If you’re interested in supplements, you may hear a lot of buzz about collagen. Collagen peptide supplements have been attracting a lot of attention — and scientific research — for both their beauty and health benefits.

What Is Collagen?

Collagen is the most abundant source of protein that binds connective tissue in people, animals, and fish. It’s a major component of ligaments, muscles, skin, bone, teeth, tendons, and organs. And it helps tissues stretch.

Collagen consists of amino acids, organic compounds that help your body make proteins and grow. That’s why scientists call amino acids the building blocks of life.

As you age, your body produces less collagen. Woman can lose as much as 30% of their collagen during the first five years of menopause. Less collagen brings wrinkles, sagging skin, stiff joints, and muscle loss.

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What Are Some Benefits of Collagen?

The study of collagen supplements is ongoing. There’s not yet conclusive evidence for any health outcome. Collagen supplements are believed to be beneficial in:

  • Improving skin elasticity and health
  • Promoting wound healing
  • Relieving arthritis and joint pain
  • Building lean muscle
  • Strengthening tendons and ligaments
  • Increasing bone mineral density in postmenopausal women

What Are Some Types of Collagen Supplements?

In recent years, collagen has become a popular edible supplement. You can buy it in gelatin, capsule, liquid, fruit chew, or powder form.

Collagen supplements comes in three types:

  • Gelatin. If you boil collagen for a long time, you end up with gelatin, the most basic form of edible collagen. That’s because the larger proteins found in collagen get broken down into smaller proteins. Collagen is what thickens bone broth.
  • Hydrolyzed collagen. Hydrolyzed collagen is the most common type of collagen supplement sold. In this form, the collagen is broken down into basic amino acids, making it easier for your body to absorb. Hydrolyzed collagen is also known as collagen peptides, collagen hydrolysate, and hydrolyzed gelatin.
  • Undenatured type II collagen (UC-II). UC-II is not broken down, so it’s harder for your body to digest and absorb.

Hydrolyzed collagens dissolve in both hot and cold liquids. You can add them to hot tea or smoothies. Gelatin only dissolves in hot liquid, so it’s not suitable for cold drinks.

How Long Does It Take for Collagen Supplements to Become Effective?

Collagen supplements aren’t a quick fix. To achieve any health benefits, most studies found you need to take collagen supplements for at least eight to 12 weeks.

Currently, there are no dietary recommendations from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for consuming collagen supplements. Doses used to study the effects of collagen supplements range from 2.5 to 15 grams over periods of three to 18 months. That’s according to a dietary review published in Nutrients.

Are Collagen Supplements Safe?

Unlike drugs, the FDA doesn’t approve dietary supplements to prevent or treat medical conditions. And supplement manufacturers do not need to prove a new product is safe before selling it. However, the FDA does monitor serious adverse impacts of supplements after they hit the market.

The most significant concern with collagen supplements comes from how they are made. Unless labeled as vegan or plant-derived, most collagen supplements come from ground up connective tissue of fish, chicken, or pork. The main concern with collagen supplements derived from animals is that they may contain dangerous heavy metals or other contaminants.

A review of 11 collagen supplements by ConsumerLab found cadmium, a toxic heavy metal, in one brand. To ensure the purity of supplements you take, Consumer Reports recommends looking for products certified by, NSF International, or U.S. Pharmacopeia (USP).

Natural Sources of Collagen

To boost the collagen in your body naturally, focus on getting enough amino acids. Collagen — and the many essential amino acids necessary to build collagen — are found in meat and plant-based proteins, including:

  • Bone broth
  • Pork skin
  • Meat
  • Fish
  • Dairy
  • Soy
  • Beans
  • Legumes
  • Buckwheat
  • Quinoa
  • Nut butters

Your body can’t distinguish between a collagen supplement and collagen found naturally in food. Eating a healthy, balanced diet is a good way to get or build the collagen you need.

Before taking any supplement, it’s important to talk to your doctor. Supplements may interact or interfere with medicines and other dietary supplements you take.

Amino Acids. MedlinePlus. U.S. National Library of Medicine. Link.

Cristiana Paul, Suzane Leser, and Steffen Oesser. Significant Amounts of Functional Collagen Peptides Can Be Incorporated in the Diet While Maintaining Indispensable Amino Acid Balance. May 11, 2019. Nutrients. Link.

Are Collagen Supplements Helpful for Arthritis? Arthritis Foundation. Link.

FDA 101: Dietary Supplements, U.S. FDA, Link.

About UPMC Nutrition Services

Nutrition is vital for maintaining your overall health. UPMC Nutrition Services offers comprehensive diet and nutrition counseling on a variety of topics, including eating disorders, weight management, and heart disease. Our team provides medical nutrition therapy for chronic conditions such as celiac disease, cancer, and diabetes. UPMC’s network of registered dietitians is available to help guide all patients toward a healthier life.