Without collagen, Misty Copeland couldn’t plié, Aly Raisman couldn’t land a triple-double and Serena Williams couldn’t deliver her notorious slam.“It’s the glue that holds us together, allowing our joints to be flexible, but it’s also integral to our skin—it’s what gives it a smooth, firm appearance,” says New York dermatologist Julie Russak, MD. “It’s also a key building block of our hair and nails.” The downside: “As we age, our bodies become less efficient at producing collagen, which can contribute to a variety of aging cues, like a dull, wrinkled complexion and limited mobility,” adds Jenn Randazzo, registered dietician and associate director of education at Vital Proteins.
The Power of Protein
To produce new collagen internally, we need an abundance of protein, including amino acids called glycine and proline. “Unfortunately, the majority of Americans are protein deficient, and not because they’re not eating enough protein, but because they’re not digesting it properly to make it available to tissues internally,” says holistic nutritionist Kelly LeVeque. “For example, on average, people synthesize 3 grams of glycine a day, but we need 10 grams to synthesize new collagen.” This becomes even more challenging as we get older. “By the age of 40, our ability to produce collagen decreases by about 25 percent, and by age 60, it dips even lower to 50 percent,” says Delray Beach, FL dermatologist Dr. Janet Allenby.
I generally recommend taking 10 to 20 grams of collagen per day.Jenn Randazzo
That’s where collagen supplements come into play. In hopes of replacing what’s lost, we tweak our daily routines to include a scoop of powder in our morning smoothie or dessert-like gummies before bed. Most of these come in the form of collagen peptides or gelatin, which are more easily digestible forms of collagen created through a process called hydrolysis. “Our bodies cannot absorb collagen in its whole form, so it needs to be broken down, or ‘hydrolyzed,’ to penetrate the bloodstream and reach the targeted tissues,” says Dr. Allenby. (LeVeque says some studies show hydrolyzed collagen can reach the bloodstream within an hour.) However, scientific evidence proving the effectiveness of collagen supplements is “still not 100 percent,” notes Dr. Russak. “But, I do believe there are enough studies that exist to date that prove there is blood absorption after oral intake of collagen peptides and there are enough clinical benefits in improved skin, hair, nails and joint functions for us to recommend them to patients.” One 2018 study in particular showed improved skin elasticity and hydration in those supplementing with collagen peptides for 12 weeks when compared to placebo, says Randazzo.
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Consider the Source
When it comes to choosing a supplement, the source of the collagen—typically animals and marine life (fish scales and skin)—matters. “The most common type is bovine collagen, which is derived from cow hides, bones, cartilage and connective tissue. To make sure it is clean and free of environmental contaminants, look for grass-fed, pasture-raised, organic and hormone-free products,” says Dr. Russak, who prefers marine sources like wild-caught fish because their collagen has a lower molecular weight, and therefore absorbs better. There are also synthetic sources produced from insects, rodents, yeast and plants, but valid data on the benefits of these remains scant. “Whether you choose marine- or bovine-based collagen peptides, you are consuming a functional supplement that will offer the same benefits—I generally recommend taking 10 to 20 grams of collagen per day, depending on your diet,” says Randazzo. “What’s important is choosing a product that aligns with your dietary preferences and is easy to establish as part of your daily wellness routine.”
Not All Supplements Are Created Equal
Just like any supplement, collagen boosters aren’t evaluated and regulated by the FDA, which makes it easier for some brands to make false or overhyped claims, or use low-quality ingredients. “Over-the-counter supplements often include other ingredients like hyaluronic acid, vitamins and minerals, thus it is important to look for the actual percentage of collagen in the supplement,” says Dr. Russak. LeVeque warns that many products contain excess sugar as well—especially gummies and flavored powders—so be sure to check the label.