What Are These Collagen Peptides I Keep Hearing About?

You've heard of collagen—it's splashed across almost every anti-aging product now—but have you heard of collagen peptides? Not a skin care ingredient you can find in creams, they're actually a supplement (typically in powder form, but there are collagen capsules, too) that you can add into your diet to reap internal and external benefits. Health gurus swear by them and they've recently taken the wellness scene by storm. Here's everything you need to know.

Not only is collagen one of the most important structural proteins in the body, but it's also the most abundant protein in the body. "It makes up 90 percent of connective tissue, 90 percent of organic bone mass and 70 percent of our skin," says Lillian Zhao, founder of FurtherFood.com. "Unfortunately, starting around age 21, your body reduces its production of collagen every year. As time goes on, this erosion leads to wrinkles, saggy skin, thinning hair, joint stiffness, and slower muscle recovery. Supplementing with collagen peptides can help prevent and reverse this from the inside out." 

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Something important to understand: the difference between collagen and collagen peptides. According to Zhao, collagen in its full-length, unhydrolyzed form is a large protein molecule and is not easily absorbed by the body. On the other hand, collagen peptides are highly bioavailable and easily absorbed. "Collagen peptides contain the same amino acids as collagen, but are shorter chains of amino acids, and thus have a lower molecular weight," she says. "This allows them to be quickly and effectively absorbed into the bloodstream. Research has shown that more than 90 percent of collagen peptides are absorbed into the bloodstream within six hours of consumption. After absorption, collagen peptides travel throughout the body, repairing, rebuilding and providing energy." 

As consumers become more health-conscious, supplements continue to blow up, and right now, it's collagen peptides that are having a major moment. "They are getting a lot of buzz right now because they play a role in keeping skin young, plump, glowing and healthy," says New York nutritionist Brigitte Zeitlin. "While beauty foods are always a hot topic, collagen has risen to the top lately partly due to the paleo diet trend. This overall attempt to eat fewer processed foods and eat more similarly to the way 'our primal ancestors' have eaten has brought collagen back into play." 

Zhao adds that although scientists and doctors at major universities and hospitals have studied the unique structural properties and benefits of collagen for more than 40 years, in the last decade, there has been a consumer-driven movement toward using real food, rather than synthetic supplements and drugs, to heal the body and stay healthy. "As people become more focused on what they are putting into their bodies, they are turning to more natural, food-based remedies. Collagen peptides are derived from animals—usually bovine or fish—and offer a natural alternative."

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Supplementing with collagen peptides can have benefits both inside and out. For beauty specifically, Zeitlin says collagen is a total beauty powerhouse and works to keep our hair, nails and skin healthy. "Collagen peptides work wonders on the inside, but you can also easily see their benefits on the outside," she explains. "They help keep your skin’s elasticity intact, so it looks plump, and also work to fight fine lines and wrinkles. They also help restore moisture to your skin to keep it well-hydrated, preventing flakiness, redness and irritation. For your nails and hair, they assist in the fight against breakage, so both grow longer and stronger."

Many fitness gurus have woven collagen peptides into their routines because of the bone and joint benefits. "When our body’s collagen supply starts to naturally decline, this can be the source of joint and bone degradation that leads to arthritis, osteoarthritis and osteoporosis," says Zhao. "Science has shown that oral supplementation with collagen can prevent and reverse the effects of this loss by supporting the rebuilding of our bones and joints. Clinical trials have shown daily supplementation with collagen can reduce joint pain, stiffness and inflammation, improve mobility and flexibility, build bone matrix, and speed recovery from injury." 

According to Zeitlin, emerging research suggests collagen peptides can help keep your gut healthy as well. "Glutamine, one of the amino acids found in collagen peptides, has been shown to help heal and strengthen the lining of the intestinal tract that could be caused from stress like ulcers, irritable bowel syndrome and GERD." 

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You can find collagen peptides powder and capsules at health food stores and online. A few we like: Further Food Collagen Peptides ($20); Vital Proteins Collagen Peptides ($25); and NeoCell Super Collagen ($12). Powders are popular because they're generally tasteless, odorless and easy to incorporate into smoothies, juices, yogurts, etc. 

Zhao stresses the importance of making sure you're buying a reliable, quality product by knowing where it's coming from. "There are many collagen products out there, and numerous brands are sourcing their collagen from unsustainable, low-cost, lot-fed sources from China or India. When buying collagen, if it’s coming from a bovine source, my advice would be to make sure it’s coming from 100-percent grass-fed, pasture-raised animals, preferably from Brazil, Argentina or Australia. If it’s coming from a marine source, make sure it’s wild-caught and sustainably caught, preferably from North America, where the standards are strict. And, make sure that the product does not contain any additives or artificial ingredients."

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