It’s official: The internet has gone ‘stir-crazy’ for collagen. Videos of the powdered protein being swirled into everything from coffee and oatmeal to party dips and festive mocktails are being watched by millions — and it’s a trend many experts love. “Collagen is a magic ingredient,” says Cleveland Clinic functional medicine expert and Food Fix author Mark Hyman, MD, who explains that its jackpot of amino acids helps improve skin, hair, joints, blood sugar levels, gut health, heart health, and much more. Meanwhile, growing research suggests collagen, especially a promising new variety, can bolster key weight-control mechanisms, “helping turn us into fat-burning machines,” shares The Thyroid Connection author Amy Myers, MD. What is collagen exactly? It’s a rugged, glue-like protein that holds us together from head to toe. Here's everything you need to know about it.
How does collagen benefit us?
Collagen gives stability and structure to “skin, blood vessels, organs, muscles, cartilage, bones, teeth, and hair,” explains Dr. Myers. It’s in tiny parts of cells crucial to turning blood sugar and fat into energy. And it’s a raw material we use “to heal injuries, build stronger muscles, and upgrade worn-out cells.” Luckily, we make our own collagen from amino acids in protein we eat. But there’s a hitch. After age 35, we experience a decline in levels of enzymes that pull amino acids from our food. So by age 60, our collagen production has been reduced.
Collagen supplements may be a fix. Options made with hydrolyzed collagen or collagen peptides contain a special form of the protein that may help mature bodies absorb more readily. “Once collagen peptides are in the bloodstream, the body can rebuild them into full-chain collagen,” Dr. Myers says. A bonus: Top brands can cost as little as $1 per serving at warehouse stores — a bargain compared to most protein. “And collagen powder doesn’t have a taste, so you can add it to just about anything.” Whether you put it in coffee or get creative, your body will thank you.
How can collagen supplements help us?
No matter the collagen supplement you use, it's possible you'll see and feel some benefits. For example, research suggests that collagen helps strengthen hair and ease thinning; and that adding collagen to meals promotes better health by preventing and treating atherosclerosis. One study points to collagen supplements as an effective means of treating certain osteoarthritis symptoms.
Collagen supplements may also be good at boosting muscle growth, which revs metabolism, notes Dr. Myers. While further research is needed, several studies indicate that collagen supplements stimulate muscle growth, making exercise more effective.
And the good news doesn't stop there: The search for a next-generation collagen supplement made from fish, an alternative to traditional supplements made from beef, is under way. It turns out that “marine collagen supplements spur the body to make a different type of collagen than beef-based supplements,” says Dr. Myers. While research suggests that bovine collagen may increase collagen types one and three (which primarily make up skin), it suggests that marine collagen may increase collagen types one and two (which are found in cartilage, the structures of the eyes, and vertebral disks).
Can collagen supplements help with weight loss?
If you’ve ever noticed that meals with lots of protein reduce hunger, that’s because they contain nutrients that increase satiety. A study from the University of Washington School of Medicine found upping protein intake helped subjects feel fuller and eat less. While this study wasn't focused on collagen, specifically, it suggests that supplementing your diet with collagen could positively affect weight loss. “Women tell me every day how much they love collagen,” says Dr. Myers, who recommends 10 to 15 grams daily. “It’s such a great tool to lose weight and optimize health at any age.”
This content is not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis. Always consult your physician before pursuing any treatment plan.
A version of this article originally appeared in our print magazine, Woman's World.