There’s been a lot of hype around the benefits of ingesting collagen over the last year or so, which has led to a boom in the collagen supplement market. You can now find collagen in tablets and capsules and protein powders and chews and gummies. To name a few.
You’ve probably read articles claiming that collagen supplements are good for gut health. You’ve also probably read that collagen is the literal fountain of youth, gives women clearer skin, stronger hair, and nails, and alleviates joint pain. Who wouldn’t sign up for that? But with the shiny patina of collagen’s miracle benefits, you might feel that this all sounds too good to be true.
So, what’s real? Does this stuff really work? And should you be putting it in your body?
Long story short, recent studies have shown that collagen, a protein the body naturally produces and requires throughout life, may improve aging skin, increase skin elasticity, and hydration when taken orally over the long term.
Top 5 (Suggested) Benefits of Collagen Supplements:
May ease joint pain
May make skin look younger
May help build muscle and burn fat
May reduce cellulite (and this is the biggest MAY of all)
May strengthen digestive tract lining
I’m repeating “May” because, as of now, studies are limited, and most have only had short trial periods of 4 to 24 weeks. We still don’t have much in the way of longitudinal studies showing how ingesting collagen over years affects the body. Instead, we mostly have a lot of anecdotes from consumers sharing how they use collagen.
So what’s the big deal about collagen anyway?
Well, for starters, it’s a protein, and proteins are crucial to the overall healthy functioning of our cells. They carry out a slew of functions within each cell, such as bringing in nutrients, carrying out waste, and most importantly (for the purposes of this conversation)—building muscle and connective tissues.
That’s where collagen comes in. It creates fibers for muscle, cartilage, tendons, connective tissue, and digestive lining.
The problem with ingestible collagen is that most people believe that by adding it to their daily smoothies, they’ll immediately have great skin. As if collagen, when it enters the bloodstream, knows exactly where to go: “Kelly’s skin isn’t dewy today; I’m going there!’”
But that’s not how it works.
Ingesting collagen will impact more areas than just your skin. It’s a protein and will go where it is needed—skin, hair, bones, etc. Assuming it’s properly absorbed into the bloodstream at all.
When collagen gets broken down in the digestive system, only a minuscule amount actually makes it into our blood and is used by our cells. In other words, you’re just not going to get a big bang for your buck. And those powders are not cheap. So, dosage and absorption are issues to keep in mind when ingesting collagen.
Just like all supplements, collagen pills, powders, and chews are not regulated by the FDA, which means their purity and efficacy haven’t been fully guaranteed by the government. However, there are other organizations that provide third-party testing, quality control, and labeling.
Even studies with promising results, like one that was done on the efficacy of the collagen protein powder VERISOL (which demonstrated improved skin elasticity), have limited applications. Since the study was conducted on the skin of the forearm, not the face, drawing concrete conclusions on collagen’s effect on crow’s feet is a challenge.
To make matters more confusing, many skin care professionals believe that ingesting collagen doesn’t work at all.
Celebrity dermatologist Dr. Dennis Gross, who has a high-end line of skincare products, promotes topical treatments and injectables to encourage collagen production, arguing that these are superior to supplements.
“When you eat collagen,” Dr. Gross said recently in an Instagram post “it’s broken down by the acids in your stomach into what’s called amino acids.” Because collagen is a large protein molecule, once broken down, it just doesn’t work the same.
Dr. Gross recommends if you want more collagen in your skin, “use ingredients applied topically that stimulate your skin to make more of its own collagen.”
Of course, any doctor performing elective procedures probably has their own agenda when it comes to disbelieving ingestible collagen; if collagen supplements really work, then who needs Botox?
But who can say? What we know for sure is that, so far, there have been few trials studying the effects of ingestible collagen.
So, are there proven and safe ways to ingest collagen?
If you’re concerned about collagen loss because of aging and want safe ways to get more of it in your diet, then ingesting collagen through the foods you eat is a healthy alternative to non-regulated collagen supplements.
Here’s a quick run-down of effective, healthy ways to promote collagen production.
1. BONE BROTH This seems to be the winner among nutrition experts. According to L.A.-based fitness nutrition specialist and healthy chef, Marcia Whitfield, since there is so little evidence on collagen, “I wouldn’t waste my money. If people are looking for more protein, which is collagen, I’d suggest making homemade bone broth from chicken, beef, and turkey bones.” She’s not alone in this perspective.
2. AVOID TOO MUCH SUN EXPOSURE AND SMOKING Just doing these two things alone will help your skin tremendously. Because if you take collagen supplements and smoke a pack a day or love to sunbathe, you will see very little improvement.
Like so many trends that come and go, ingestible collagen is new and hot. Although preliminary results look promising, it’s still too soon to claim definitively that the hype is real. So before you hand over that credit card, think about if you really need it.
Chances are, if you just up your intake of healthy proteins and take a few precautions, you’ll see the same benefits that ingesting collagen supplements may or may not give you.
And for those of you who have been ordering bone marrow and saying it was for your skin, feel free to finally admit you just love bone marrow (and if your skin looks radiant afterward, all the better).
[Article first published by The Candidly.]
Tamara Jefferies MA is a freelance wellness writer and holistic counselor/coach based in Long Beach, CA. She has worked in the wellness field since 2005 and holds a Master’s in Somatic Psychology from John F. Kennedy University, several certifications in the specialization of trauma and trauma resolution, and is a certified yoga teacher and holistic practitioner offering transformational counseling to women.
Writing on topics that help women heal, grow, and live fulfilled and happy lives is her passion as is writing for wellness businesses, publications, and brands. She is a regular contributing writer to the wellness brand, The Candidly, and a Brand Ambassador to ADORAtherapy.
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