it keeps our skin plump and wrinkle-free. It makes up about 75% of our skin, but we also find it in our tendons, cartilage, connective tissue, and bone matter.
You don’t need to buy a supplement to get the proper amount of collagen. If you eat meat already, you are already getting it in your diet. We don’t, however, usually eat the parts of the animal that are most collagen abundant, like the tendons or bones. So making bone broth with these parts is an awesome way to ensure you’re getting the most collagen out of your meats.
“Can” is the keyword here. Read with caution, as these next statements are based on studies that have been funded by collagen companies, or offer minimal findings.
One study, where women ages 35-55 took up to 5 grams of collagen daily by mouth, showed that collagen could lead to improvements to skin elasticity. Another study showed that women who had taken collagen for a few consecutive months decreased dryness, had better blood flow to the skin, and had slightly higher collagen content.
As these two studies are promising, we should listen to dermatologists. From my own experience, most dermatologists don’t recommend oral collagen supplements to their patients because there isn’t enough research that shows it does indeed help your skin.
Collagen has been proven to help maintain the coherence of your cartilage. As we age, the collagen in our joints starts to disintegrate as well as our skin, and we run the risk of developing osteoarthritis. This is a degenerative disorder that affects the joints.
If you take collagen supplements, then you may possibly see improvement in the symptoms of degenerative joints. One study showed that a small group of athletes who consumed collagen daily for a couple of months decreased their joint pain. Researchers believe that collagen supplements may accumulate in your joints, which causes your body’s tissues to create more collagen. Other theories say it supports the lowering of inflammation, which in turn reduces pain.
If you’re in the collagen market for joint pain, researchers recommend taking 10-12g for 2-3 months to feel results.
There have been a significant number of studies that show collagen can actually help boost muscle mass. These studies have been performed on participants with sarcopenia, which is a loss of muscle mass as you age. 15 grams of collagen were given to each man for 3 months, on top of a regular exercise routine, and all subjects exhibited more muscle mass and more strength.
Researchers believe that collagen supplements promote the synthesis of the proteins found in muscle, which helps stimulate muscle growth after exercise.
In a nutshell: most research in the collagen field is considered inconclusive—but it does look promising.
Most collagen supplements are made up of ground-up hooves, nerve tissues, and cowhides. Therefore, there is significant concern over the possibility of consuming meat with mad cow disease or bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE). Collagen supplements also contain trace amounts of heavy metals.
It is important that you choose collagen that comes from a reputable company that practices the proper measures for preventing the appearance of BSE and heavy metals. Most reputable collagen companies will actually indicate that they take these proper measures.
The best collagen on the market comes from cage-free, free-range, and antibiotic-free sources. You also want to find certification labels on the bottle from a third party like NSF. Don’t fall victim to the fancy mixtures with probiotics or fiber, which alters the effectiveness of ingestible collagen.
We completed hours of research to narrow down the best collagen products based on production, ingredients, safety, and real reviews.
Collagen Peptides Powder from Sports Research is made from Grass-fed, non-GMO, and gluten-free ingredients. It’s also third party certified. The only ingredients are hydrolyzed bovine collagen peptides—with no added fillers or fluff. The nice thing about powdered form collagen is that you can add it to anything, including your coffee, oatmeal, or smoothies. You can also drink it straight, as it’s unflavored.