Collagen is the newest darling of the supplement world, and sales are surging. In fact, a review published in the Journal of Drugs in Dermatology in January 2019 estimated that collagen supplement sales will soar well over $6 billion by 2025. So you may be wondering: What's the craze all about?
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What Is Collagen, Anyway?
Collagen is a protein that naturally occurs in our bodies, and its job, essentially, is to hold things together. Think of it like the scaffolding that provides structure for things like your skin, tendons and ligaments, to keep them from stretching and sagging.
It's no wonder, then, that we've come to think of collagen as key to a youthful complexion. But the protein is also essential when it comes to repairing damaged bones, cartilage and muscle as well as maintaining the mobility of our joints and connective tissues.
Collagen is abundant in many animal food sources, including beef, chicken, pork, fish and bone broth. "When it comes to protein supplements such as collagen, we first consider food sources," says Rachel Fine, a registered dietitian and owner of To the Pointe Nutrition in New York City.
Like any protein, collagen is made up of building blocks called amino acids. When we ingest collagen, our body breaks it down into the amino acids lysine, methionine, glycine and proline. These acids may then be re-combined to make collagen, if the body needs it, or they may combine with other molecules to create a variety of compounds with different purposes.
Glycine, for example, is used to synthesize creatine, an organic acid that helps provide your muscles with the fuel they need to power through a workout. Lysine and methionine, on the other hand, can be used to make keratin, which supports strong, shiny hair. Which compounds get made depends on what the body needs most at any given time.
Potential Benefits of Collagen Supplements
So, if collagen is already in the foods you eat — and isn't necessarily on the fast track to your muscles and joints, since your body breaks it down first — is it worth seeking out in a supplement? The science is inconclusive at the moment, but emerging research is mostly in favor of the idea for active individuals.
A small but compelling study published in the British Journal of Nutrition in October 2015 found that a combo of resistance training and collagen supplements led to the creation of more lean muscle mass than resistance training on its own.
Collagen supplementation may also help alleviate joint pain, Fine says, since it helps maintain the integrity of cartilage, the rubber-like tissue that protects your joints. An April 2012 study out of the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry found that adults who took 2 grams of collagen daily for 70 days had a significant reduction in joint pain and were better able to engage in physical activity than those who did not take the supplement.
Plus, collagen peptides and powder may have a leg up on the collagen found in foods because they contain the nutrient in its hydrolyzed form, which means it's broken down into smaller molecules that are more easily absorbed by your body.
Read more: Side Effects of Taking Collagen Supplements
What to Look for in a Collagen Supplement
If you want to add a collagen supplement to your diet, there are many to choose from. Keep in mind that these products aren't closely regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, so quality can vary. Here are a few things to consider when you're looking for a quality supplement:
- Minimal Ingredient List: Look for a supplement with as few ingredients as possible. The main (and ideally the only) ingredient should be collagen, with no preservatives or added sugar. The reason: You'll get more of what you want from your supplement and less (or no) fillers that you don't need.
- Flavor and Color: The Cleveland Clinic stresses that collagen powder should be flavorless, colorless and should dissolve easily in liquid. These qualities make it more likely that no extra ingredients were added to the supplement.
- Quality Matters: Whenever possible, choose a supplement that has been quality tested. High-quality supplement companies choose to have their products verified through a third party such as NSF International or ConsumerLab.com. The FDA also sets Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) for companies, which lay out standards of purity and quality in dietary supplements. Manufacturers will often list their products' verifications on their respective websites, and they will also note if a product adheres to the GMP standards. Some brands, such as Nature Made, choose to add this information to their product labels.
- Return on Investment (ROI): In other words, what are you getting (or how much are you getting) for what you're paying? Consumer Labs' comprehensive Collagen Supplements Review conducted in October 2019 found that the amount of collagen in a daily serving ranged from 0.1 to 25 grams amongst the 14 products they tested, which equates to quite a price difference across products — ranging from $0.05 per gram to $26.97 per gram. The organization noted that powders and liquids typically had more collagen compared to tablets and capsules. Read the labels to find out how much you're actually getting for the amount you're shelling out.
- Added Nutrients: Some collagen supplements contain added vitamin C and hyaluronic acid because they both play a role when it comes to maintaining our skin — collagen production and hydration, respectively. Keep in mind, though, that you likely won't get a benefit from ingesting the added vitamin C unless you're deficient.
Before adding any supplement to your diet, it is important to have a conversation with your health care provider about your individual medical needs. There are side effects, such as digestive issues, associated with collagen consumption, so a supplement may or may not be the right choice for you.
A Guide to the Best Collagen Supplements
To help you weed through all of the options, we've compiled a list of the best collagen supplements for specific wellness goals.
Vital Proteins' Collagen Peptides Unflavored gets the nod for best overall collagen supplement. Derived from grass-fed, pasture-raised cows, this protein comes in the form of a neutral-tasting powder that dissolves easily in hot or cold liquids.
It's made from just one ingredient, and you can find a full disclosure of the product's amino acid profile on the company's website. One serving of the powder provides 20 grams of collagen peptides, which is equivalent to 18 grams of protein.
Best on a Budget
Orgain Collagen Peptides is an inexpensive but high-quality collagen supplement. The product, which was created by a medical doctor, is unflavored and lists bovine collagen as its only ingredient, so it doesn't have any extra gunk (like sugar or artificial flavors) that your body doesn't need.
It also dissolves easily into hot and cold drinks. One serving provides 20 grams of collagen, and a 23-day supply typically rings up at nearly half the cost of some other options.
Best for Hair, Skin and Nails
For a supplement that multitasks, try Nature's Bounty Extra Strength Hair, Skin and Nails, which contains 50 milligrams of collagen as well as a healthy dose of other beauty-boosting nutrients such as vitamins A and C, biotin and hyaluronic acid. Vitamins A and C are both powerful antioxidants that are essential for good skin health.
According to the National Institutes of Health, biotin supplements may help improve the health of hair and nails, although research has so far been limited in this area. And dermatologists praise hyaluronic acid for its hydrating, plumping effect on skin. Nature's Bounty meets the FDA's GMP quality standards, a marker of trust for dietary supplements.
Two other top picks for skin from Consumer Labs' 2019 review are Besha Inc. Collagen Peptide (best powder form) and Trunature (Costco) Healthy Skin Verisol Collagen (best pill form). A serving (two teaspoons) of the Besha Collagen Peptide provides almost 3 grams of collagen, while Trunature clocks in at 2.5 grams per serving (four capsules).
Carlson Hair, Skin & Nails gummies can be found at your local health food store or online, making them a convenient choice. From the brand most widely known for its omega-3 and vitamin E supplements, these gummies contain 50 milligrams of collagen in addition to vitamin C, biotin, selenium, zinc and vitamin E, with a small amount of added sugar. In 2017, Carlson Labs was named the No. 1 health food store brand by ConsumerLab.com.
Best for Joints
Healthy Origins Natural UC-II tops the list as Consumer Labs' top pick for joint pain. One single capsule of the supplement provides 10 grams of collagen, which is the amount typically used in most of the clinical trials on collagen and joint pain. So, no powders to mix or elixirs to drink. It is worth noting that it can take up to three months to start to see results when it comes to joint relief.
The Vitamin Shoppe UC-II Collagen for Joint Mobility and Flexibility is also a good option for joint pain. The Arthritis Foundation indicates that undenatured type II collagen (UC-II) may help to decrease arthritis pain. The recommended dosage for UC-II collagen is 20 to 40 milligrams per day, and this supplement provides 40 milligrams per capsule.
The Vitamin Shoppe says that its products go through rigorous testing and meet the FDA's guidelines for GMPs. The company also offers a no-questions-asked money-back guarantee.
Best for Vegans
Garden of Life's mykind Organics Collagen Booster is a popular choice for those following a vegan diet. Since collagen is an animal-derived protein, vegan supplements focus on the nutrients that help build the protein in the body (hence the term "booster" in the name).
This pick is made from organic plant and tea extracts but is also rich in vitamin A and vitamin C, both of which help promote collagen formation. Garden of Life is NSF-certified for gluten-free and for sport, meaning that the company allows third-party quality testing on its supplements.
Additional reporting by Kelly Plowe, RDN
- Journal of Drugs in Dermatology: "Oral Collagen Supplementation: A Systematic Review of Dermatological Applications"
- National Center for Biotechnology Information: "Biochemistry, Collagen Synthesis"
- Harvard Medical School: "What's the Scoop on Bone Broth?"
- Skin Pharmacology and Physiology: "Oral supplementation of specific collagen peptides has beneficial effects on human skin physiology: a double-blind, placebo-controlled study."
- Nutrition Journal: "Efficacy and tolerability of an undenatured type II collagen supplement in modulating knee osteoarthritis symptoms: a multicenter randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study"
- Dermato Endocrinology: "Skin anti-aging strategies"
- Nutrients: "The Roles of Vitamin C in Skin Health"
- Arthritis Foundation: "Are Collagen Supplements Helpful for Arthritis?"
- National Center for Biotechnology Information: "Molecular Cell Biology: Collagen: The Fibrous Proteins of the Matrix"
- Cleveland Clinic: "The Best Way You Can Get More Collagen"
- PubChem: "L-Proline"
- British Journal of Nutrition: "Collagen peptide supplementation in combination with resistance training improves body composition and increases muscle strength in elderly sarcopenic men: a randomised controlled trial"
- Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry: "Effect of the novel low molecular weight hydrolyzed chicken sternal cartilage extract, BioCell Collagen, on improving osteoarthritis-related symptoms: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial."
- Consumer Labs:"Review of Collagen Supplements"