Is Collagen Too Good to be True?
By Leah Kleinschrodt, MS, RD, LD
May 14, 2019
If you’ve spent any amount of time in the supplement aisle at the store in the last few years, you’ve probably noticed an increasing presence of collagen powders. Perhaps one of their taglines speaks to you: promises to erase those wrinkles, heal your leaky gut, make your joints feel as smooth as butter (healthy fats like butter WILL help hydrate your joints, by the way!), resolve that nagging shoulder injury, extend your lifespan, and much more. Maybe you’ve already even been adding it to your coffee every morning or to your post-workout smoothies in the hopes of addressing some of these issues. But is this just another example of a trend that is “too good to be true”? Or could there be real evidence to these claims? Let’s find out!
What is Collagen?
In its simplest terms, collagen is a type of protein. In fact, collagen is the most abundant type of protein in our body, making up about 30% of our total body protein. Most of this protein is in the form of our connective and soft tissues, such as the cartilage in our joints, our ligaments and tendons, our fibrous bone structure, our digestive tract, and our largest organ, the skin.
Why is Collagen so Important?
Collagen is higher in a few particularly important amino acids, most notably glycine. Glycine is considered a “conditionally essential” amino acid. This means the body can actually make its own glycine but we cannot make ENOUGH to meet our basic daily metabolic needs; that’s where collagen comes in!
Collagen “unlocks” glycine, but what’s so great about this one little amino acid? As it turns out A LOT!
- Glycine is important for building and maintaining cartilage, and therefore joint health. Studies show that collagen supplementation reduced activity-related joint pain. (1)
- Glycine is essential for moisturized, elastic, healthy skin. (2,3)
- Glycine improves digestive health by keeping the lining of our intestines strong and intact. (4)
- Glycine has anti-aging effects by synthesizing glutathione, protecting against oxidative stress, and supporting liver detoxification. (5)
- Glycine helps you when you’re ready to hit the hay as it’s been shown to improve sleep quality. (6)
How to Get More Collagen
Collagen Rich Foods: Tap into the collagen/glycine benefits by eating the best animal-based foods that contain the soft and connective tissues of the animal, such as bone marrow, homemade slow-cooked bone broth (see how to make your own here), slow-cooked tough cuts of meat (like pot roast, oxtail, or ribs), skin-on and bone-in poultry, pork rinds, bacon, and sausage (usually made from tougher cuts of meat).
As always, the best quality and most nutrient-rich bones and meats are going to come from pasture-raised animals that have spent their lives in the sunshine and eating a species-appropriate diet. Healthy animals make the healthiest foods for us!
Supplementing with Collagen: If you’re struggling to meet your collagen needs through food alone, you may be wondering if a collagen powder would be a useful tool to help bridge that gap. It’s a bit more nuanced than a simple “yes or no,” and it bears repeating that we always recommend starting with the real-food sources of collagen listed above because you will get additional, complementary nutrients along with the collagen and glycine. For example, a mug of bone broth will contain collagen and will also contain key minerals for our health such as magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, and copper. A collagen powder will provide just that: collagen, without added nutrients.
A quality collagen powder, however, may be a more realistic way for some people to up their collagen and glycine intake and reap some of its benefits. Most collagen powders are sourced from beef, chicken, fish, bone broth, and/or egg shells. These powders are typically odorless, tasteless, and can be mixed into hot or cold liquids. A high-quality collagen powder will be processed at lower heats, and have no added binders, fillers, or potentially inflammatory ingredients (like corn or soy).
We recommend a collagen powder called Whole Body Collagen from one of our tried-and-true supplement brands, Designs for Health. Whole Body Collagen contains a blend of three specific collagen peptides. Each of these specialized and patented collagen peptides provide specific collagen support to joint (FORTIGEL), skin (VERISOL) and bones (FORTIBONE). Designs for Health is a respected, researched-based company and carefully tests all raw materials for any contaminants before using them in their supplement line, so we can be assured that we are recommending a safe and high quality product.
One scoop of Whole Body Collagen provides 12.5g collagen, which is right within the range we should aim for per day (10-15g of collagen per day) (7). Try adding this collagen powder to your protein smoothie, your morning cup of coffee or tea (don’t forget the heavy cream too!), mixed into some full-fat yogurt, or even as a bonus addition to some of your Nutritional Weight & Wellness favorite recipes (oatmeal almond balls, blueberry muffins, gluten-free pancakes, or protein smoothie). I recommend using collagen powder consistently for two to three months in order to fairly evaluate your personal results, whether for better digestion, healthier-looking skin, or a sounder night’s sleep!
- Berger A., Paul C. Whole Body Collagen: Research proven collagen peptides for bone, joints, and skin. Designs for Health. July 2018.