Trending – Collagen
We see collagen supplements and cosmetics regularly trend. In this post, we take a deeper look at collagen.
What is collagen?
Collagen is a structural protein that works as a connective tissue constructing, mechanizing, and binding our bones, tendons, ligaments, cartilage, muscles, blood vessels, corneas, and other parts of our bodies. We know of at least 28 types of collagen.
Our bodies make collagen using amino acids. We get the amino acids needed to produce collagen through a healthy, balanced diet.
Where do we find collagen?
Collagen is made in our bodies naturally, and we find it in all animals, not just humans.
Omnivores can eat collagen-containing foods such as chicken or pigskin, bone broth, and more. While these foods may contain collagen, it doesn't necessarily translate directly into our bodies producing more collagen. Our bodies digest food, take the nutrients we need from food, and eliminate what we do not need (1).
Our bodies will produce collagen when we have the correct nutrition. While collagen-rich foods can help support our health, they aren't the only nutrients needed to support our collagen production.
Often producers and researchers who use collagen get the material from porcine, bovine, equine, marine, or human sources depending on the use case.
How is collagen used?
Historically, we've used collagen from animals to make gelatin and glue.
Today, we use collagen from animal sources in medical applications, over-the-counter and medical-grade cosmetic products, dietary supplements, gelatin, and more.
We’ve seen a recent uptick in collagen used in the beauty and wellness industries. Since our bodies naturally decrease collagen production as we age, manufacturers have developed collagen-containing products aimed and improving skin appearance, hair and nail appearance and growth, and joint health.
These products can be supplements taken in pill or powder form or lotions applied topically to the skin.
We see medical-grade cosmetic injections that contain collagen, usually from bovine sources, to plump, sculpt, and fill faces (1,2).
Collagen is also used in a variety of medical and surgical procedures.
Do I need collagen supplements? Do they work?
There isn’t robust evidence to support that ingesting collagen supplements is an effective way to improve your health or boost collagen production. That's not to say that they are completely ineffective as some research has shown positive results (1,2). However, other research does not support that ingesting collagen supplements dramatically improves one's health or appearance and some researchers question the studies’ qualities and research methodologies (1,2).
Remember, our bodies make collagen from amino acids. We get the amino acids needed to produce collagen through a healthy, balanced diet.
However, collagen used in medical settings such as in wound healing, surgical repairs, cosmetic surgery, medical-grade cosmetic products, and more is different than taking an oral collagen supplement. Collagen designed for medical purposes has different properties, specific purities, and other qualities that are fundamentally different than an oral supplement (1,2,3).
Are collagen supplements safe?
Dietary supplements are not regulated as medications, so it's important to look for reputable companies that use an independent laboratory such as NSF International, ConsumerLab, U.S. Pharmacopeia, and others to test for quality standards. Products certified by independent laboratories will usually include a label that lets us know the manufacture had the product tested to meet the laboratory’s certification standard.
Collagen supplements are not necessarily harmful. However, they can contain excessive amounts of protein. Too much protein can harm kidney health.
It's essential to consult your board-certified and state-licensed medical professional or pharmacist before taking any supplement, including collagen.
The good news.
Collagen researchers continue to discover innovative ways to use collagen to improve human health, such as tendon repair, organ repair, wound healing, and other novel medical uses.
New techniques for this bountiful ingredient hold great promise for improving our health in the future.