You have questions about collagen, and we love answering them. Read on for answers to where to find collagen in your diet, what age you should start taking collagen, and whether it’s a no-no to mix your collagen in hot coffee. Plus, we’ll clear up any confusion (once and for all!) about whether collagen actually gets absorbed by your body.
Q: If collagen is naturally occurring, why do we need to supplement with it?
A: Collagen is the most abundant protein in our bodies. Collagen is found in hair, skin, nails, ligaments, cartilage, tendons, bones and within blood vessel walls—all what’s known as “connective tissue” in the body. Beginning in our 20s, however, our bodies start producing less collagen, making it important to add it as a supplement.
Q: What is the best way to increase collagen?
A: Bone broth can be a great source of collagen, but there are two things to consider if we want to maximize its benefit. First, we want to make sure we’re taking bone broth on a consistent basis. Second, we want to make sure it has consistent amounts of the amino acids that have been shown to be markers of collagen in the body. For that reason, we recommend that you take a collagen supplement because you can get a standardized amount that’s proven to provide benefit, and it’s easy to take every day.
Q: What about bone broth supplements?
A: Studies show that commercially available bone broth powders show huge variability in collagen precursor amino acid content. Research shows that bone broth lacks consistency in the amounts of amino acids that are markers of collagen content (hydroxyproline and hydroxylysine) and those necessary for collagen production (glycine, lysine, proline, and leucine). Unless a product is “spiked” with extra leucine, bone broth does not provide enough leucine for collagen production.
Q: What age should someone start taking collagen?
A: Since our bodies begin to produce less collagen in our 20s, we’d recommend taking a collagen supplement during that time. Many young adult athletes choose collagen to aid in recovery.
Q: Do hydrolyzed collagen peptides make it through the digestive acids of the stomach in order to benefit the skin?
A: This is a hotly debated topic, but researchers have found that the key peptides within collagen are absorbed intact from the GI tract and delivered to target tissue such as the skin. Studies in humans have found that the peptides in collagen peak in the blood after 2 hours but remain significantly elevated even after 4 hours. These small peptide units from oral collagen supplementation then provide the raw materials for human collagen production—for skin benefits like increased hydration, reduced visible signs of aging, and more.
Q: I’ve heard that you should only mix collagen powder with cooler liquids (i.e. not hot coffee).
A: This is false. Hot water is one of the best known—and healthiest—ways to extract collagen peptides from their source. For example, when fish scales are heated in distilled water at 70 degrees, the collagen yield is only 6%… but when fish scales are heated to 100 degrees, the yield is 30%. So keep on mixing your collagen in your hot liquid of choice!
Q: Do collagen supplements really work, or do the collagen creams work better?
A: Despite the rationale for its use in skincare products, collagen is too big of a molecule to pass through the epidermis (the outermost layer of skin), let alone reach its target dermal layer. This is why most “anti-aging” topical creams are made with the individual components of collagen, like glycosaminoglycans (or GAGs) and hyaluronic acid, and not collagen.
Q: What’s the best source of collagen?
A: The most important factor when choosing collagen is its absorbability. For optimal absorption, look for hydrolyzed collagen (aka collagen peptides). Look for a dose of collagen that’s 7-10 grams (most of the studies on collagen’s benefits have been in the 5-10 gram serving range). Finally, look for a collagen that mixes well and is easy to take because it’s important to take collagen every day to see the benefits!
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Alcock RD, et al. Plasma Amino Acid Concentrations After the Ingestion of Dairy and Collagen Proteins, in Healthy Active Males. Front Nutr. 2019 Oct 15;6:163
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