Collagen is the body's main structural protein, and supplementing with collagen has various health benefits. If you need a reminder of what is collagen and how it benefits your body, read this article which I wrote just before the collagen hype started.
Much new research on collagen supplementation for ligaments and tendons interested me as I suffered from ongoing tendon issues. The research also excited our Chief team as we saw the opportunity to make a clean, dairy-free and gluten-free protein snack with added benefits for joints (ligaments and tendons), bones and muscle fascia, as well as gut and skin health. So, we launched Australia's first collagen bar.
Over the past few years, collagen has become one of the hottest trends in the world of nutrition, supplements, and snacks, and lots of research has been conducted on collagen benefits for joints, muscle, bones, gut and skin.
Is collagen protein better than other types of protein?
As it happens, the hype came with naysayers calling collagen a fad because it’s an ‘incomplete protein’ and claiming that you can get the benefits from combining the primary amino acids contained in collagen: glycine, hydroxyproline and proline.
According to these ‘experts’, collagen gets broken down into single amino acids in the digestive tract. Therefore, they think it doesn’t matter if you consume specific collagen peptides from animal sources or single amino acids from any source, including plants.
To set the record straight, even food does not get broken into dust, no matter how good your digestion is. In the case of collagen peptides, about 10% of the bioactive collagen peptides remain intact during digestion, enter the bloodstream, and directly stimulate the target cells to produce new collagen.
The other peptides are effectively broken down into amino acids, which the body uses as building blocks for new connective tissue and other purposes. That means that essentially all the nutrients are used. If you want more detail, read this review from 2022 which summarises research on collagen, including how it gets digested and absorbed in the body.
What does the latest research say?
To ensure our perspective on collagen is still correct and supported by the latest research, I read several systematic reviews dated 2020-2022. This is what I found:
A review of the effects of collagen peptide supplementation on body composition, collagen synthesis, and recovery from joint injury and exercise in 2021 reported beneficial effects of supplementation with bovine collagen in reducing joint pain, improving joint function, increasing the length of pain-free strenuous exertion, and reducing the need for alternative therapies, especially when combined with an exercise rehabilitation programme. Based on the studies in this review, supplementing with 5 g–15 g/day doses of collagen at least 1 h before exercise for over 3 months may aid in reducing functional joint pain and improving muscle recovery. The beneficial effects of collagen supplementation take effect after three months or longer, and compliance with the supplementation period is critical.
A systematic review of the effects of hydrolyzed collagen supplementation on skin aging in 2020 showed positive results compared with a placebo. Based on the results, supplementing with hydrolyzed collagen for 90 days effectively reduces skin aging, as it reduces wrinkles and improves skin elasticity and hydration. I found another two reviews on skin collagen and skin health, dated 2021 and 2022, that came to the same conclusion. The reviews emphasised the importance of consuming vitamin C together with the collagen supplement to stimulate collagen synthesis (which is why we include camu camu in our collagen bars as it's a very rich source of vitamin C).
Interestingly, one of the studies mentioned that after ingestion, collagen peptides can remain in the dermis of the skin for up to 14 days, safeguarding skin protection from sunlight and improving moisture retention while helping to repair endogenous elastin and collagen fibres.
So it seems collagen supplementation is worth trying. However, it’s not a miracle solution, and you need to address your diet and lifestyle to reap the benefits. My top tip is avoiding or minimising the main collagen slayers such as a diet high in sugar, regular alcohol consumption, excessive UV exposure, smoking and chronic stress, and to try our collagen bars so you can see for yourself what this is all about.