Collagen powder is popular, but does it work? Here's what doctors say

When it comes to the different structures and systems within our bodies, few matter as much as collagen production. Collagen is the most abundant protein in the body and is the essential connective tissue that provides structure and support for our skin, bones, muscles, tendons and cartilage, per Cleveland Clinic.

Though our bodies produce collagen naturally, we make less of it as we get older and as a result of environmental, lifestyle and dietary factors. Diminished collagen production can manifest in the form of wrinkles, joint or muscle pain, slow injury recovery, or as dry or sagging skin.

Lifestyle changes and dietary additions can help boost collagen production, but some people also turn to collagen supplements or collagen powder to help − a decision experts say may not have the desired effect for some users.

Does collagen powder work?

Though there are countless collagen powder brands on the market with each boasting different benefits, whether they actually work or not remains a topic of controversy as research results are inconsistent and most purported benefits remain unproven. "There is scant data that collagen powder works," explains Mary Stevenson, MD, associate professor of dermatology at NYU Langone Health. She says that as she's looked into the different options available, she hasn't found something "that I would consume myself."

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) hasn't weighed in either way, but it has recalled some collagen products because of false claims.

Still, some research shows that the collagen peptides (smaller fragments of collagen) found in some collagen powder brands may at least be helpful in hydrating skin and improving elasticity. What's more, collagen powders are thought to be at least marginally more effective than the collagen found in skin creams and serums as collagen is not naturally found on the skin's surface but in the deeper layers. Collagen powders are also believed to be more effectively absorbed by the body, per Harvard Medical School.

How long does it take collagen powder to start working?

Even when collagen powder is perceived as effective, users don't experience results overnight. Most analyses show that collagen powder needs to be taken for 3 to 6 months before noticeable results are reported − and even then, reported results are usually limited to improved skin elasticity alone. "There have been medical studies showing some improvement with skin health from taking collagen powder," says Jesse Bracamonte, DO, a family medicine physician at Mayo Clinic in Arizona, but he says supportive research is less common for muscle and bone health improvement.

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Is it good to take collagen every day?

The good news is that related studies haven't found serious side effects from taking collagen powder - so long as it's taken as directed. (The studied doses of collagen powder and other collagen supplements has ranged from 3 to 15 grams taken daily.) Mild side effects of taking collagen supplements include an unpleasant taste in the mouth, headache, lightheadedness or diarrhea.

It's important to note that even though more serious side effects haven't been connected to collagen powder in clinical studies, dietary supplements aren't regulated by the FDA the same way foods and drugs are. "So, while these supplements are likely considered safe, it’s important to be cautious of dietary supplementation," advises Carly Sedlacek, RD, a registered dietitian from Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Human Nutrition.

Josh Redd, NMD, the founder of RedRiver Health and Wellness and author of "The Truth About Low Thyroid," similarly urges caution and says one can stay on the safe side by choosing reputable collagen powder brands. "Look for high-quality brands that say they are manufactured in the U.S., not just distributed by a U.S. company," he says.

It's also worth considering that taking collagen powder regularly can be very expensive and can also become an excuse for some people to not eat healthy or to avoid behaviors that are known to cause collagen production decline such as smoking, drinking, or not getting enough sleep or exercise. "There are many different supplements containing collagen on the market," says Sedlacek, "but there are several natural sources of collagen found in food (and the body produces more collagen naturally when one eats protein-rich foods like fish, lean meats, eggs, and beans), so including a variety of them in your diet is important."

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Does collagen powder work? Benefits, plus how long it takes to work