Collagen Supplements: What You Need to Know

Collagen Supplements: What You Need to Know

March 03, 2020 15 min read

Woman getting collagen powder out of a tub with a spoon

What's the perfect addition to a hot cup of coffee? For about 70 percent of coffee drinkers, according to the Huffington Post, creamer is required to smooth out the rough edges of that first cup of java.

But there's a new substance swirling in America's coffee cups these days. That substance: collagen.

Actresses, fitness gurus, and health bloggers have been adding collagen peptide supplements to coffee, tea, smoothies, and more. They've written about the benefits in Instagram posts, on blogs, and in magazine articles.

All of that publicity could make you wonder what this supplement is, what it does, and if it's right for you. This guide will help to answer those pressing questions.

What Is Collagen Peptide?

Think of collagen as the glue that holds our bodies together. It's the most abundant protein in the body, and it's found in our hair and skin, as well as in our muscles, tendons, and ligaments. The collagen in our bodies helps us to bend, flex, and move without breaking apart.

Collagen is a natural part of our bodies, and we boost its production when we eat a healthy diet filled with fruits, vegetables, fish, and meat. All of these foods give the body the building blocks required to create collagen where it's needed most.

Unfortunately, age works against collagen production. Research published in the American Journal of Pathology points out that collagen production decreases with age, and that means cells spread apart. Cells of young people are packed tight and smooth. Cells of older people are stiff and farther apart, which allows for wrinkles and a reduction in mobility.

That's where collagen supplements come in. These products are made to help replace the collagen the body is no longer making as it ages. And since collagen is used by various body systems, supplementation can bring on a variety of different benefits.

Collagen supplements are typically provided in the form of collagen peptides. Essentially, chemists break down the chemical bonds between strands of collagen, and those smaller packets are known as peptides. A collagen peptide contains the same collagen ingredient, but it's packaged in a smaller, more digestible format.

You may wonder where the collagen in collagen peptides comes from. The answer varies from manufacturer to manufacturer, but typically, the collagen comes from some type of animal. Bovine collagen peptides come from cow bones and tissues, and fish collagen peptides come from fish bones and tissues.

Since collagen supplements are made from protein sources, they're also considered a protein. But Paleo diet followers may be disappointed to hear that collagen peptide supplements are not considered complete proteins. A complete protein contains nine crucial amino acids the body needs to run at an optimal level. Collagen peptide supplements contain only eight of these acids. So while supplements are valuable and can be incredibly helpful, they are not complete proteins.

Now that you know more about what collagen peptide supplements are, we can dive into a discussion of what they're made to do for your body.

Collagen Peptide and Your Hair

Each strand of hair begins life within a follicle. At birth, according to the American Academy of Dermatology, we have all of the follicles we're meant to have. We will grow no more as we age, but some follicles will stop producing hair. That's why some older people have hair that looks thin. Their follicles aren't working as hard as they once did.

In addition to age, follicles can shut down due to poor nutrition. The Trichological Society reports that people who don't take in an optimal diet can have hair that is:

  • Dry
  • Dull
  • Thinning
  • Stringy

A diet high in fruits, vegetables, and healthy fats gives follicles what they need to produce strong, shiny strands of hair. But the challenges of modern life can undo the benefits of a healthy diet.

Hectic work schedules, intense sun exposure, modern hairstyling techniques, and poor sleep can all push our bodies and our hair to the limit. To produce a healthy head of hair, you need a diet that isn't just appropriate. You'll need a diet that is supercharged.

Enter collagen supplements. Collagen is vital for follicle health, and we know collagen production slows with age. Adding a supplement can provide those follicles with the nutrients they need to produce truly strong hair strands that can withstand the trials of modern life.

Collagen Peptide and Your Nails

Each finger and each toe on your body is capped with a small, hard layer of keratin. We can use our fingernails and toenails like tools to help us scratch, dig, and claw. But our nails, when compared to the nails of other animals, are broad and thin. They're not effective in helping us to climb trees or take down prey.

Research quoted by Live Science suggests that our thin, broad nails serve an evolutionary purpose. As our ancestors began to use rocks and sticks like tools, they needed hands and feet that were suited for grasping. The structure of our nails changed to make holding tools a little easier.

Nails grow in a manner similar to hair. The growth begins deep in the nail bed, and the keratin that pushes from the nail bed becomes the nail we use each day. The nail bed requires nutrition to create a nail that is firm. Without it, nails grow brittle. They peel away at the slightest bit of pressure, and that can cause pain.

Collagen supplements can help. In a study published in the Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology,researchers gave 25 people collagen peptide supplements for 24 weeks, followed by 4 weeks without therapy. At the end of this study, researchers found that the supplements increased nail growth rate by 12 percent, and the frequency of broken nails dropped by 42 percent. A whopping 88 percent of participants found some kind of nail improvement by the end of the study.

It's important to note that people had to take supplements for weeks in order to see relief. The supplements help to nourish the nail bed, which then has to push out healthy nail. As the American Academy of Dermatology points out, fingernails grow only 0.1 millimeters per day, and toenails grow 1 millimeter per month. It can take time for healthy nail to peep through and push out the damage. Ongoing supplementation during the entire growth period is required to see real results.

Collagen Peptide and Your Skin

Your skin is an absolutely crucial part of your body. It not only protects your bones, your blood vessels, and your organs from external damage, it helps to regulate your temperature and it manufactures Vitamin D, which is essential to healthy bones.

The skin is made up of three layers.

  1. The external layer, the epidermis, is the portion we see on the surface. This layer is made of dead cells, and those cells flake away naturally throughout the course of a day.
  2. The middle layer, the dermis, contains nerves, blood vessels, sweat and oil glands, and hair follicles. It accounts for 90 percent of skin's overall thickness, says the American Skin Association, and the dermis is packed with collagen. That collagen is what gives skin its stretch.
  3. The bottom layer, the subcutaneous later, is made up of fatty tissue, blood vessels, and nerves. This layer works as insulation from heat and cold.

The University of Washington says healthy skin is smooth, warm, and hydrated. Skin like this isn't wrinkled or flaky, and it isn't hot, moist, or excessively dry. People who are healthy on the inside tend to have healthy skin, but age and environmental triggers can cause intense skin damage.

A reduction in collagen production, which is natural with age, can thin out the dermis. That can leave skin looking flat and deflated, and if the process continues, skin cells can break their connections. That can result in dips and pockets between skin cells, which can lead to fine wrinkles that deepen with time.

Ongoing sun exposure, and even occasional exposure to pollutants like cigarette smoke, can worsen this natural process. Wrinkles can deepen, skin can shear away in sheets, and unusual pockets of pigment can appear.

For decades, women and men have slathered creams, ointments, and tinctures onto their skin to help repair the damage. But unfortunately, things applied to the surface of the skin are working on dead tissues. Often, damaged and dead skin cells simply absorb the creams and lotions they're exposed to, and those ingredients are whisked away when the dead cells they're attached to slough off.

An internal collagen supplement is different. These products have the potential to improve the health of the dermis, where collagen is so vital. When the dermis has the nutrition it needs, skin can look plump and taut. Wrinkles can fade, and the skin can seem elastic and flexible once more.

In a study of the effectiveness of oral collagen supplements, published in the journal Skin Pharmacology and Physiology, researchers gave 60 participants supplements with collagen peptides and antioxidants, while 60 other participants received a placebo. At the end of the study, researchers found a demonstrated increase in the elasticity of the skin in people who got the supplement, while those who got the placebo did not see this shift.

Skin that dimpled and puckered with cellulite can also be unpleasant to look at, although it's remarkably common. When the body has just a little too much fat and it can't be used to power daily activities, that fat just must be stored. Typically, it's stored in globules. When those globules are visible on the surface, it's known as cellulite.

Collagen plays a role here, as healthy skin has a thick insulating portion. Things happening below the surface of the skin simply don't show through tissues that are plump and firm. Keeping that middle layer of skin supplied with collagen is vital to ensuring that cellulite damage doesn't peep through.

In a study of collagen peptide supplementation, published in the Journal of Medicinal Food,researchers found that supplements had an impact on what they called "skin waviness" on the thighs in normal-weight women. They had thicker dermal density, researchers said, and that made the skin seemed smoother and the impact of cellulite less visible. Overweight women experienced the same benefit, researchers said, but it was less pronounced.

Thicker skin, boosted by collagen, is smoother, softer, and just a pleasure to look at. All the research seems to suggest that collagen peptide supplementation can make it possible.

Collagen Peptide and Your Muscles, Bones, and Joints

Muscles and bones work in perfect harmony. Bones keep blood vessels, organs, and the brain protected, while muscles push and pull on bones to help us move. Without bones, we'd be a puddle of tissue. Without muscle, we'd have no way to move.

Both muscles and bones rely on collagen for survival. When collagen is in short supply, it's hard for these delicate tissues to do the work we rely upon.

In research published in the journal Bone, researchers examined 30 femurs from cadaver donors ranging in age from 19 to 89. They found that older bones were porous and easier to break, and that change was related to lower levels of collagen within the bone tissues. This suggests, researchers said, that as collagen levels drop, bones become frail.

In a similar study in the Journal of Applied Physiology, researchers examined collagen use and muscle strength in both old and young sedentary men and women. The researchers found that collagen levels were the same in these groups, but the way the collagen was processed was a little different. Older people produced more chemicals associated with muscle fatigue, and they were unable to transfer collagen to boost a muscle's strength. In other words, they may have had plenty of collagen available, but they couldn't use the collagen properly.

Weak muscles and weak bones can lead to fatigue. Things that used to be easy to do, like walking up a flight of stairs or picking up a crying child, can take more time and more effort to complete. When this weakness is combined with pain, doing anything at all can be difficult.


Collagen Supplements and Your Weight

As a culture, we're obsessed with being slim and trim, but few of us want to take the steps required to make the weight slide off. For example, in a Gallup poll from 2015, a full 51 percent of adults wanted to lose weight, but only 25 percent of adults said they were seriously working toward that goal.

We may avoid weight-loss plans because conventional diets are unpleasant. The foods we don't like (including lettuce and celery) are acceptable, while the foods we crave (including bread and chocolate) are off limits. As much as we might try to stick with a healthy eating plan, we may be left feeling hungry almost all the time.

That sense of hunger is due, in part, to the small amount of protein included in a conventional diet. When we spend the day eating only salads, with a little bit of fruit as a snack, we're depriving our body of the fuel it needs. A sense of hunger should prompt us to change our ways and add a little protein to the mix.

In a study published in The Journal of Nutrition, researchers examined the link between protein intake and a sense of hunger. The participants in this study were split into three groups: One received the recommended daily allowance of protein, and the other two took in smaller doses. The researchers made only slight adjustments in protein intake between groups, but the results were significant. The higher the protein intake, the smaller the hunger sensation.

This study is important, as it demonstrates how even small shifts in the protein we consume can have a big impact on our ability to stick with our healthy goals. Adding just a little protein could mean the difference between sticking with a diet and dropping out due to fatigue.

Collagen peptide supplements are proteins. That means they can add to a sense of satiety, so you're able to stick with a healthy eating plan without suffering with hunger pangs. Sticking with that healthy eating plan could be key to losing weight.

Collagen Supplements and Your Gut

While the foods you eat can play a big role in your health and your energy level, those foods must be processed by the gut before they can become fuel for your body. While taking probiotics can help to heal your gut, there are structural problems that can also contribute to a sense of malaise and poor health.

The so-called "leaky gut" syndrome takes hold when intestinal walls are studded with microscopic gaps. Each tiny gap allows nutrients to flow out and bacteria to flow in. If cells were closer together, and gut secretions were at a normal level, the barrier would hold and symptoms such as diarrhea, vomiting, constipation, and nausea wouldn't take over.

Since collagen plays a role in cell wall health, and supplements have the proven ability to make some types of cells (like skin cells) adhere a little closer to one another, it makes sense that collagen supplements could do the same within the gut and help to amend leaky-gut syndrome. Unfortunately, the research on this benefit is in the early stages. Published, trusted resources on this issue don't exist quite yet.

Do Collagen Supplements Really Work?

Throughout this article, we've been discussing collagen's impact on specific body parts. You've read the research on what supplements can do in treating very specific types of diseases, and you've seen how excited researchers are about these supplements.

But you may continue to wonder if these supplements really work. Digging in to two very different studies could help to answer that question.

The first comes from the journal Current Medical Research and Opinion. Here, researchers attempted to determine if taking oral collagen for 24 weeks helped to reduce joint pain in athletes. This study is interesting, in that joint pain can be caused by a variety of different conditions. Sore muscles can pull on joints. Arthritis can push detritus into the tendons with each move. Weak bones can cause aching with movement.

The researchers found that collagen supplements helped to reduce pain when joints were moved. The athletes didn't experience as much pain while walking, standing, running, and moving while changing direction.

This seems to suggest that collagen supplements can work on a variety of different systems that could all contribute to pain.

In a second study, published in the Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology, researchers gave oral collagen supplements to participants for 8 weeks, and they measured dermis density at the end of the study. They found that collagen had the ability to thicken that dermis, and when the supplements were discontinued, the dermis thinned again.

This research, with measurements during the study and then afterward, seems to suggest that collagen supplements taken orally really do cause changes within the skin. If the effects were greatest during the study and then faded after the study, this really suggests that collagen was doing the work that caused changes.

Studies like this should reassure people who remain skeptical about the efficacy of a collagen supplement. It's clear that supplements have the ability to change the way the body both functions and looks, so supplements really are worthwhile.

But it's important to note that collagen supplements aren't appropriate therapies for all conditions. People with cancer or people with diabetes may not see cures for their conditions with collagen. It's just not made to help with those things. But those who need the benefits we've described within this article can rest assured that supplements can, and do, cause beneficial changes.

What's Your Collagen Supplement Made Of?

Collagen is a substance found within animal tissue, which means all collagen supplements come from some type of meat. But there are several different ways to take in that supplement.

Bone broth is a thick soup made from just two ingredients: animal bones and water. Heating the water causes the bones to break down, and the resulting soup at the end of the cooking process is very high in collagen. Bone broths can take hours to make, and they often don't taste delicious. But for those people who want a DIY collagen supplement, they could be a good option.

Gelatin is an other form of collagen, but its chemical structure makes it a little difficult to process. Gelatin must be combined with very hot water, and when it cools, it hardens into a gelatinous substance. Gelatin is easy to find in grocery stores all across the country, but most commercial gelatin products are loaded with sugars, salts, and artificial colors. People who want supplements for health may undo the benefits by taking in all of these artificial ingredients.

Collagen peptide supplementsare created from either beef or fish sources. Chemists extract the collagen from the raw materials, and they take the results through an extraction process, so the chains are shortened and the collagen is stable when added to both hot and cold fluids. That means collagen peptides can be added to almost any drink, and they won't harden or clump together.

No matter what type of supplement you choose, it's important to research the source of your meat. Mercola discovered in 2017 that many of the collagen supplements on the market come from contaminated meat sources. The researchers found byproducts that indicate the collagen in these sources came from animals raised in concentrated animal feeding operations. That means the meats were full of industrial chemicals, food additives, and pharmaceuticals. That's why Mercola recommends buying a collagen supplement that comes from grass-fed cows, and the product should be labeled "100% organic."

What Happens When You Take Collagen Peptides?

Collagen is a building block of the body, and your body has the ability to make collagen. It might seem unusual to take in collagen orally, when your body can already produce it. Shouldn't you just support your body's natural processes?

This gets to the heart of bioavailability. When a product is easy for the body to consume, make use of, and redistribute, it's considered bioavailable. When it comes with fillers or added chemicals or ingredients the body must strip away, some of that bioavailability goes down. That means the supplement is a little harder for the body to use.

Well-designed supplements will come with a digestive enzyme. That allows the product to absorb into the body quickly, so it can be used by the tissues that need it. Exceptional products will also come from organic and grass-fed sources, so there are fewer chemicals and adulterants in the raw ingredients of the supplements.

It's impossible to overdose on a collagen supplement, but taking too much can be wasteful. What the body doesn't need, it simply excretes. Watching the dosing suggestion on the label and following them closely can help you ensure you're getting just what you need.

Collagen Peptide Frequently Asked Questions

  1. What are the benefits of collagen peptide supplements?We've summarized some of the top benefits of supplements in our infographic. We encourage you to read it carefully! 
  2. Are collagen peptide supplements vegan friendly? Unfortunately, no. Most collagen supplements come from meat sources, including beef and fish. People who wish to avoid meat products altogether will struggle to find a supplement that's right for them.
  3. What should I look for in a collagen peptide supplement?The source of your product should be organic, and that should be affirmed by a trusted third party. Your product should be tested for potency by an outside laboratory, and it should include a digestive enzyme, in order to boost bioavailability.
  4. What's the difference between collagen and collagen peptide? These are both forms of collagen, but peptides are broken down just a bit. That makes them easier to add to drinks (including cold drinks) without causing clumping.
  5. When should I take collagen peptide?Whenever you're ready! These supplements are easy to mix into drinks, sprinkle on salads, add to sandwiches and otherwise ingest throughout the day.
  6. What else can I do to support my overall health? Stay out of the sun, don't smoke, eat a healthy diet, lose weight if you're overweight, and get some type of physical activity every day. These are the steps every person should take to maintain optimal health.

Why Choose Physician's Choice?

We've told you all about how collagen peptide supplements work, what they're designed to do, and what the experts believe about their efficacy. By now, you should be convinced that a supplement could be right for you.

Physician's Choice has an optimal collagen peptide supplement that comes from grass-fed cows, is certified organic by the USDA, and has been tested for potency and purity. This is a quality product that can be trusted to give you the benefits you've been looking for. Our product also comes with an enzyme that breaks down proteins in the digestive tract, making our product easy to digest and easy for your body to use.

Our product is smooth and finely ground, and it's completely tasteless. Use it in water, tea, coffee, smoothies, salads, recipes, and more.

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