Every time I scroll through Instagram, I discover new vitamins, superfoods, and supplements that people claim can help with various health and beauty concerns. Social media is often inundated with tons of new wellness trends, and at times, it is difficult to separate real, science-based tips from the fads. One trend that has received a lot of hype as of late are collagen supplements, which are available in both capsules, and powders. But are there any actual health benefits of collagen?
Collagen is one of the most important and plentiful proteins our bodies produce — accounting for 30 percent of the protein in our bodies overall, and 70 percent of the protein in our skin. There are at least sixteen types of collagen that our bodies produce, according to Healthline, and types I, II, III, and IV collagen account for over 90 percent of the collagen in your body. While collagen is commonly recognized for its beauty-boosting properties (aka, it makes your hair, skin, and nails look fab), the naturally-produced protein plays a vital role in your overall health. Dr. John Layke, a plastic and reconstructive surgeon who is the co-founder of Beverly Hills Plastic Surgery Group and Beverly Hills MD Cosmeceuticals, tells Bustle, “Collagen is the main structural protein in the extracellular matrix (ECM) of connective tissue, including bone, cartilage, ligaments, hair and skin. Healthy collagen means healthier joints, tissues, and overall wellbeing, as it is involved in gut, cardiac and musculoskeletal function.”
Because it is a fibrous protein, collagen plays such an important role in strengthening and thickening dense connective tissues — the type of tissue that forms ligaments and tendons, and around major organs like your kidneys. The four main types of collagen each serve a specific function: Type I is typically found in bones, ligaments, tendons, and skin, while Type II collagen is found primarily in cartilage. Type III collagen is a thinner form of the protein, but is vital to internal organ function and your skin. Lastly, Type IV is the main collagen found in the basement membrane, a unique extracellular matrix that is “regulator of cell behavior,” and helps blood vessels function properly.
Allison Webster, PhD, RD, who serves as the Associate Director, Nutrition Communications for the The International Food Information Council (IFIC) Foundation, tells Bustle, “We naturally lose collagen as we age, but losses can be minimized by a following a healthy diet, having an active lifestyle, not smoking, and protecting your skin from the sun.”
Leading a balanced lifestyle with a nutritious diet can definitely aid your body in collagen production, but is taking additional collagen supplements to up your collagen production actually beneficial to your health? In short, the efficacy of your collagen powder or pill is still up in the air. Dr. Layke says that while some medical professionals believe ingesting collagen orally through supplements can boost hair, skin, and nail health, he adds “it is difficult to assess the benefits of ingesting collagen because many forms are broken down into amino acids.”
Moreover, Dr. Webster explains there is simply not enough science yet behind the claims that collagen supplements are a real groundbreaker in beauty and health. “However trendy they may be, there is no strong scientific evidence to support that collagen supplements — in any form — can treat or reverse the natural aging process in hair, skin, or nails,” she says. “It’s also important to remember that these supplements are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, and manufacturers don’t have to prove that they’re effective or safe before putting them on the market.”
Even if the jury is still out on the effectiveness of collagen supplements, there are ways to ensure your body’s collagen production is supported. “Our bodies are entirely capable of making collagen on our own. It’s much simpler — and less expensive — to get protein from our diet instead of an expensive collagen pill or powder,” says Dr. Webster. According to Livestrong.com, foods rich in collagen or collagen-aiding amino acids — such as dairy products, meat, beans, and certain fresh produce — can help your body make more of the important protein. Additionally, Dr. Layke tells Bustle injecting collagen into a specific area is still the most tried and true way to directly receive benefits from the protein when it’s produced outside your body.
All in all, scientists, nutritionists, and doctors still don’t quite know if taking collagen supplements truly leads to any health and beauty benefits. But, if you like incorporating collagen into your daily vitamins, it won’t necessarily hurt either.