Written by: Ayelet Portman, Dietetic Intern

What is Collagen?


Collagen is a structural, insoluble, fibrous protein found in connective tissue, fibrous tissues, such as tendons and ligaments, and the corneas, cartilage, bones, skin and blood vessels (2, 3). There are at least 16 types of collagen, but 80-90% of collagen proteins are made up of the same three types (3) and all collagen serve the same purpose of allowing tissue to stretch (3). It can be added to foods as gelatin, or as a dietary supplement in a hydrolyzed form called collagen hydrolysate, which can be used in drinks or skincare (2). Collagen proteins are a bioactive ingredient in cosmetic skincare products that improve skin function, and promote creation of collagen and hyaluronic acid (4), a molecule that binds and retains water molecules, affecting skin moisture (1).      


Benefits of Collagen Protein Supplementation


Collagen can be found in many different forms such as powders, capsules, tablets, gummies, liquids, or as an added ingredient to cosmetic products for its skincare properties (5). Collagen is extracted from animal sources and can be used as a protein, peptide, gelatin or hydrolysate. When its structure is broken down by heat, a process called denaturing, this is how gelatin is made, which is used in products like jello. Further breaking down its structure results in collagen hydrolysate, which is water-soluble and does not gel. Collagen hydrolysate accounts for most collagen supplements, which are dissolvable in hot and cold liquids and are sometimes added as an ingredient to food (5). Vegan collagen is made from genetically modified yeast and bacteria (5).     


Recent research has indicated that collagen hydrolysate, a hydrolyzed form of collagen, has protective effects against joint pain, wound healing, blood pressure, glucose tolerance, and the moisture, elasticity and wrinkling of skin (2).  A randomized placebo-controlled clinical trial indicated that ingesting collagen protein for three months, combined with other nutrients, can improve skin hydration, elasticity, roughness and density with no reported adverse effects (6).  


Previous research shows that collagen supplements hydrate skin, increase elasticity, and improve the texture and properties of skin. In a review of this research, the hydration properties of collagen were more significant in individuals over the age of 50 and elasticity properties were seen when younger individuals took supplements for 60 days or longer. Topical collagen products will most likely not show any of these effects because of its inability to be absorbed into the bloodstream through the skin on the face (5). 


Are Collagen Supplements Safe To Use? 


Collagen supplementation appears to be safe in general, although it is important to know that some side effects, such as diarrhea, dyspepsia, a bad taste in the mouth, headache, dizziness, insomnia, and rash have been reported in certain research studies.(6)  Individuals with allergies or sensitivities to certain animal sources or sulfite should not use collagen supplements that contain these ingredients (6). Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should avoid using these products because of the limited research completed in this area (6).  


Takeaway Message 


Collagen, a protein found in foods and made in the body, contributes to the elasticity and moisture of skin. As you age, your collagen ages and its properties are naturally less effective. Recent research has indicated that collagen supplements, which can be ingested through many different forms, may provide health effects against joint pain, wound healing, blood pressure, glucose tolerance, and properties of the skin. Research continues to analyze the overall effects of collagen supplementation, how much is an effective and safe dose, and when it may or may not be recommended to use.

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