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Are you a fan of supplements?

Maybe you take a daily vitamin D or omega-3 supplement. Perhaps your go-to morning breakfast involves a high-quality protein powder with some branched-chain amino acids.

Whatever your goal, there’s likely a supplement designed to meet it.

Most supplements are designed to prevent a deficiency in a vitamin or mineral, enhance cognitive function, boost athletic performance, or maintain a healthy body composition. Some supplements can also work to replenish and enhance the production of essential building blocks in our body.

Collagen is a prime example of this. You may have heard of collagen, but did you know that it also can come in the form of a supplement? Our body makes it, but supplementing might allow us to make more of it, or maintain the quality of the collagen we do have.

This protein is so important that supplementing might have benefits for everyone — whether you’re interested in skin care or health care.

What is Collagen?

Collagen s the most abundant protein in the body—making up over 30% of its total protein content. It provides structure to skin, hair, nails, bones, ligaments, connective tissue, and tendons. The building block for our skin, collagen makes up over 70% of skin and gives it elasticity and a “shiny” healthy look.

Simply put, collagen is the glue that holds us together.

There are at least 16 known types of collagen (likely more). However, about 80% - 90% of collagen in the human body is either type I, II, or III. These collagen types have a structure that has been described as a thick fiber arranged in a triple helix structure (DNA is a double helix, so picture something similar).

Type I collagen is perhaps the most important, making up most of our structure. Type I collagen has enormous strength, allowing it to be stretched and twisted with great tension and force without being broken. Gram for gram, type I collagen is stronger than steel!Lodish2000

What is collagen made of? Amino acids. They’re main building blocks of collagen—mainly glycine, proline, hydroxyproline, and arginine.

Since collagen makes up a large portion of our anatomy, it makes sense that we’d need a lot of it. Our body constantly synthesizes the collagen we need, using amino acids and co-factors like vitamin C, which helps the process occur.

With age and some (rare) diseases, collagen synthesis can begin to decline throughout the body. Interestingly, it may also increase in areas where collagen synthesis isn’t desirable—such as the skeletal muscles and the blood vessels.Babraj2005 Several studies have shown that collagen degradation is enhanced in aged skin, and the distribution of collagen fibers becomes more sparse, contributing to a loss of structure.Quan2010 This is one reason why we get wrinkles!Zouboulis2011

Other than age, several factors can contribute to reduced collagen synthesis or increased collagen degradation including nutrition, smoking, sun exposure, and even genetics.Danby2010,Knuutinen2002,Kuivaniemi1991,Darvin2014

The contribution of lifestyle factors (including diet) to overall collagen production and degradation suggests that the amount of collagen we have is modifiable, to a degree. The loss of collagen with aging and lifestyle, to some extent, isn’t inevitable. Supplementation and diet are ways to boost natural collagen production and maintain our collagen in order to promote healthy skin, ligaments, and bones.

Benefits of Collagen Supplementation

Adequate intake of collagen, its precursor amino acids, and other essential cofactors (vitamin C, zinc) is important for optimizing your body’s use of collagen. If it can come through diet—great. Foods that are high in collagen include bone broth, salmon, chicken eggs, and the skin and bones from beef, pork, chicken, and other animal protein.

Sources of nutrients vital for collagen production or protection from collagen degradation include chlorella (beta-carotene, chlorella growth factor), leafy greens (chlorophyll), citrus fruits (vitamin C), berries (ellagic acid), tomatoes (lycopene), pumpkin seeds (zinc), and avocados (vitamin E).

Getting plenty of these foods in your diet can surely help maintain and increase your body’s ability to use collagen.

However, many of us fail to eat some of the biggest sources of collagen like bone broth and parts of the animals other than the muscle meat.

Most of us don’t eat “nose to tail,” and thus miss out on many collagen-rich parts of the animals. If you’re a vegan/vegetarian and consuming little to no animal products, this is even more of a concern. In any case, collagen supplementation might be a good idea to cover all of your bases. Collagen has several health benefits.

For Skin Health

Supplementing with collagen might be an “anti-aging” strategy for the skin. While chronological aging is inevitable, skin aging might not have to be. Brittle nails and hair don’t look great on anyone. Our skin health and quality is an external representation of what is going on inside of us. Who doesn’t want a vibrant skin glow and reduced skin wrinkles?

Collagen supplementation has been shown to reduce signs of facial aging, skin dryness, and wrinkles.Schwartz2012,Borumand2014 This may be accompanied by an increase in the density of collagen in the skin, more skin “firmness,” and improved skin circulation.

A randomized double-blind placebo-controlled trial showed that oral collagen ingestion for eight weeks improved facial skin moisture, elasticity, wrinkles and roughness in women.Inoue2016 Unfortunately, the study didn’t provide the average age of the participants, which should be taken into account as we tend to lose skin elasticity with age and therefore, would have more room for improvement.

Supplementing has also shown to be effective for improving nail health and may even benefit mental functions.Su2016,Hexsel2017

In addition to boosting collagen production, supplements might provide protection against damage to collagen. A supplement of collagen hydrolysate (collagen peptides) administered to mice was able to prevent skin barrier dysfunction and reduced skin elasticity resulting from ultraviolet radiation damage.Oba2013 Since sun exposure is one of the lifestyle factors related to skin damage and aging, collagen supplementation could have a practical use here.

For Athletes and Bone Health

Supplementing with collagen isn’t just for the cosmetically concerned—athletes and anyone looking to improve their bone, muscle, and joint health can benefit too.

Athletes may be at a greater risk of collagen degradation due to the demanding activity they put themselves through. In fact, anyone who exercises and places a high demand on their joints and tendons should be conscious of their collagen quantity and quality. For instance, sports research has shown that strenuous “skeletal exercise” like running, is associated with higher markers of cartilage degradation in college athletes.Okane2006

A 24-week study showed that collagen supplementation significantly improved joint pain and other parameters that might negatively impact performance.Clark2008 In addition, collagen supplementation has been shown to reduce markers of muscle tissue damage and performance decrements following strenuous exercise—meaning that collagen could be useful to enhance muscle recovery and adaptive responses to training.Lopez2015

Once collagen is ingested as a dietary supplement, it’s absorbed in the intestines and most likely, it begins to accumulate in the cartilage, leading to an increase in the synthesis of extracellular matrix; although the mechanism isn’t fully understood. This theory is the rational. For this reason, a big “industry” for the use of collagen supplements is in the setting of osteoarthritis and other disorders characterized by significant joint pain or deterioration.Bello2006

Finally, collagen may prevent the loss of strength that is often observed with aging.

When paired with a resistance training regimen, collagen peptide supplementation improved fat-free mass, body mass, quadriceps strength, and sensory motor control in a group of elderly men with age-related muscle loss (sarcopenia).Zdzieblik2015 Unfortunately the control group was given a silicon dioxide placebo, something that isn’t readily absorbed in the small intestine. This means that we can’t conclude if the physical improvements in the collagen supplement group were collagen specific or because of the additional protein.

Young or old, it seems that there isn’t a group who can’t benefit in some way from collagen supplementation.

Benefits of collagen supplementation.

What to Look for in a Collagen Supplement

Several types of “edible” collagen exist. The three common forms include unhydrolyzed collagen protein, collagen peptides, and gelatin.

Types of Collagen

Unhydrolyzed collagen is the non-processed form, meaning that the amino acids are in their full-length form: strong, and durable. However, we may not be able to digest this form of collagen, and oral supplementation with this form does not stimulate our body’s chondrocytes (cartilage cells) to produce collagen.Schauss2012

This means that unhydrolyzed collagen is an ineffective oral supplement.

Gelatin is collagen that has undergone partial hydrolysis (hydrolysis is a process of breaking the hydrogen bonds in a molecule). Chains of amino acids hold water, forming a “gel.” Often, gelatin is used to thicken food dishes like desserts and stews. Interestingly, bone broth is made through a process involving gelatin mixing with water. Bone broth is basically dissolved gelatin.

The third type of collagen is collagen peptides. Collagen peptides are made from the exact same amino acids as gelatin and collagen. The only difference is that collagen peptides are more fully hydrolyzed and composed of shorter amino-acid chains compared to gelatin and full-length collagen. The importance of this is that collagen peptides are more bioavailable—they’re better absorbed into our intestine and bloodstream, and are able to stimulate the formation of collagen in the body.Wang2015

Collagen supplements can come in all formulations—from gummies to gel caps tp bone-broths to “instant” mixes. However, a particularly tasty and easy way to supplement collagen is in powder form, where the supplement can be mixed into any recipe, smoothie, or baked goods. Many collagen powders also come with extra nutrient “boosts” or in tasty flavors.

Key Supplement Qualities

The very first thing you want to look for in a collagen supplement is that it contains 100% collagen peptides. Make sure you’re getting the most bioavailable form of collagen possible. Don’t waste your money on a supplement that your body can’t even use!

A second criteria is the source. It is often recommended that your collagen powder be derived from cattle—not chicken. Bovine collagen may have a superior amino acid profile to that of chickens, containing more of the amino acid glycine. Make sure that your collagen powder is sourced from grass-fed or pasture-raised cattle—as this also improves the “quality” of the collagen. Just like you’d look for grass-fed beef, grass-fed collagen should be a priority also.

Glycine is essential for collagen synthesis, but it also has other benefits, including its ability to promote calmness, improve sleep, and reduce anxiety.Labrie2009

A collagen supplement that also contains co-factors necessary for proper collagen production is essential.

In this case, choose something with vitamin C, zinc, and copper. Vitamin C is absolutely essential for collagen synthesis! That’s why people who are vitamin C-deficient suffer from a condition called scurvy—which involves bleeding of the gums and poor teeth quality-this is because collagen is involved with gum integrity and without Vitamin C, their gum structure suffers.

Without enough vitamin C, collagen synthesis suffers. It’s absolutely necessary to take your collagen supplement along with a meal containing vitamin C. If you choose a collagen powder that contains vitamin C—then you’ve got your bases covered.

Zinc is also essential for, among other numerous enzyme reactions in the body, proper collagen synthesis. It stimulates collagen synthesis, and it has been shown that zinc deficiency directly causes reduced collagen synthesis and collagen turnover.Startcher1980,Seo2010 Another metal, copper, is also important for the function of enzymes involved in collagen synthesis, and deficiency in copper can result in improper function of these enzymes.Harris1980

A combo if these three cofactors in a collagen peptide powder can enhance collagen bioavailability and check all of the boxes for the proper collagen-synthesizing environment.

A few other considerations to make before you shop for a collagen powder. Look at the ingredients, making sure the product is free from soy, binders, sweeteners, artificial coloring agents or artificial flavors. For those who might be on a ketogenic diet, another consideration is that the powder doesn’t contain carbohydrates, high-glycemic sweeteners, or other non-keto ingredients.

Want something more than just collagen peptides? Some powders come “enhanced” with ingredients like vitamins, minerals, or added fats to boost the nutrition or ketogenic power. If this sounds like something your interested in, look no further than our list below of some of the best collagen powders on the market.

Key qualities of a collagen supplement

High-Quality Collagen Powders

This is by no means a comprehensive list of all the collagen peptides powders available for purchase. But, we’ve done the research, read the reviews, and scoured ingredient lists for products that fit the criteria mentioned above. Perhaps one of these will become your go-to collagen supplement.

Check out two great options for collagen supplements below.

Vital Proteins Collagen Peptides

Vital Proteins collagen peptides are a non-GMO collagen powder derived from pasture-raised and grass-fed cattle—giving this product an excellent amino acid profile. It’s made of 100% pure collagen peptides, and contains 3,700mg of glycine per serving.

It’s also free of preservatives and hormones, keto-friendly, and contains 20g of collagen peptides per serving (1 serving = 2 scoops). It mixes well in any liquid, hot or cold.

Vital Proteins collagen peptides comes in unflavored, vanilla, mixed berry, and dark chocolate blackberry variations.

Nutrition info for unflavored variety (per serving)

  • 70 calories
  • 18g protein
  • 110 mg sodium
  • 20g collagen peptides

Mix Vital Proteins collagen with a smoothie, into a high-fat shake, or maybe a cold glass of milk.

Bulletproof Collagen Protein

Known famously for Bulletproof coffee (sometimes confused with butter coffee), this company also makes a collagen peptide powder. Bulletproof collagen protein powder is sourced from pasture-raised cows and contains no added hormones. The website lists that the product is “enzymatically processed several times”—meaning that no chemical processes were used that might kill off the active collagen peptides and improving the bioavailability of the peptides.

This powder mixes well with liquid, and doesn’t have a “chalky” flavor or feeling like other lower-quality powders might.

Bulletproof collagen powder comes in unflavored, vanilla, and chocolate.

Nutrition info for unflavored variety (1 serving = 2 scoops)

  • 70 calories
  • 65 mg sodium
  • 18g protein
  • 20g hydrolyzed collagen peptides.

Bulletproof collagen protein makes a great addition to a post-workout recovery shake or smoothie.

Sports Research Collagen Peptides

Sports Research Hydrolyzed Collagen Peptides provides low molecular weight peptides which may are designed to help support the regeneration and strength of bodily connective tissues— including skin, bones, cartilage, ligaments and tendons.

Sports Research collagen provides 100% hydrolyzed bovine collagen peptides (type I and III) and is certified non-GMO.

Nutrition info for unflavored variety (1 serving = 1 scoop)

  • 40 calories
  • 10g protein
  • 60mg sodium
  • 11g hydrolyzed collagen peptides
  • 18 amino acids

Nutritional Support Crew

Combatting the regular wear-and-tear that our bodies go through requires proper nutrition, and collagen supplementation can be one way to support yourself. Whether you’d like to build strong bones, achieve healthier-looking skin, hair, and nails, boost recovery, or promote gut health—collagen supplementation can help.

Choosing the right supplement can be tough. Armed with the information above and some direction toward what the best collagen powder supplement looks like, you can begin your journey to a stronger, healthier you.

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