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Are Collagen Supplements Helpful?

With promises to improve aging skin and ease joint pain, collagen peptides have quickly become one of the hottest supplements on the market. Whether you stir them into your coffee every morning or are just collagen-curious and wondering if this supplement is worth the cost, it seems time to answer the question: What exactly are collagen peptides, and more importantly, are they helpful?

What is collagen?

Simply put: collagen is the most prominent protein in the body, giving structure to hair, skin, nails, bones, ligaments and tendons. Think of it as the “scaffolding” of our bodies. The body produces it in abundance when we’re young, but starts producing less around age 25, and continues to do so as we get older. The idea behind collagen supplements is to offset this natural decline in collagen production.

What are collagen peptides, and are they helpful?

Collagen peptides are these very proteins in supplement form. Most come “hydrolyzed,” or broken-down,  which makes them easier to digest and absorb. The big question is: Do they survive our digestive system in a way that accomplishes their intended function?  Or are they simply broken down into amino acids like all the other protein we eat? It seems the answer to both of these questions is “yes.”

Research shows that hydrolyzed collagen is digested into amino acids.  What shows promise among these digested proteins is the presence of “hydroxyproline,” a major component of collagen.  Various studies had demonstrated that, when collagen peptides were ingested after a 12-hour fast, blood levels of hydroxyproline were higher than normal, in some cases leading to optimal collagen production.

That all sounds good, right?

Part of researchers’ theory is that the peptides’ effectiveness depends upon the speed of digestion, absorption, and circulation.  So, consuming them in a hydrolyzed form while fasting may have more benefit. Additionally, some results show that those who eat the least amount of animal protein improve the most from supplementation, so further research is necessary to clarify who may benefit from peptides and the best conditions for their consumption.

Now, we must make you aware that the same supplement companies that produce these collagen peptides fund much of the research available. One might be inclined to wonder who else would support research on collagen peptides, and another might view bias in their study as inevitable.  However, there is also research published by unbiased third parties.  Together, they conclude that in those with osteoarthritis, significant reductions in knee pain and stiffness, and improvements in knee function were observed.  Furthermore, there was evidence that skin elasticity and hydration improved.

Bottom line: research does show promise for both improving the quality of skin and reducing joint pain, BUT the research is new and often with conflict of interest. Additionally, it is still unclear whether or not collagen supplements are superior to nourishing diets when it comes to boosting collagen production. 

Another thing worth mentioning: The FDA does not regulate nutrition supplements nearly as closely as they do other industries, which means there can be major differences in collagen quality and composition between brands. Considering third-party-tested products run $30-50 per month, we encourage you to add this to your reasons for eating well!

The Natural Approach to Boosting Collagen Production

First, eat enough protein daily, but don’t forget your fruits and veggies too, as they are high in vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients that support collagen production.  For example:

  • Vitamins C and E are part of pre-collagen production
  • Vitamin A helps repair and restore collagen in damaged skin
  • Zinc slows down the breakdown of collagen cells
  • Chlorophyll increases the precursor pro-collagen

If you’re looking for natural sources of collagen, consider sipping some bone broth, which is made by slow cooking parts of animals that are rich in connective tissue (and thus collagen).

For now, we recommend saving your money and waiting for better, more conclusive third-party research. Continue to strive towards balanced, wholesome eating and getting your fill of collagen from food sources.

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