Collagen helps our skin stay bouncy. But there’s more to its function than what we see on the surface. It naturally supports our joints, tissue repair, cellular repair, and certain immunity functions, to name a few big jobs. Today, you can add collagen supplements to your smoothies, coffee, or tea. And more women are jumping on this beauty bandwagon all the time.
Collagen supplements are currently a booming business. Frequently backed by celebrities and influencers, they’re being marketed by health and beauty brands as an anti-aging, health-conscious buy that your skin, hair, nails, joints, and bones will thank you for later. But how much later? And how does it work? Not to mention, how does lab-crafted collagen differ from the collagen we produce naturally? The short answer is: we’re not quite sure yet.
While collagen is crucial to our well-being, not everyone agrees that it can be effectively taken as a super supplement. Some experts wonder if collagen supplement claims might be a little too good to be true. But there are also dermatologists who believe it could deliver on all that it promises. And if it doesn’t, the side effects are said to be minimal.
Gradually, collagen products are becoming more and more scientifically sophisticated. But there’s still a lot left to learn. For now, let’s unpack what you definitely need to know before taking collagen.
What is Collagen and How Does it Work?
Our bodies naturally produce collagen, but collagen production lessens with age. Lifestyle factors can also quicken the loss of collagen. Smoking, excessive drinking, and diets high in sugar and processed food also accelerate the aging process, which collagen is directly tied to. In turn, people are turning to supplements in gel, powder, liquid, and capsule form. You can also find collagen varieties in moisturizers, peptides, and creams.
Whether or not collagen can function as effectively ingested or applied as when it occurs naturally in the body remains undetermined. What we know for sure is this: there are a lot of different kinds of collagen. Per Healthline, “there are 28 known types of collagen, with type I collagen accounting for 90% of the collagen in the human body.”
Collagen is composed of various amino acids. Primarily, it’s made up of glycine, proline, and hydroxyproline. These amino acids bind together, forming the triple-helix structure known as collagen. This wonder protein is a key contributor to our skin, hair, muscle, tendon, ligament, and bone health. It’s also the most abundant protein found in all animals.
When it occurs naturally in the body, collagen aids tissue repair, cellular regeneration, immune response, and cellular migration. It can also be found in protein-rich foods, which you absolutely need anyway. If you want to make sure you’re getting enough collagen in the healthiest way, eat a high protein diet and load up on vitamin C.
According to dieticians, consuming collagen on a regular basis may increase bone density, improve joint health, and do wonders for the skin and hair. However, there’s still a lot of research to be done.
Here’s what to know before buying collagen over the counter.
Certain Allergies Could Be Triggered
For those with a food allergy, collagen supplements might not be a good idea. Collagen is sometimes made with seafood or bits of egg. No matter how minor, if you notice any signs of an allergic reaction, take an anti-histamine, consult an allergist, and discontinue use immediately.
You Will Probably Feel Bloated
After taking collagen supplements, some people say they notice discomfort in their stomach. If you notice a mild bloating or heaviness, don’t be alarmed. Bloating is considered a typical side effect. Once your body begins attempting to break down the collagen with your stomach acids, you may start to experience queasiness and stomach pressure, but it should pass swiftly. Your digestive system is just working hard to break it down.
Collagen supplements (which are mostly made up of protein) are also known to cause constipation. When people consume a ton of protein but not enough fiber, constipation is a common result. So in addition to upping your fiber intake, make sure you’re drinking plenty of water if you start taking collagen.
If You’re Vegan, Proceed With Caution
For those who are vegetarian or vegan, make sure you’re reading the ingredients carefully. Some collagen is extracted from fish. Other forms are derived from the membranes of eggshells. But there are vegan varieties out there, so read the fine print. Look for collagen supplements that use algae and opt for clean ingredients.
Don’t Be Fooled by Mysterious Ingredients
Again, make sure that you’re reading all of the ingredients and researching any that seem questionable. Start by familiarizing yourself with the various brands and seeing which ones are top-rated/highest quality. You might pay a little extra for a trusted brand. But no matter the cost, it’s important to know what you’re paying for.
Remember, collagen supplements are classified as dietary supplements. And so, they’re not regulated by the FDA. If you’re not careful, you may not know what you’re paying for, including how safe some ingredients really are or aren’t.
Before starting your regular collagen regimen, talk to your doctor. Not only are they familiar with your medical history and health status, they might be familiar with trusted brands as well.
It Might Upset Your Stomach
If you’ve noticed a sense of urgency to use the bathroom the morning after taking your supplements, you’re not alone. Dieticians and doctors will tell you: collagen could be the culprit. One of its less common, but still notable side effects is stomach upset.
As your body attempts to break down and absorb the foreign collagen, you may deal with diarrhea, constipation, or both. If this happens to you, decrease your dosage and see if your condition improves.
Certain Drugs Won’t Mix Well
Before taking any supplement, it’s always a wise idea to consult your doctor. The same rule applies to taking collagen supplements, especially if you’re already taking other medications. It’s crucial that you know how your daily medicine and supplement combination is going to interact.
Research shows that collagen may prevent the active ingredients in certain medications from being fully absorbed. So if you are on medication and notice any stomach pain, it could be more than constipation or bloating. Reach out to your doctor and find out whether not your medicine and collagen will mix before you start taking it.
Real Results Take Time
It may take a while before you notice any collagen-caused improvements. When you’re waiting for signs of healthier hair, stronger nails, or lessened joint pain, be patient. No matter how long it takes, it won’t be an overnight process. And everyone’s body works a little differently.
Some studies show it may take up to 12 weeks for collagen supplements to have any significant impact, especially as it pertains to the skin. Many women who stuck to the process on a daily basis for more than three months saw results, including signs of improvement in their skin elasticity and hydration levels. Still, not everyone saw signs of “anti-aging.” And in the world of wonder supplements, research suggests collagen peptides may do more for what’s going on inside the body.
Your Joint Health May Benefit The Most
Various studies have shown that collagen supplements could help reduce overall pain and stiffness for people who suffer from joint pain. It may benefit those with osteoarthritis and osteopenia. But the form it’s in matters too.
Apparently, when collagen is in gelatin form (a food derivate from collagen) and paired with vitamin C, it may have the power to strengthen ligaments and tendons more than the powders seem to. This may be particularly good news for athletes looking to reduce their risk of injuries and help their bodies with the process of tissue repair.
Whether or not collagen supplements can deliver in the beautifying department remains up for debate. Or rather, these alleged miracle supplements may not pack as much of a peptide punch as beauty brands are currently promising. Regardless, you shouldn’t rely entirely on supplements to give you the collagen your body needs.
If you’re looking to get the most out of what collagen has to offer, always start by tweaking your diet. Here are 13 foods that boost your body’s natural collagen production, compliments of Health Line.
It May Not Do Anything
After taking collagen supplements, be prepared for a lack of results as well. There’s always a chance you won’t notice a difference in how you look or feel, no matter how long you’ve been taking them. Doctors who doubt collagen supplements primarily doubt the method. In other words, it’s not entirely clear how well taking collagen orally really works.
If you want to turn back the clock, taking collagen in supplement form isn’t the only answer. There are safer and more affordable ways to get bouncier, healthier skin. As mentioned, a healthy diet is a solid place to start. For instance, foods with copper, vitamin A, and vitamin C increase collagen production. On top of that, topical retinoids, sunscreens, and various serums have years of evidence behind them to support their skin-saving claims.
With all of that said, if you’re eager to give collagen supplements a try, go for it. After all, if it can really improve your bone and joint health, it might be worth a shot. Just be sure to do your research, invest in a trusted brand, start with a low dosage, and be patient with yourself.