Making Sense of Collagen Supplements

Collagen has become a buzzword in the health and wellness industry, and for good reason. It’s the most abundant protein in the human body and is essential for healthy skin, bones, and joints. As we age, our bodies naturally produce less collagen, which can lead to wrinkles, joint pain, and other health issues. That’s where collagen supplements come in – but do we really need them?

We called Julie Kramer, a registered dietitian at Northwell Health, to answer some frequently asked questions.

What is collagen?

Accounting for about 30% of all bodily proteins, collagen is the primary building block of your body’s skin, muscles, bones, tendons, ligaments, and other connective tissues. It is also found in your organs, blood vessels, and intestinal lining. Collagen plays a critical role in maintaining the structural integrity of our bodies and helps with strength, flexibility, movement, and motion.

You produce collagen from the amino acids that you take in through certain foods, like bone broth, fish, chicken, and egg whites. However, as we age, natural collagen production begins to slow down – after the age of 40, we lose about 1% of collagen each year – which is why supplementation may be beneficial.

Can I tell if my body’s collagen level is decreasing?

Collagen can’t be measured by a blood test or scan, but there are things to look out for that may indicate your collagen level is declining. Including:

  • Hair loss or thinning

  • Wrinkled or crepey skin

  • Hallowing around your eyes

  • Slower metabolism, causing weight gain

  • Weakening muscles and aches

  • Stiffer tendons and ligaments

  • Tooth pain and sensitivity

  • Reduced mobility from joint stiffness

How do collagen supplements work?

Collagen can’t be absorbed unless it’s broken down into smaller amino acids. So, collagen supplements aren’t actually collagen –rather components of collagen that are already broken down. They are usually derived from animal sources, such as cows or fish and come in the form of powders, pills, and drinks.

Can collagen supplements reverse the signs of aging?

Collagen supplements may help improve skin elasticity and hydration, but they can’t reverse the signs of aging. So, it’s not the fountain of youth, but evidence shows that it does yield significant results for improving skin health.

Do collagen supplements have side effects?

You may experience mild side effects such as an upset stomach, bloating, or skin irritation, but that’s usually due to additives in the supplements, so keep an eye out for that. Also, if you have food allergies, make sure to choose a source that doesn’t contain your allergens.

Do I need collagen supplements?

While collagen supplements can boost the health of your skin, bones, and joints, it’s important to maintain a healthy lifestyle while on or off the supplement. Keep in mind that smoking, poor diet, and spending too long in the sun can affect collagen levels too.

With any supplement, consult with your doctor before adding it to your daily routine.