Do a quick scroll through Instagram, and chances are you’ll see a slew of wellness and fitness personalities touting the benefits of collagen peptide powder and adding it to their smoothies.
So what exactly is collagen and why are some people clamoring for it?
“Collagen is a structural protein made up of amino acids that's found naturally in the connective tissue of our bodies, such as our skin, hair, muscles, bones and even blood vessels,” Keri Gans, registered dietitian nutritionist and author of The Small Change Diet, tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “It is essentially the ‘glue’ that holds our body together, enables us to move and find stability.”
Adds Joshua Zeichner, MD, director of cosmetic and clinical research in Mount Sinai Hospital’s department of dermatology, “Collagen is the main protein in our skin that provides structure and support.”
And it’s that structure and support that plays a role in keeping skin looking smooth, firm, and wrinkle-free. But collagen production slows down as we age, which is why many people are turning to consuming collagen peptides (also known as hydrolyzed collagen) in the hopes that the supplements will reverse or at least stave off skin aging.
“The hope for ingestible collagen is that it helps strengthen our skin to improve the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, as well as enhance skin texture,” Zeichner tells Yahoo Lifestyle.
But does consuming collagen powder actually do anything? Possibly.
“The true benefit of ingestible collagen is unclear,” says Zeichner. “Since collagen is a large molecule, it is broken down by our gut into smaller pieces. The smaller pieces and individual amino acids may serve as building blocks for new collagen production. I look at ingestible collagen similar to the way I look at eating a high-protein meal.”
Adds Gans: “Many individuals believe the numerous health claims in regards to collagen. There are claims that it can reduce constipation, improve gut health, improve sleep, decrease anxiety, reduce joint pain, eliminate food cravings and has anti-aging properties.”
What are the benefits?
Although more research is needed, there are some studies that have looked into collagen supplements’ potential benefits — particularly for easing joint pain. “Some preliminary research suggests collagen supplements may help reduce knee pain among people with osteoarthritis, and help reduce joint deterioration in athletes,” says Gans.
While it’s no fountain of youth, there is some good news for people who are consuming collagen hoping to improve their skin and hair. “One small study revealed collagen supplements improved skin elasticity, but didn't do any more than a placebo to improve skin moisture and evaporation,” says Gans. A 2019 review of several studies showed that collagen supplements increase skin elasticity and hydration.
It may also help with brittle, fragile nails. A small 2017 study in the Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology found that consuming collagen peptides daily for 24 weeks helped prevent nail breakage, increase nail growth, and improved the appearance of brittle nails.
How safe is it?
Collagen supplements are considered safe for the most part — as Zeichner puts it: “The only harm is to your pocketbook, as many of the collagen powders are pricey.” However, it’s important to read up on the source of the supplement’s main ingredient. The collagen found in supplements is typically sourced from cow (bovine) hides, as well as chicken cartilage, but in some cases they can be made from fish or eggs, which can be dangerous for people with those food allergies.
“As with any supplement, one should read the label closely to make sure it doesn’t include any allergens that they are sensitive to,” suggests Gans. “Also, if on any medications a person should discuss with their doctor or a registered dietitian before implementing in their daily diet.”
If you’re interested in trying collagen peptides powder, your best bet is to stick with a well-known brand, such as Vital Proteins. As Gans points out: “Like all supplements, collagen is not closely regulated by the Food and Drug Administration — therefore, one should choose nationally-recognized brands or store brands from a retailer they trust. Consumers can also look for a seal from a third-party certifier, such as NSF International, UL or USP.” You may also want to start with unflavored collagen peptide powder, which you can add to smoothies, as well as hot and cold beverages like coffee, without altering the flavor.
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