Collagen – What’s The Hype?
by Tiffany Naticchioni, RDN, LD
Last Updated: April 6, 2021
If you’ve seen collagen supplements advertised for their promising effects on weight loss, anti-aging, muscle growth, and joint pain relief, then check out these facts to answer questions you may have about collagen.
What is collagen?
Collagen is a protein that, when ingested, breaks down into amino acids that nourish the body’s tissues. When we look to supplements to enhance the body’s amino acid pool for collagen production, animal-based products like bovine, fish, or chicken are the common sources. Each of these sources offer a different type of collagen that targets the respective collagen needs in the body.
- Bovine contains type I and type III collagen, which is believed to benefit skin elasticity, hair, and nail health.
- Fish primarily contains type I collagen, which also claims to increase skin elasticity.
- Chicken sources, or type II, are said to improve joint pain and bone health.
Collagen supplements contain a hydrolyzed peptide source of collagen. This means the collagen has been broken down into smaller pieces, called peptides, which are more efficiently digested than the whole form of type I or II collagen. Importantly, all protein foods are broken down in the body into small peptides and even smaller units called amino acids. Amino acids are then used by the body wherever they are needed, such as for growth or wound healing.
Amino acids not only build collagen, but they can increase collagen production at greater than normal levels when present in adequate amounts combined with other nutrients. These aminos can even protect existing collagen against oxidative stress to keep it strong. It is important to note that collagen does not contain the essential amino acid tryptophan, but that is okay as it can be found in the diet.
Should I supplement my diet with collagen?
Since we know collagen is ultimately broken down into amino acids just like any other source of protein, and that amino acids will be deployed in the body to where they are needed most rather than being set aside for collagen production, we recommend consuming adequate protein to support a healthy collagen status. The body will convert amino acids from protein foods to collagen when necessary, meaning it is not necessary to consume collagen to produce collagen.
Studies show there are no contraindications for a healthy person who does not have an allergy to consume collagen. If you supplement your diet with collagen, factors negatively impacting collagen production and status (despite supplementation) include smoking tobacco products, sun exposure, air pollution, and sugar intake. It can also be beneficial to reduce the amount of added sugars in your diet to not overly expose the collagen, which causes weakness in the fibers.
How much should I use?
If you’d like to use collagen supplements, it is available in a powder to mix into beverages or baked goods. It is also available in pill form. The recommended amounts for each type vary between 2.5-15 grams daily, depending on the type of collagen and your utilization goal. A dietitian can help you decide what type and amount is right for you if you elect to use a supplement. These amounts have been studied and indicate improved symptoms, whether those are decreased skin elasticity or joint pain, etc. It is important to note that the FDA has classified these doses as “generally recognized as safe” or “GRAS.”
Food sources can be the most practical way for a healthy person to get plenty of amino acids. Collagen production requires a few additional cofactors for production such as vitamin C, sulfur, and zinc, which can be found in a balanced diet. Collagen can be produced naturally within the body through eating recommended amounts of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy, and lean proteins.
Adjusting your protein intake to your individualized needs can be a beneficial way to enhance your body’s natural ability to produce collagen. A registered dietitian can help. Your dietitian can calculate your individualized daily needs for each food group and help with weight loss, blood sugar management, or eating heart-healthy, too. For more information on a dietitian’s perspective on collagen, schedule a telenutrition appointment with one of our expert Kroger Dietitians.
Disclaimer: This information is educational only and not providing healthcare recommendations. Please see a healthcare provider.