It’s official: The internet has gone “crazy” for collagen. Millions of people watch videos of protein powder mixed into everything from coffee and oatmeal to party dips and festive mocktails — and it’s a trend that many experts love. “Collagen is a magic ingredient,” says the Cleveland Clinic functional medicine expert and food solution author Mark Hyman, MD, who explains that its amino acid jackpot helps improve skin, hair, joints, blood sugar, gut health, heart health and more. Meanwhile, growing research suggests that collagen, especially a promising new strain, can boost key weight-control mechanisms, “helping us become fat-burning machines,” shares The thyroid connection author Amy Myers, MD. What exactly is collagen? It’s a tough, glue-like protein that keeps us together from head to toe. Here’s everything you need to know about it.
How does collagen benefit us?
Collagen gives stability and structure to “skin, blood vessels, organs, muscles, cartilage, bones, teeth, and hair,” says Dr. Myers. It is in tiny parts of the cells that it is crucial to turn blood sugar and fat into energy. And it is a raw material that we use “to heal wounds, strengthen muscles and improve worn-out cells”. Luckily, we make our own collagen from the amino acids found in the proteins we eat. But there is a catch. After age 35, we see a drop in the levels of enzymes that extract amino acids from our food. So, at age 60, our collagen production has been reduced.
Collagen supplements can be a solution. Options made with hydrolyzed collagen or collagen peptides contain a special form of the protein that can help mature bodies absorb more easily. “Once the collagen peptides are in the bloodstream, the body can rebuild them into full-chain collagen,” says Dr. Myers. A bonus: Big name brands can cost as little as $1 per serving at outlet stores – a bargain compared to most proteins. “And collagen powder is tasteless, so you can add it to just about anything.” Whether you put it in coffee or get creative, your body will thank you.
How can collagen supplements help us?
No matter which collagen supplement you use, you may see and feel some benefits. For example, research suggests that collagen helps strengthen hair and facilitate thinning; and that adding collagen to meals promotes better health by preventing and treating atherosclerosis. A study indicates that collagen supplements are an effective way to treat some symptoms of osteoarthritis.
Collagen supplements may also be good for stimulating muscle growth, which speeds up metabolism, notes Dr. Myers. Although more research is needed, several studies indicate that collagen supplements stimulate muscle growth, making exercise more effective.
And the good news doesn’t end there: the search for a next-generation fish-based collagen supplement, an alternative to traditional beef-based supplements, is ongoing. It turns out that “marine collagen supplements trick the body into making a different type of collagen than beef supplements,” says Dr. Myers. While research suggests that bovine collagen can increase collagen types one and three (which primarily make up skin), it suggests that marine collagen can increase collagen types one and two (which are found in cartilage, eye structures and vertebral discs).
Can collagen supplements help with weight loss?
If you’ve ever noticed that high-protein meals reduce hunger, it’s because they contain nutrients that increase satiety. A study from the University of Washington School of Medicine found that increasing protein intake helped subjects feel fuller and eat less. Although this study does not focus specifically on collagen, it does suggest that supplementing your diet with collagen may have a positive effect on weight loss. “Women tell me every day how much they love collagen,” says Dr. Myers, who recommends 10 to 15 grams per day. “It’s a great tool for losing weight and optimizing health at any age.”
This content is not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis. Always consult your doctor before proceeding with any treatment plan.
A version of this article originally appeared in our print magazine, Woman’s World.