Collagen products have been picking up popularity in recent years. Magazines, beauty experts, and celebrities have raved about the benefits of collagen for its supposed cosmetic properties (Jennifer Aniston reportedly accredits it to her ever-youthful glow while Kourtney Kardashian has praised its overall skin and health benefits). Could collagen supplements really live up to the all the hype they’ve been generating? I decided to find out.
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What is Collagen?
Collagen is the most abundant protein in the human body, making up about a third of your protein composition. It plays a pivotal role in everything from bones, muscles, skin, tendons and ligaments to your eyes, teeth and blood vessels. The word itself is derived from the Greek word for glue (“kólla”) because it is like the glue that holds everything together.
Our bodies naturally produce collagen, but that production begins to decrease as we age. Other factors, like too much of sugar and refined carbohydrates, smoking and ultraviolet radiation (sunburn), can also hinder your ability to produce collagen. That lack of collagen can manifest in different ways over time. In more simple cases of collagen deficiency, symptoms like wrinkles, sagging or a propensity for scarring may occur in the skin. Soreness from weakened cartilage can also develop in the joints. In more serious cases (like hereditary collagen disease or autoimmune collagen vascular disease), your joints, skin, blood vessels and other vital organs can be quite seriously compromised.
How can you increase collagen levels?
Collagen is found naturally in the connective tissue of animal-based foods. Consuming things like chicken and pork skin, bone broth and Gelatin may help increase your collagen levels (although there’s some disagreement about which one is the best for truly increasing your collagen levels). Another option is to take either a Gelatin or hydrolyzed collagen supplement.
Are collagen supplements safe?
Yes! There aren’t any substantial reports or reviews of collagen supplements that show them posing serious safety risks or side effects. Many collagen supplements are also dairy and gluten-free. Like with all foods, there is always a chance that someone may be allergic to an ingredient. Be sure to always read over ingredient lists and consult with your doctor before consuming a new supplement.
What are the benefits?
Many people hear “collagen” and automatically think of the anti-aging benefits of improving skin elasticity and decreasing wrinkles. (Research has demonstrated that both oral and topical collagen supplements can positively impact skin health and facial lines.) But the benefits of collagen may extend far beyond just the cosmetic realm.
Because of the role collagen plays in bones, tendons, and ligaments it also plays a role in the health and condition of our joints as we age. In one study, examining the effect of collagen supplements in cases of osteoarthritis, subjects suffering from osteoarthritis were given collagen supplements over the course of 70 days. At the end of the study, participants taking the supplement reported a significant decrease in pain. Collagen supplements may be beneficial in both preventative and reactive arthritis care and long-term joint and bone preservation.
Collagen is also present throughout the gut in connective tissue. It has been studied for medical benefits in cases of leaky gut syndrome and inflammatory bowel disease and some research indicates it may have restorative properties for healing the inner lining of the stomach. Since collagen is a vital protein in the human body, it has also been studied for its potential in increasing muscle mass. One study found collagen supplements successfully helped to increase muscle mass in elderly men with Sarcopenia (a degenerative loss of skeletal muscle mass) in combination with resistance training.
My Collagen Experience
I initially became interested in collagen for some of the cosmetic benefits. Although not prone to acne, I’ve struggled with constant breakouts over my forehead the last 4-5 months. Also, in spite of upkeeping a very consistent hair care routine, I’ve noticed a more fragile, brittle quality to my hair in the past two years.
But when I started researching collagen, I actually became more intrigued with some of the other benefits it had to offer. Increasing my overall skeletal muscle mass is one of my focuses in my weight training routine and (as I discussed in my bloating article) my digestive system has gone through some crazy changes recently that have forced me to majorly alter my diet. Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) also runs strongly on the maternal side of my family. RA symptoms can begin manifesting as early as age 30 and three times as many women are impacted by the condition than men, according to the Arthritis Foundation. Given my genetic propensity and active line of work, preventative care for my joints is a big priority to me.
If collagen could possibly help heal or reinforce the lining of my stomach, complement my bodybuilding goals and keep my joints happy and healthy over time, I was willing to test it out!
What Type of Collagen I Used
Collagen supplements come most commonly in pill and powder form. As with amino acid and BCAA supplements, I prefer powdered supplements that can be dissolved in liquid for faster absorption. I tested out two different brands of hydrolyzed collagen supplements that were dairy and gluten-free, flavorless, odorless and made without artificial colors or additives. They were both derived from bovine hide collagen peptides and each packed 10 grams of collagen and 9 grams of protein per a one-scoop serving. I ordered both online through Amazon Prime.
Vital Proteins is known for a high standard of quality, as well as being compatible with a wide range of dietary preferences (Paleo, Keto, Whole30, dairy-free and gluten-free). (It’s also allegedly the favorite brand of celebrities like Jennifer Aniston and Kourtney Kardashian.) The containers come in three sizes, 5oz for $15.00, 10oz for $25 and 20oz for $43.00 (I ordered their 20oz container). The recommended serving size was two scoops but one scoop a day is pretty sufficient, so I kept using the 20oz canister for a two-month supply after the initial month of testing.
BioOptimal had good reviews for the quality of their products, so I decided to give it a whirl to have two different brands to compare. It rang in as the slightly cheaper of the two at just $19.99 for a 10.58oz containers of 30 servings.
I’d heard about collagen powders had a tendency to clump when dissolving in liquid and definitely found that the colder the water, the more likely the powder would clump. I avoided that issue by mixing it with hot drinks like tea or coffee. Sometimes I’d have it cold drinks by mixing the collagen and the liquid it in a shaker bottle and pouring over ice after it was dissolved. I actually really like both of these brands. True to their promises, they really didn’t any particular taste or odor and I never noticed them in my drinks. My digestive system is really sensitive and neither one caused me any issues.
The first thing that I noticed was a change in my nails. I’ve always had very bendy, flimsy fingernails that grow slowly and break constantly. (Which isn’t exactly a life crisis, but was the reason I wore fake nails a lot in high school.) About two weeks in, I noticed that my nails were growing more quickly, taking on a sturdy quality and no longer breaking when I bumped into doorknobs or free weights at the gym. They were growing at twice their normal rate and holding up against daily wear and tear.
You might be wondering “who really knows things like their normal rate of nail growth?” Like I said, growing up I wanted long pretty nails badly. In middle school, I actually kept track of their growth in the most scientific manner I knew possible: tracing my fingers out on a piece of notebook paper to compare outlines until they were at an optimal length for glitter polish. I’m telling you, this was the nail growth of my 6th-grade dreams. (Middle school was a crazy time for all of us. Don’t you judge me.)
My hair is pulled back in braids or ponytails in gyms throughout the week, so I never really bother styling it. I wash it 2-3 times a week, let it air dry and try to do a deep conditioning mask once a month. My hair is so straight and non-fussy that for most of my life, I haven’t even had to fully brush it in the mornings. In college, I just ran my fingers through my hair to even it out then headed to class.
(I should probably note that my hair also won’t hold any kind of styling and has about as much volume as your grandpa’s three-hair comb-over, in case any of that sounded like bragging.)
One of the issues with my hair the past couple years has been brittleness and an inclination for breaking and tangling. I decided not to change anything in my hair routine and just to see what happened. By the third week, I noticed that it was easier to brush and not tangling as much. By the fifth, I was able to start brushing it out with just my fingers again in the mornings. My hair was feeling more like it’s normal self again and not snapping off as easily on my brush, fingers or hair ties.
My breakouts actually got a bit worse the first couple weeks, causing me to panic. The collagen was the only thing I had changed in my routine and I wondered if I should call it quits. But I remembered what my dermatologist in high school told me once when I visited for a similar series of breakouts. He told me things might get worse before they got better because the treatment process would draw a lot of the impurities to the surface of my skin; dealing with the root of the problem, not just the symptoms. So I figured I’d wait and see if the same principle applied here.
One-by-one, as each blemish came to its worst point, it faded out into clear, even skin after. This happened over the course of about five weeks. Now, I’m not trying to make any definitive claims that collagen supplements are some magical cure-all skin solution. But my forehead did clear up and now over two months later has remained clear since introducing a collagen supplement. For me, after 4-5 months of perpetual forehead breakouts, it certainly seems to have made a positive difference for me.
It’s been two and a half months since I introduced collagen into my routine. I feel like it’s made a noticeable impact in my hair, skin, and nails. While I haven’t noticed any major changes or differences in my joints or with my digestion, I do have confidence from some of the research I’ve come across that it’s still a solid tool for long-term gut and joint preventative care. It’s been a very positive experience and I definitely plan to continue using both brands of collagen in my routine moving forward!
Do you use, or have you ever tried collagen? I’d love to hear about your experience or favorite brands! Please let me know about your own experiences in the comment section!
All writing and images copyright © 2018 Rachel Elise Weems Woods
Disclosure: I am in no way sponsored by or affiliated with BioOptimal or Vital Proteins. All opinions are my own. Some of the links above are affiliate links and, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a small commission if you decide to click through and make a purchase. Utilizing affiliate links is one of the ways I support my work to keep delivering great content on my blog.
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2.Trookman, Nathan S., et al. “Immediate and Long-Term Clinical Benefits of a Topical Treatment for Facial Lines and Wrinkles.” The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology, Matrix Medical Communications, Mar. 2009.
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