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Collagen Supplements

Collagen supplements, also called collagen peptides, are a broken down form of collagen that is easier to absorb. The theory is that ingesting collagen supplements will help support better health. Supplements come in powders, liquids and capsules and are made from a variety of animal sources.

Last Modified: September 5, 2023
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What Are Collagen Supplements?

Collagen supplements are made from the collagen found in the connective tissues and cartilage of animals such as cows, chickens and fish. These products are then chemically processed and mixed with additives that preserve the collagen structure. These additives are inert, food grade chemicals like silicon dioxide or sodium benzoate that keep the collagen dry and prevent caking.

Tissues in the body need collagen to help them stretch, keep their shape and cushion joints. As we age, our bodies stop producing as much collagen. Collagen supplements are intended to provide the necessary building blocks to replace and repair the body’s damaged collagen. The collagen in these products is not transported to tissues or directly integrated into tissues; it’s digested into amino acids, transferred into the blood and then turned into collagen at the destination tissue.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration doesn’t test collagen supplements for safety and effectiveness, so it’s up to the manufacturer to produce the best products and the consumer to research them.

In its natural form, collagen is difficult for the human body to break down. To help the body absorb it, supplement makers expose collagen to high heat and break it down into smaller pieces of collagen called hydrolyzed collagen, collagen hydrolysate or collagen peptides. These terms are interchangeable.

Claimed potential benefits of collagen supplements haven’t been fully studied.

collagen sources
Type I, II and III collagens are the most common types found in collagen supplements.

Collagen Powder and Other Types of Collagen Supplements

Many people interested in taking collagen supplements report finding collagen powders to be the most versatile method because they can be added to foods or beverages.  Supplements also come in pills, liquids and capsules. Research hasn’t determined if a particular method of taking collagen supplements is better than other methods.  

Supplement makers use three main types of collagen that naturally support different body parts. Type I, type II and type III collagens are found in skin, joints and muscles and are the most popular types included in collagen supplements.

Multi-collagen supplements include a combination of types.

Three main forms of collagen supplements:
  • Hydrolyzed collagen – Also known as collagen peptides of collagen hydrolysate, this form is exposed to high heat and broken down into small proteins.
  • Gelatin – This form is partially broken down into smaller proteins.
  • Raw – This form is also called undenatured and contains whole collagen proteins.

Some research shows that breaking down collagen proteins into collagen peptides makes it easier for the body to absorb.

What Do Collagen Supplements Do?

In theory, collagen supplements revitalize the body and help replace collagen lost to the aging process, providing collagen-rich tissues the building-blocks they need to repair and replace the body’s damaged collagen. The most popular reasons that people take collagen supplements include skin health, joint pain relief and muscle gain.

When a person takes a collagen supplement, it’s broken down during digestion into smaller proteins called amino acids.These are then transported to tissues across the body that use these components to build collagen and other proteins.

Collagen isn’t considered a complete protein source because it does not include the essential amino acid tryptophan. Though tryptophan can typically be found in a balanced diet or taken in supplement form separately. 

Some studies, such as a 2019 study in Nutrients, suggest that once collagen peptides are digested, they may provide positive health effects and reduce risk of disease. It should be noted, however, that a researcher involved in the study did note a conflict of interest related to work for a collagen supplement manufacturer.

How to Take Collagen Supplements

There is no one way to take a collagen supplement and no specific dosing requirement. Be sure to speak with your doctor before taking any new supplements or medications. Supplements contain a range of additives to preserve and improve their products. Although typically safe, some people can be sensitive to these and in severe cases can experience kidney or liver damage.

Since collagen supplements come in powders, pills, liquids or capsules, you can take them in any way that suits you. You can even bake and cook with them. For example, collagen powder can be mixed into smoothies, added to foods or even coffee without changing the thickness or texture.

You can drink liquid supplements out of the container or take pills on their own like you would any other vitamin or supplement. One study suggests taking 2.5 to 15 g of collagen peptides a day can be effective and doesn’t exceed the maximum level of collagen that can be added to the standard American diet.

Do Collagen Powder and Other Supplements Work?

Several companies that make collagen powder and other supplements claim a wide variety of health benefits. The truth is the science on collagen benefits is still in its infancy and more studies are needed.

A few studies have shown some positive results for a handful of claims such as skin health, bone strength, increased muscle mass and joint pain relief. Many well-known studies, however, were manufacturer sponsored.

Collagen supplement benefits may include:
  • Increased elasticity of bones, helping to prevent brittle bones.
  • Reduction of joint pain with activity in athletes.
  • Increased muscle mass and strength when accompanied with strength training.
  • Reduction of joint pain in people with osteoarthritis.
  • Increased skin elasticity and hydration and decreasing wrinkles.

Collagen supplements may have other benefits, but there isn’t enough scientific evidence to properly substantiate these claims. These claims include: Heart health, nail and hair growth, gut health, brain health and weight loss.

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Is It Safe to Take Collagen Supplements?

Because the FDA doesn’t regulate collagen supplements, manufacturers are not required to conduct clinical trials for safety or efficacy. But data on collagen power and other supplements indicates they are generally safe for most people.

Side Effects of Collagen Supplements

Available research shows collagen causes relatively few mild side effects. These include: a bad taste in the mouth, heartburn and feelings of fullness.

People with food allergies should make sure they take collagen that doesn’t come from foods they are allergic to. For example, some collagen supplements are made from fish, shellfish or egg membranes.

Do Dermatologists Recommend Collagen Supplements?

Dermatologists do not not all recommend collagen supplements because of the lack of research. Some dermatologists are concerned about the safety of collagen that comes from cows because of diseases like bovine spongiform encephalopathy, also known as mad cow disease.

“I tell patients that the jury is still out on taking collagen. If they pick a safe collagen product, there's probably very little harm from trying it.”
Dr. Ohara Aivaz, dermatologist at Cedars Sinai
Source: Cedars Sinai

While some reviews indicate that serious adverse events are not typically associated with collagen supplements, Dr. Ohara Aivaz, a dermatologist at Cedars Sinai, noted that bigger studies are needed to determine long-term effects of the supplement.

Choosing the Best Collagen Supplement for You

If you’ve decided to try a collagen supplement, there are a few things to consider to find the best supplement for your needs. These include collagen type, where it comes from and its form.

Collagen Type

Choose the type of collagen based upon the health benefits you want to receive. For example, type I and type III collagen supplements may help promote healthy skin, while type II supplements may help form cartilage that cushions joints.

Supplements most often contain one or more of these three types, but some are multi-collagen blends that contain at least five types.

Where Does Collagen Come From?

Collagen comes from animal sources such as chicken, cows (bovine collagen), fish or eggshells. Try to find high-quality products made from wild caught fish or pasture raised animals. If you’ve got food allergies, avoid collagen made from allergens such as eggs or fish.

Plants don’t make collagen, so if you’re a vegan you will have to take a nutritional supplement that supports your body’s natural collagen production as opposed to a collagen supplement.

Delivery Method

Collagen supplements come in many types of delivery methods, including: Liquids, capsules, pills and powders. Think about your lifestyle and how you prefer to take your supplements.

When choosing between collagen powder vs pills, consider that pills may be more convenient to take, while powders can be added to a morning smoothie, coffee or food. Are you a person that enjoys added flavor? Supplements come in flavored and unflavored varieties.

Quality and Safety

The FDA doesn’t regulate ingredients or production of supplements in the same way it does medications. There is little standardization in chemical processes and supply chain management is often poor. Supplements fall under the FDA’s regulation standards for food rather than pharmaceuticals, which have different standards of oversight. 

Make sure you read the labels and look for a third party certification seal. For example, the U.S. Pharmacopeia seal indicates the ingredients have been verified. NSF International also certifies that product labels match the ingredients and checks for unsafe levels of contaminants or masking agents.

Best Collagen Supplements

There are many collagen supplements on the market. Always speak with your doctor before starting any new supplement regimen and read labels carefully. 

These are some well-rated products among consumers:

Sports Research Store Collagen Peptides Powder
This product has more than 47,000 five-star reviews on Amazon, is non-GMO, has no additives and is unflavored.
Great Lakes Collagen Hydrolysate
This product uses pasture-raised cows to make their collagen powder. It’s non-GMO, keto-certified, verified glyphosate free, and is backed by the third party testing company Consumer Labs.
Vital Proteins Animal Peptides
Sourced from grass-fed cows raised with high animal welfare standards, includes vitamin C and hyaluronic acid to help with collagen production.
Rae Vegan Collagen Boost
Vegan alternative to a collagen supplement that helps boost the body’s natural collagen production. It’s colorless and flavorless with ingredients like vitamin C and bamboo extract.
Thrive Market Chocolate
Chocolate-flavored, grass-fed collagen peptides that are free of preservatives and have no added sugars.
Vital Vitamins Multi-Collagen Complex
Collagen pills that have five types of collagen from beef, chicken and fish.
CB Supplements Unflavored Multi-Collagen Protein Powder
NSF Certified Sport, unflavored, colorless, non-GMO, contains five collagen types from four sources: Grass-fed beef, cage-free chickens, eggshell membrane, wild-caught fish.
Please seek the advice of a medical professional before making health care decisions.