What’s the Deal with Collagen?

McKenzie Jones | June 6, 2019

When you walk down the aisles of your local supermarket, there seems to be a new ingredient in town that people just can’t get enough of. First gaining popularity in supplemental powders, collagen is now popping up in products from beverages to bars to baked goods and everything in-between. According to SKIN LLC, in the 365 days leading up to February 25, 2018, the number of products featuring collagen in the grocery category catapulted by 430%! Americans seem to be convinced that they better load up on collagen-containing products. And with claims to help improve the appearance of your skin and support bone, joint, and muscle health, as well as promote weight loss, can you really blame us?

But, what is the deal with collagen? Is it worth your money? And are the claims in fact valid? Read on to get the lowdown.

What is collagen?

Collagen is a protein that makes up 30% of the whole-body protein content and is ubiquitous in our bodies as it’s the main structural component of connective tissues including skin, tendons, bones, and ligaments.

How do you absorb collagen?

Collagen itself cannot be absorbed as a fully intact molecule, so our body uses collagen peptides (also called collagen hydrolysates) – the popular form of collagen supplements on the market – as the building blocks for making collagen. Alternatively, our body can also build collagen from amino acids, which are found in a variety of animal and plant foods from eggs to quinoa to beans.

What foods help to promote collagen formation?

Vitamin C, the powerful antioxidant found in a variety of fruits and veggies, plays a role in collagen formation. Similarly, turmeric, or more specifically, the spice’s prized compound, curcumin, has also been shown to increase collagen synthesis and cell growth.

What does the research say about collagen?

Most skeptics of collagen supplements or the collagen trend, in general, will point out that the majority of research on collagen has been funded by the collagen supplement companies, which opens the opportunity for potential bias. But, if the research is well done, the proof is still in the pudding.

  • Decreased joint pain. Much of the research on collagen supplementation has been geared towards its potential promise for improving joint pain and stiffness in individuals with arthritis, as well as potential in reducing exercise-related joint pain among healthy individuals. Alternatively, some studies have found no benefit.
  • Skin health. Perhaps the most convincing area of research on collagen is in relation to skin health as studies have found supplementation may improve skin elasticity, hydration, and potentially even reduce the appearance of cellulite.
  • Wound healing. Some research has also found that collagen supplementation may help to speed up the wound healing process.

While you can find additional research linking collagen to potential heart health benefits, gut health, as well as hair and nail health, and even sleep quality, the evidence to date is minimal.

The bottom line on collagen?

At the end of the day, it takes a lot of convincing to make me believe that supplements are superior to eating a well-balanced diet, especially since some of them can easily be $50 bucks a pop. I’d rather see people opt to spend their money on a basket full of produce – which is really the cornerstone of a healthy diet – and opt for real, natural sources of protein that provide the essential building blocks for making collagen in the first place. But, if you’re curious to try collagen supplements or products, or have noticed personal improvements in the appearance of your skin or reduced pain in your joints, all the more power to you. It’s important to recognize the foods, habits, and supplements that work best for you and help you feel your best since we don’t all fit into the same mold.

If you’re curious about collagen, check out the recipes below!

  • Fat Fudge: With MCT oil, maca, ashwagandha, and collagen – this bite-sized dessert is packed with some serious superfoods.
  • Raspberry Chard Cold Cup: Raspberries and peanut butter are a match made in this (collagen-containing) smoothie heaven.

If you’d rather skip the collagen supplements altogether, check out this smoothie recipe packed with protein and collagen supporting components, like vitamin C-rich produce and turmeric.

  • Chia Zucchini Supreme: Almond butter, pea protein powder, and chia seeds all dish up a hearty dose of protein in this great-tasting smoothie.

Regardless of your stance on collagen supplements, we can all agree that a healthy and balanced diet is the key to healthier skin and a healthier you!

McKenzie Jones's profile picture

McKenzie Jones

McKenzie is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, nutrition writer and communicator, who truly loves meeting and connecting with people. Grounded in science with an integrative and holistic approach, she aims to make the world a healthier, happier place by helping people feel their best from the inside out and encouraging others to restore a judgment-free relationship with food. McKenzie has been a contributing editor for the award-winning publicationEnvironmental Nutrition and her numerous articles, nutrition tips, and recipes can be found in publications such as The Chicago Tribune, Today’s Dietitian, Food and Nutrition Magazine, and more.

McKenzie graduated magna cum laude from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo with a degree in Nutrition and completed her dietetic internship at Bastyr University in Seattle. She is a member of the American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and a member of the dietetic practice group, Dietitians in Integrative and Functional Medicine. When she’s not dishing out nutrition tidbits, you can find McKenzie cooking in her sunny kitchen, hiking along with her favorite Southern California trails, or packing her bags and heading out for her next adventure.

More blog posts.