Are you considering taking collagen supplements?
While you may have heard all about the benefits of taking collagen, you’re probably wondering about the best way to go about using it.
Is there anything you should know about collagen supplements first?
Fortunately, today’s guide will help answer those questions and more as we find out:
Now, before you start popping collagen supplements like candy, you should know what they are first and how collagen may benefit your health.
For today’s purposes, I’m going to fly through what collagen is and why it’s worth your time because we have a lot of ground to cover.
So if you’re interested in learning more about it, check out the complete guide to collagen when you’re done reading this one.
The easiest way to explain collagen is that it’s a protein in your body — the most abundant protein, actually — and it acts as the “glue” holding you together.
It’s also responsible for repairing any damaged cells in your body. It even helps reduce inflammation.
And that’s just the beginning.
Researchers have also learned collagen delivers these 7 proven health benefits too:
- Brain and Alzheimer’s protection. With increases in collagen intake come an added layer of protection for your brain health.
- Prevent and treat heart disease. Collagen can also help reduce your cholesterol ratio and keep your blood vessels flexible instead of stiff. Hardened arteries have been linked to serious issues such as strokes and heart attacks.
- Heal leaky gut. Painful digestive conditions such as IBS and Leaky Gut can also benefit from collagen. Research shows it can help repair irritated digestive tracts and reduce inflammation in stomach lining.
- Ease joint and knee pain. Another batch of research discovered collagen can also reduce joint and knee pain while at rest and during movement.
- Less back pain. Study participants found a 20% reduction in back pain after taking collagen.
- Improve skin elasticity. Another set of research showed supplementing with collagen led to an improvement in skin elasticity, with older participants showing the biggest changes.
- Stronger nails. Collagen can even fortify your nails. This time, researchers saw increases in nail growth, decreases in broken nails and an overall improvement in the health of nails when collagen was used over a four-week period.
To read more about the research supporting those claims, visit this guide when you’re done here.
Now, so far you know collagen is the most abundant protein in your body. So you may be thinking, Why do I need more collagen? Don’t I already have plenty?
Without knowing your full medical history, there’s no way for me to say you need more collagen in your life.
But this next section may be able to help you answer that yourself.
Similar to hormones like testosterone and estrogen, collagen is something that starts to diminish over time as you age.
So while your younger self was probably fortified with it, your older body may need a little extra boost through supplementation and dietary modifications to make sure your levels are where they should be.
Another major contributing factor here is environmental damage.
Pollution, having too much sun exposure without protection and being near harsh industrial chemicals can all eat away at your collagen levels.
Certain connective tissue diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus and rheumatic fever, also have the same collagen-depleting effect.
There’s two more controllable conditions with the potential to destroy your collagen: a poor diet high in sugar and smoking cigarettes.
By now it should be easy to spot your collagen deficiency risk levels if you find yourself in any of those buckets.
But before you can say for sure, consider the physical symptoms associated with low levels of collagen[*]:
- Muscle pain and soreness that goes beyond the DOMS 48-hour mark (DOMS = delayed onset muscle soreness)
- Joint stiffness or pain
- Sagging or wrinkled skin
- Reoccuring toothaches
- Sensitivities in your teeth
- Receding gums
- Loose teeth
You’re also more likely to see your hair thinning at your scalp and changes in your skin, such as cellulite, which can both indicate that your collagen levels may be too low.
A quick chat and some tests with your doctor can help you rule out a collagen deficiency.
But that also leads to the question: Do you need collagen even if you’re not experiencing these symptoms?
That answer depends on whether you want to:
- Give your brain an extra layer of Alzheimer’s protection
- Prevent or treat heart disease
- Fortify your digestive tract and heal inflammation
- Reduce joint, knee and back pain
- Improve skin elasticity and your nail health
If you don’t wish to accomplish those things, then collagen probably isn’t right for you.
But for the rest of us, it doesn’t hurt to add collagen to our daily routine.
And the good news is that it’s not difficult to do so.
One way is by consuming foods packed with collagen forming nutrients, which include:
- Bone broth (richest source)
- Cod fish
- Parmesan cheese
- Chicken breast
- Romano cheese
- Goat cheese
- Pork chops
- Pumpkin seeds
- Mozzarella cheese
- Cheddar cheese
Keep in mind, even if you are filling up on these foods on the regular, you still may not be getting enough collagen each day.
That’s where supplementing comes in.
It’s a quick and easy way to ensure your collagen needs are met every day.
Supplements also offer your body a more efficient way to get more collagen into your system.
When you go the food-only route, collagen-forming nutrients must compete with other macro- and micronutrients to get processed properly and used.
But when you supplement with collagen, there won’t be as much competition, which means your body can readily digest it and get to work using it.
There’s also another reason why collagen supplements have this characteristic (re: they’re more bioavailable than food sources), as you’ll see next.
One thing most people don’t realize with collagen is that it’s too big for your body to absorb on its own.
So despite the latest claims of an expensive collagen-boosting face cream on your social feed, you’re not going to reap the health benefits of collagen unless you ingest it.
And once you do, your body starts to break it down in your digestive tract right away and converts it to usable amino acids[*].
These are then carried throughout your system and used in places where collagen is needed most.
The amino acids will also find collagen-producing cells and give them an extra nudge to start creating more of it on their own.
And that’s exactly what supplementing with collagen can do, according to one study conducted on athletes, who naturally have higher risks of joint pain and deterioration[*].
Collagen supplements also provide a more bioavailable form, which simply means your body has an easier time breaking it down and can therefore use it right away with minimal processing.
Hydrolyzed collagen, for example, is one form that’s already had it’s main structural chain broken down into smaller ones, making it easier for your body to digest and use.
It’s created by extracting collagen from animal bones, fish scales and even the hides of certain animals.
Many hydrolyzed collagen supplements also come paired with a boost of protein too.
I’ll dive into this more next as we discuss the most common ways to supplement with collagen.
On top of getting collagen from the foods I mentioned earlier, you’ll want to start supplementing with it to ensure you’re replenishing whatever is lost.
To do this, you have three options:
#1: Collagen Supplements in Pill Form
When most people think of supplements, the image of a bottle of capsules usually comes to mind. Collagen is no different.
You can purchase bottles of collagen supplements at health food stores or online and take them by mouth.
Two benefits of the softgel form is that the taste is usually minimal, if there’s one at all, and they’re far easier to take along should you travel.
Plus, many capsules have a slow release coating that helps them digest and absorb at the right speed.
The downsides to capsules, as you may have already experienced, is that these giant pills can be ultra hard to swallow and scary to take alone. (P.S. I gagged just writing that.)
If this is already a challenge for you when it comes to your vitamins, you may be more interested in the next alternatives: liquid and powdered collagen supplements.
Here’s how the liquid version stacks up.
#2: Liquid Collagen
Liquid supplements also come with a few benefits of their own.
First, liquids are easily absorbed and generally enter your system fast since there’s minimal processing needed.
You can also take your dose right away in the form of a shot, or you can add it to your favorite drink or smoothie to sip on it slowly.
As for the downsides here, liquid supplements can leave an unpleasant taste in your mouth.
That chemical taste your tongue detects on a supplement’s coating will be front and center in the liquid form. And that can easily trigger a gag reflex or general distaste for the flavor.
If you’re someone who can handle strong-tasting shots like a pro, the liquid version of collagen may not bother you. But others could see this as a deal breaker.
Another issue is that liquid forms may be too strong for sensitive stomachs.
After a few uses, or even right away for some, you may find yourself experiencing unwanted digestive upsets.
Because of these reasons, this third option is usually the best one.
#3: Collagen in Powder Form
Powdered forms of collagen offer the best of both worlds.
If you need to take it on the go, you totally can. And you also won’t have to contend with any chemical tastes since most options are flavored already.
Powdered versions are perfect for anyone who can’t or doesn’t want to swallow a horse pill or have to deal with getting a gross-tasting shot down each morning.
But, as you’ll see next, not all collagen powders on the market are created equally.
Since the FDA does not regulate any supplements, it’s up to you to figure out which ones are safe enough to use.
I’ll elaborate more on this shortly, but before we get to that, there’s a few more pros and cons to consider when it comes to powdered collagen.
Starting with the good, this form tends to mix well in recipes and drinks alike, making it really easy to incorporate in your daily routine.
In fact, you may end up craving it.
For a complete list of recipes using collagen, check out this guide.
And similar to the liquid option, powdered ones are also easily absorbed and readily available too.
When you add it to smoothies or your coffee, you’ll have a filling drink that may keep you feeling good for hours.
That’s also another perk to using powdered forms: they usually have a side of protein.
As for the downside, powders must be mixed before they can be consumed.
After all, trying to ingest straight powder is as crazy as the cinnamon challenge.
Usually you can do this using plain old water, so it’s not difficult, just something to consider.
Next, you’ll need to check the ingredients.
Ones loaded with chemicals, artificial flavors and preservatives will negate the many health benefits that come with collagen supplements.
See, with powder as opposed to liquid or pill forms, manufacturers are forced to create a flavor that people will actually want.
And sometimes they do this using cheap, chemically-made ingredients.
To avoid this and to protect your health, keep these next tips in mind before you make any collagen supplement purchases.
With collagen specifically, it’s best to steer clear of options on the market promoting added glucosamine, arginine or CoQ10[*].
These are just a clever way for brands to claim there’s more value than there really is. The fact is, they’re all unnecessary fillers in disguise[*].
Other chemical additives and fillers to avoid include[*]:
- Hydrogenated oils
- Soybean oil
- Magnesium silicate
- Titanium dioxide
- Artificial colors, flavors and preservatives
- Sugar, including artificial ones and sugar alcohols
- Sodium benzoate
Honestly, these should be completely eliminated from your diet — in all forms — anyway.
It doesn’t matter if they’re in processed foods, drinks or supposedly healthy supplements. They’re damaging to your health.
The source of your collagen is also important. And in this case it can be another area where manufacturers cut corners.
Bovine collagen is the best hydrolyzed option on the market since its benefits have actually been researched and proven.
This option is also sourced from grass-fed cows only, which means you’re not getting an unhealthy dose of added hormones and steroids.
When choosing a collagen powder, look for ones sourcing bovine collagen and containing at least 10g of it per serving.
You should see one of the following descriptions in the ingredient list[*]:
- Grass-fed bovine collagen peptides
- Grass-fed hydrolyzed collagen powder
- Hydrolyzed bovine collagen
From there, scan the label to also ensure the carb count is less than 1% and is therefore safe on keto[*].
The only sweetener you should see is stevia.
So while this first layer of investigating can help you weed out low-quality options, the next two checkpoints can help you find the best choices, especially on keto:
#1. Choose options that are easy on digestion. Many supplements can also be hard on the digestive tract, even if you’re not sensitive.
To combat this, look for collagen powders that also come with healthy fiber, such as acacia, which can help keep your digestive system functioning properly.
#2. Use one loaded with MCTs. Medium chain triglycerides, or MCTs for short, are your body’s preferred energy source in ketosis.
When you eat MCTs, they’re quickly converted into usable sources of energy.
So finding a collagen powder that also contains MCTs is a double win: you get the health benefits of collagen + the energy boost from MCTs.
Now that you have a better understanding of collagen supplements, you’re ready to decide if it’s right for you.
Will You Start Supplementing With Collagen?
As I mentioned earlier, you don’t need a collagen deficiency to start supplementing with it. Your body can use all the extra health benefits we covered right now.
If you do decide to move forward with collagen supplements, or supplements of any kind, please do your homework and find reputable companies using high-quality ingredients only.
And if you’re looking for a delicious collagen powder that ticks all the healthy boxes (and you don’t feel like spending half your week browsing online for it), check out this page next.
For extra credit reading, here’s a list of the other resources I mentioned in this guide: