You may have heard of collagen. It was a health trend in 2018, along with things like the keto diet and intermittent fasting. It is likely that collagen consumption will also be a popular trend this year.

But, is it really everything it’s hyped up to be, or is it just another fad that will quickly pass? Let’s break it down.

What is Collagen?

Collagen is a protein we make in our bodies by combining two amino acids. Actually, it’s the most abundant protein in the body (representing about 1/3 of all body proteins).  There are at least 16 different types of collagen that we know of.

Collagen is the major component of connective tissues that make up several body parts, such as tendons, skin and muscle. It has many roles, such as aiding in blood clotting, helping provide bone and muscle strength, and improving the structure of joints, skin and bones.

The process of making collagen in the body requires certain nutrients, like Vitamin C and the amino acids, proline and glycine. Hence, including a variety of these dietary sources in our diets is a great way to aid our natural production of collagen. Vitamin C is found in strawberries, potatoes, mango, broccoli, and bell peppers. Proline is found in egg whites, dairy products, asparagus and mushrooms. Glycine is found in many protein foods, like pork and chicken skin.

What Does Collagen Consumption Look Like?

So, why are you suddenly seeing people adding collagen to their coffee and smoothies, buying collagen lotions and taking collagen supplements?

Well, collagen is proposed to do many things. Some of these include building muscle mass, decreasing pain and symptoms of osteoarthritis, improving skin elasticity and reducing skin dryness. As we age, we produce less collagen, and the collagen that we do produce is of lower quality.

While you can certainly get collagen through supplements and products, it is also found in natural protein sources in the diet. The best sources include pork skin, chicken skin and bone broth. However, it is debatable as to whether consuming collagen-rich foods directly translates to increased levels of collagen in the body. This is because proteins like collagen are broken down into amino acids through digestion and then reassembled back into body proteins, versus just being assembled as proteins to begin with.

To date, there have been no studies as to whether collagen-rich foods have the same benefits as supplements.

How to Incorporate Collagen Supplements

There are two main types of collagen supplements: hydrolyzed collagen (peptides) and gelatin, which is essentially cooked collagen. These forms of collagen are already partly broken down into smaller proteins. This makes them more easily and efficiently absorbed by the body compared to food sources of collagen. There is still some research to be done but there is some promising evidence about the benefits of collagen supplements.

Collagen peptides come in pill or powder form that can easily be incorporated into baked goods, soups and beverages.  Gelatin can be used to make homemade jello or gummies.

One study found that collagen peptide supplementation in combination with resistance training among men increased muscle mass and muscle strength, compared to men who took a placebo. Many studies have also found positive benefits on skin health, such as a reduction of skin wrinkles and improved skin elasticity.

Collagen supplements may promote the production of other structural proteins, such as elastin and fibrillin, which can benefit skin structure. Collagen can also be applied topically to improve the appearance of skin by minimizing lines and wrinkles.

Are Supplements Safe?

Some people have found that collagen supplements may leave a bad taste in their mouth or produce feelings of fullness or heartburn. However, the supplements seem safe for most people, but more research needs to be done.

Many supplements are made from common food allergens, like fish, shellfish and eggs, so if you are allergic to the source of the supplement, it is possible to experience an allergic reaction. It is recommended to consume high-quality supplement sources for the best results.

The Bottom Line

In short, collagen supplements are safe and easy to incorporate into many foods and beverages. There have been many studied benefits, ranging from improved skin elasticity, increased muscle and bone strength, to decreased joint pain. There are also other claims, such as improved mood and digestion. However, there is not yet research to support these claims.

If you’re looking for an easy addition to your diet, collagen may add many health benefits without a huge change in your lifestyle.