These days, collagen supplements are everywhere. If you read the labels on these supplements, you’ve probably seen the term “hydrolyzed collagen.”
Depending on the product, you may also have noticed “collagen peptides” or “collagen hydrolysate” listed somewhere on the packaging.
Guess what? They’re all the same thing.
In this guide, you’ll learn everything you need to know about hydrolyzed collagen: what it is, benefits, dosage, and how to choose a good collagen supplement.
Hydrolyzed collagen is simply connective tissue — usually from cows, chickens, or fish — that’s been broken down with enzymes and water. The process of converting collagen-rich connective tissue to hydrolyzed collagen is called hydrolysis.
Name a body part. Collagen is probably in there.
Think of collagen as glue — glue that holds your bones, muscles, skin, and internal organs together. Without collagen, you’d fall apart.
Fortunately, you can synthesize your own collagen. Yes, you have your very own internal collagen factory, churning away night and day.
Unfortunately, the production of your collagen factory declines over time. The older you get, the less collagen you make.
You make collagen from amino acids — tiny building blocks needed to form larger tissues. Collagen protein is especially rich in the amino acids glycine, proline, and hydroxyproline.
These molecules are considered “non-essential amino acids”, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t important. They help you make more collagen!
Take glycine, for instance. Your body synthesizes about 3 grams of glycine per day, but — according to some researchers — you need 10 grams of glycine to fuel collagen synthesis[*].
Doing the math, that’s 7 grams of glycine you must get through diet. And so if you aren’t eating collagen-rich foods, you might benefit from other sources of glycine — like hydrolyzed collagen supplements.
What Does “Hydrolyzed” Mean?
The term “hydrolyzed” simply means broken down by water. In the context of collagen, it refers to how collagen-rich connective tissue has been broken down into smaller molecules (a lower molecular weight) for enhanced absorption.
To unpack the term: hydro means “water”, and lysis means “breaking down of cell membranes”. Hydrolysis. Hydrolyzed.
Here’s the industrial process for making hydrolyzed collagen[*]:
- Gather connective tissue from cows, chickens, or fish
- Break down connective tissue with water, enzymes, and acids (this is hydrolysis)
- Extract and filter resulting liquid
- Turn liquid into powder using a process called precipitation
You need a lot of connective tissue to make a little hydrolyzed collagen. To make 12 grams of collagen powder, you need about 1 kilogram of connective tissue[*].
That’s a mere 1.2% yield — and it’s why collagen peptides aren’t cheap.
Difference Between Hydrolyzed Collagen and Collagen
If you’re talking about collagen supplements, you’re usually talking about hydrolyzed collagen. That’s the standard form of collagen powder.
It’s good to remember that hydrolyzed collagen, collagen peptides, and collagen hydrolysate are all the same. (Just like table salt, sodium chloride, and NaCl are all the same).
But if you’re talking about collagen in your body (or an animal’s body), that collagen is NOT hydrolyzed collagen.
What about gelatin? Is gelatin the same as hydrolyzed collagen?
Not quite. Gelatin has the same amino acid profile as collagen, but it’s made a bit differently.
Instead of dissolving in water, gelatin gels. That’s why it’s great for thickening soups, stews, and puddings.
In terms of health benefits, however, gelatin is less researched than collagen.
Collagen is considered a dietary supplement. This means the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t regulate collagen for safety or efficacy[*].
Nonetheless, hydrolyzed collagen is often marketed as a miracle cure for a wide range of conditions. The claims about collagen for skin health, for instance, could stretch from here to the moon.
You should be skeptical when sorting through these health claims. Some have science behind them, others do not. Many are somewhere in-between.
Read on to get these claims sorted and explore the potential benefits of collagen.
#1: Skin Health
Collagen is the main protein that structures your skin — keeping it firm, elastic, and supple.
With time, however, the collagen matrix in your skin starts to break down. When this happens, wrinkles, fine lines, and other signs of age can result[*].
Heavy sun exposure also negatively impacts your skin collagen matrix. To repair UV-related damage, you need your internal collagen factory running at full capacity.
That’s where hydrolyzed collagen comes in. It provides raw materials for internal collagen production, which — in theory — improves skin health.
So. What does the science say?
In one well-designed study, 69 women aged 35-55 were given either placebo or collagen hydrolysate for eight weeks[*]. When the eight weeks were up, the collagen groups showed significant improvements in skin elasticity.
Another double-blind placebo-controlled study found that collagen supplementation improved skin appearance in women with moderate cellulite[*].
Longer term studies are needed, but the bottom line is that collagen is promising for skin health.
#2: Joint Health
Joint pain affects both young and old. In particular, people over 50 often suffer from chronic joint pain[*].
The standard treatment? Painkillers like non steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). These drugs, unfortunately, come with undesirable side effects[*].
Because of this, researchers have been searching for alternative methods to treat joint pain. Collagen hydrolysate is one such alternative treatment.
Here’s what the research says:
- Collagen hydrolysate (12 grams a day for six months) improved back pain scores vs. placebo in a sample of 200 people over age 50[*]
- Six months of collagen supplementation reduced activity-related joint pain over placebo in a sample of 97 college athletes from Pennsylvania State University[*]
- A recent meta analysis found that collagen supplements are effective in reducing symptoms — as measured by symptom scores — of osteoarthritis[*]
Though these results are encouraging, be sure to consult your doctor before using collagen to treat joint pain.
Along with helping skin and joints, collagen hydrolysate may help — more generally — with living a long and healthy life.
There aren’t, unfortunately, human studies to support this claim. But human studies on longevity take decades to unfold, so that’s to be expected.
There are, however, animal studies that suggest that glycine — an amino acid abundant in collagen peptides — may support healthy aging.
In one study, mice fed diets containing 8% or 12% glycine lived about 30% longer than mice fed 2.3% glycine[*]. Researchers believe this longevity effect may stem from glycine’s role in clearing the amino acid methionine — a major component of meat — from the body.
Here’s the big picture. Taking hydrolyzed collagen won’t stop the aging process, but it may:
- Mitigate the downside of eating lots of methionine-rich meat
- Support internal collagen production, which declines with age[*]
Pretty good one-two punch.
#4: Gut Health
If you have leaky gut, it means your intestines have — in a manner of speaking — sprung leaks. Through these leaks flow food and toxins, creating inflammation that drives symptoms.
Just ten years ago, the medical community largely ignored the role of leaky gut in chronic disease. This is changing.
Researchers have now linked leaky gut to a number of gut disorders — like celiac disease — and a spectrum of other autoimmune conditions[*].
To be clear, collagen protein has NOT been shown in clinical trials to heal leaky gut. But consider the following:
- Collagen plays an important role in maintaining the gut barrier[*]
- Those with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) have lower levels of collagen in their blood[*]
- Many report that eating collagen protein or collagen-rich bone broth helps heal their gut
So while it’s too early to claim that collagen hydrolysate “heals your gut” — the evidence is encouraging.
How much hydrolyzed collagen should you take? Research suggests that 10 grams per day is a good starting point for benefits[*].
Going over 10 grams collagen daily is probably okay. After all, there’s more than 10 grams collagen in certain cuts of sinewy, tendon-rich meat.
Experiment. See what dosage works best for you.
Just remember: collagen should be an addition to — not a replacement for — the protein in your diet. Although collagen is a great source of glycine, it’s not so high in branched chain amino acids like leucine, which are crucial for muscle growth.
Where can you find collagen? Try these sources:
- Collagen protein powder (collagen peptides, hydrolyzed collagen, and collagen hydrolysate)
- Collagen pills, capsules, and gummies
- Protein bars
- Bone broth
- Cuts of meat with lots of connective tissue, like tendon or ligament
The simplest thing to do is scoop 10 grams (or more) of collagen powder into your daily smoothie, coffee, tea, eggs, or water. That’s it.
With so many collagen supplements on the market, it can be hard to pick the best one. It helps to have criteria.
Here’s what to look for on the label of a high-quality collagen powder:
- “Hydrolyzed collagen”, “collagen peptides”, or “collagen hydrolysate”
- “Bovine collagen”, which is rich in type 1, type III, and type IV collagen
- “Grass-fed” or “pasture-raised” to support ethical farming
- About 10 grams collagen per serving
- No artificial ingredients — though natural sweeteners like vanilla, monk fruit, and stevia are fine
Keep this checklist handy next time you shop for hydrolyzed collagen. Bookmark it, take a screenshot, and share it with your friends.
Thanks for reading, and stay healthy.