The Ultimate Guide to Collagen Powder: Are Its Benefits Proven?
Written and Medically Reviewed by Ana Reisdorf, MS, RD on January 15, 2020.
Collagen powder is, without a doubt, the new buzzword on everyone’s lips. There’s probably not a day that goes by without your colleague raving about her recent purchase of Great Lakes’ collagen powder. Just a few scoops daily, and it’s apparently able to smooth skin, strengthen nails, and make hair as glossy as those seen on Pantene’s commercials. But – what is collagen powder really, and is it safe to consume? Also, do its health benefits stand up to the scrutiny of science?
Well, let’s find out, shall we?
What is collagen powder?
Indeed – what is collagen powder? Before I answer that, I believe the first question that should be answered is: what is collagen?
Given that the mainstream usage of collagen has mostly been topical, it wouldn’t come as a surprise to me if you believe that it to be something you apply externally to the skin. Or, if you’ve been following one too many beauty clinics on social media, a substance that’s injected to plump up your skin.
While the above two interpretations of collagen are not wrong, they fail to capture its full meaning.
Before you run out of patience, let me explain: collagen is a natural protein that is produced by all animals. Yes – humans, included. It is a major structural component in your body – different types of collagen make up your skin, bones, muscles, and joints.
Fantastic: now that you know what collagen is, the concept of collagen powder shouldn’t be too difficult to grasp. Collagen powder is derived when large sources of edible animal collagen are cooked, boiled, and then hydrolyzed – a fancy word of describing the process of breaking a compound down with water.
As you can see, 'hydrolyzed collagen powder' quite literally means the same thing as collagen powder. You might be surprised, but collagen peptides powder is also the same thing as hydrolyzed collagen powder – they're all just broken down and powder versions of collagen!
Why do I need it?
Funny, right? If your body is perfectly capable of producing collagen by itself, why would you need to supplement your diet with collagen powder?
You see: our bodies can indeed produce ample amounts of collagen. But that's only when we are young.
Unfortunately, once we hit the age of twenty-five, our bodily production of collagen begins to decline at a rate of 1.5 percent per year. And it’s not just the amount that suffers: research shows that the quality of our produced collagen drops, as well! By our mid-forties, our collagen levels may have fallen as significantly as 30 percent.
This is why you need to consume collagen: you need to make up for the collagen that you’ve lost through the inevitable process of aging!
Collagen powder benefits
If you’ve been paying attention, you’ll remember that collagen is a natural source of protein. Or more accurately, it's a complex protein that contains 18 out of the 20 existing amino acids found in our bodies.
I can already hear you asking, “So what if it contains amino acids?” Let me help you out. Amino acids are crucial building blocks of our bodies. A large proportion of our cells, muscles, and tissue is made up of amino acids. They are critical to our health because they carry out uncountable essential bodily functions.
Not convinced yet? Well, if you’re looking for more well-substantiated health benefits, I’ve got you covered – here’s five:
Plumps up your skin
A large percentage of the connective tissues in your skin is made up of collagen – when you're young, and your body is producing sufficient amounts, your skin appears plump, vibrant, and tight.
On the contrary, as you get older, the falling levels of collagen cause your skin to sag, wrinkle, and crack from dryness. Yikes – now you know why those fine lines are making their way onto your face!
Fortunately, research has demonstrated that oral ingestion of collagen reduces hallmark signs of aging: wrinkles, cracking, and dryness. A double-blind, placebo-controlled study has also found that daily oral supplementation of collagen led to significantly better results in skin elasticity and skin moisture in just 2 months!
In short, if you don't want your skin to divulge your actual age, edible collagen is the way to go. The best part? It doesn’t take long to see results!
Strengthens your hair and nails
Regularly clearing clumps of dry and brittle hair from your shower drain? Or, do you always deal with peeling and splitting fingernails? The years might be catching up with you; your natural collagen levels are falling!
How do I know? Well, in addition to being the main component of the connective tissues of your skin, collagen also serves as the building block for your hair and nails.
While you, unfortunately, cannot escape the natural decline in collagen production as you age, research shows that collagen supplementation can help you achieve hair similar to that you see on models in shampoo commercials! Additionally, collagen can possibly reverse the signs of hair loss.
And that’s not all.
Oral supplementation of collagen has also been shown to increase nail growth, in conjunction with decreasing the frequency of broken nails.
Improves your quality of sleep
Sleep is incredibly critical for your health. It helps your body recover from the day’s activities, aids with the cleanup of toxic proteins in your brain, and aids with the consolidation of short-term memories into long-term memories!
Needless to say, sleep deprivation leads to a multitude of health problems, such as impaired focus, impeded fat loss, and an amplified risk of cardiovascular diseases. This is why it's so worrying that statistics show that about 30% of the population suffers from insomnia.
But there’s hope for you if you’re part of that statistic. According to research findings, the intake of 3 grams of glycine – the primary amino acid in collagen – before bedtime enhances the quality of sleep and significantly reduces fatigue the following day.
Based on these findings, you’d only need 9 grams of collagen powder (not much at all!) to stop tossing and turning in the bed. This is because glycine makes up to roughly one-third of collagen’s amino acids profile.
Optimizes your mobility
If you’ve ever experienced dull aches or sharp pain in your joints when you’re on your daily run around the neighborhood block, it could be due to the loss of collagen. You see: collagen forms a smooth and gel-like structure around your bones.
You can think of collagen almost like a lubricant for door hinges, except for your bones. Now, imagine what happens when you’ve failed to oil the hinges of your door for extended periods: it creaks, groans, and gets significantly more challenging to push through, right?
That's what happens to your joints when your collagen production drops – you'll find yourself dealing with joint mobility issues and the occasional pangs of pain.
Thankfully, a recent study has found that collagen is an effective treatment for osteoarthritis and other joint pain and disorders. This finding also gels with other studies in the field as well, such as this one covering osteoarthritis joint pain.
Protects your cardiovascular system
You might not know this, but collagen provides structure to your arteries – blood vessels that transport blood from your heart to the rest of the body. Arteries may become weak and fragile without sufficient collagen in the body.
The weakening of your arteries can lead to atherosclerosis, a disease characterized by the narrowing of the arteries. Atherosclerosis disrupts the flow of blood around the body and has the potential to lead to serious health problems, such as heart attack and stroke.
So – how does ingestible collagen come into play? Well, one study showed that the daily consumption of collagen over 6 months led to a significant reduction in measures of artery stiffness in 31 healthy adults. They also saw improvements in their levels of “good” HDL cholesterol by an average of 6%!
You’re sold on the benefits, but there’s a niggling question at the back of your mind, “What about side effects?”
Technically, collagen is really just like any other protein you consume. Currently, there are not many known risks of taking collagen supplements. There have only been mild cases of reported discomfort, such as a lingering bad taste in the mouth, feelings of fullness, and heartburn.
And of course, it goes without saying that if you’re allergic to fish, you should not consume marine collagen powder.
The same goes for the other types of collagen powder – so long as you are allergic to an item on the ingredients list, stay away from it. Be sure to really scrutinize the bottle; your health is at stake here!
Types of collagen powder
Convinced that you need to supplement your diet with collagen, and are keen to get a bottle for yourself? Hang on just a minute: if you do a quick Google search on 'collagen powder,' the wide variety of choices and types available might overwhelm you.
To help you out, here’s a short guide on the various types available in the market.
- Marine collagen powder – This is sourced from fish skin and scales; marine collagen is described to be environmentally-friendly and sustainable as companies often use parts of the fish that are typically thrown away.
- Bovine collagen powder – This is sourced from cow hides, bones, and muscles. Bovine collagen helps with the production of creatine – a substance found naturally in human tissues. It is, therefore, believed that bovine collagen supplementation is beneficial for building muscle.
- Aviary collagen powder – This is sourced from chicken bones, cartilage, and tissues. Chicken collagen contains chondroitin and glucosamine – two compounds that help with cartilage rebuilding.
- Porcine collagen powder – This is sourced from pig skin, bones, and food grade gelatin products. The popular 'bone broths' you typically hear about are often made through brewing pig parts for extended periods and contain large amounts of pig collagen.
- Vegetarian collagen powder – This is sourced from eggshells and egg-whites; vegetarian collagen is suitable for those who make a conscious choice not to eat animal meat.
In addition to the above five major types of collagen, you might occasionally chance upon multi collagen powder when you’re doing your research.
It might sound complicated, but it’s really not: multi collagen is simply a blend of multiple collagen sources. It can contain anywhere from two to all five types of collagen sources.
But what about organic collagen powder – what’s the deal?
Well, as its name suggests, organic collagen powder is simply collagen derived from sources that are certified to be non-GMO, pesticide-free, and void of unnatural additives. If you’re someone who opts for organic options in the supermarket, I believe the choice of organic collagen powder would be a no-brainer for you.
There's also collagen protein powder. Quite simply, it is just a form of protein powder that is made with highly purified collagen peptides. If you’re a fitness enthusiast and are keen to experience the health benefits of collagen consumption, you can swap out your regular protein powder for this!
A review of the current scientific literature available suggests that oral supplementation of collagen is associated with several health benefits. It also appears that there are very few known risks that come with taking collagen.
If you're looking to reverse some tell-tale signs of aging, such as wrinkles, dry skin, and reduced joint mobility, I'd say collagen powder is worth trying for its potential benefits. What type of collagen powder you choose ultimately comes down to your personal preference and the existence of food allergies.