by Kate Dee, MD
Collagen supplements: do they work? Collagen supplements have become very popular. Many are marketed to help give you “glowing skin.” They also claim to help your bones, joints, muscles and heart. I am asked frequently whether taking collagen supplements will help with anti-aging. The answer is, maybe a little bit but maybe not. Here’s the scoop.
Collagen supplements available in the US are derived from either cows (bovine collagen) or fish (marine collagen). Collagen is a protein found in the skin and cartilage. When you eat any protein from any source, it is broken down into individual amino acids and small chains of amino acids called peptides and then absorbed by the gastrointestinal tract. These amino acids and peptides then circulate in the blood and become available for your body to make proteins. Much of your body is made of various proteins. Many hormones are proteins. Muscle is made out of protein. And of course, collagen is a protein.
What your body cannot do is absorb whole collagen and stick it into your skin or joints. It just doesn’t work that way. So, if you eat more collagen, your body will have the supply of amino acids it needs to make collagen and other proteins. But any complete source of amino acids will provide this (meat, fish, poultry anyone?). If you don’t eat enough protein, it won’t be able to make more proteins. In fact, some vegans do not consume enough of certain amino acids that are lacking in plants such as lysine if they do not have enough variety of protein sources in their diets.
Several studies have been done which suggest that taking collagen supplements may decrease joint pain in athletes and may increase skin hydration and improve wrinkles. But these studies are small and subjective and do not compare consumption of collagen to any other source of protein. It remains unclear whether there is any definitive advantage of collagen supplements.
Interestingly, the body needs Vitamin C in order to make collagen. Assuming you have a good protein intake, taking a Vitamin C supplement is probably more likely to result in more collagen in your skin than consuming collagen itself.
One thing that is truly great about collagen powder as a supplement is that it is flavorless. Most protein powders have some kind of taste, which can alter the flavor of your smoothie or coffee. Collagen is a nice option that adds protein to your food without the added taste alteration. It is a pricey one, though!
In conclusion, if you really want to make sure your diet supports skin and joint health, make sure you get enough protein and Vitamin C. And don’t forget your sun block!
Clark KL, Sebastianelli W, Flechsenhar KR, et al. 24-Week study on the use of collagen hydrolysate as a dietary supplement in athletes with activity-related joint pain. Curr Med Res Opin. 2008;24(5). doi:10.1185/030079908x291967.
Kim DU, Chung HC, Choi J, Sakai Y, Lee BY. Oral Intake of Low-Molecular-Weight Collagen Peptide Improves Hydration, Elasticity, and Wrinkling in Human Skin: A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Study. Nutrients. 2018;10(7). doi:10.3390/nu10070826.
Rogerson, D Vegan diets: practical advice for athletes and exercisers J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2017; 14: 36.
Published online 2017 Sep 13. doi: 10.1186/s12970-017-0192-9