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Are Collagen Supplements a Scam? Here’s the Truth

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FACT CHECKED
  Published on August 6th, 2021
  Reading time: 4 minutes
  Last modified May 13th, 2022
collagen supplement pills and powder

Collagen powders, drinks, and pills seem to be the latest craze. The multi-billion-dollar collagen industry promises that these supplements will transform your hair, skin, and nails, but does research back this claim? Are collagen supplements a scam or is there scientific validity behind this supplement?

What Is Collagen?

Collagen is the most abundant protein in the human body. It is found throughout connective tissue and plays many important roles in the body. Collagen is essential for skin structure and blood clotting, as well as acting as a building block for bones, skin, ligaments, tendons, and muscles. Collagen functions as the “glue” that holds everything together. [1]

There are 4 major types of collagen. There differences and roles are outlined below.

 

  • Type 1 Collagen- the majority of collagen throughout your body is type 1. Bones, skin, tendons, ligaments, connective tissue, fibrous cartilage, and teeth are all made from this type of collagen.
  • Type 2 Collagen- this type of collagen makes up elastic cartilage in the joints.
  • Type 3 Collagen- this collagen acts as structural support for the organs, muscles, and arteries
  • Type 4 Collagen- this type of collagen is located in the skin (in the basement membrane) and is important for stability
different types of collagen

What Are Collagen Supplements Made From?

Collagen supplements are made from animal products, specifically the bones, hooves, hides, and joints. Vegan collagen supplements are made from genetically modified bacteria P. pastoris and yeast.

Is Collagen a Scam?

The unfortunate reality is that collagen supplements are made from collagen proteins. As collagen is digested in the body, the proteins are broken down into amino acids. These amino acids are ingested but are not reconstructed back into the proper sequence to reform collagen.

This means that even if you ingest collagen, you are not actually supplementing your body with additional collagen to improve hair, skin, or nail health.

But Collagen Supplements Can Still Help Your Skin, Hair, and Nails

There are a few reasons why collagen supplementation may still be recommended, even if it is not directly shuttled to your skin, hair, and nails like you may have been led to believe. Diet is directly correlated to skin health. [2] [3] 

Collagen is still a protein supplement, after all. Research shows that individuals consuming higher amounts of protein exhibit improved skin quality in terms of hydration, skin elasticity, and thickness. Dermis thickness is directly correlated with signs of aging and increased protein intake minimizes dermis wasting. [2] [3] [4] [5]

Collagen peptides are composed of high quantities of the amino acids proline and glycine. Proline increases collagen synthesis in dermal fibroblasts. Research also shows that proline protects against UV-induced aging. [6] [7] [8]

Glycine is the simplest amino acid, has also been shown to directly increase collagen production as well. [9]

 

Collagen for Gut Health

Collagen supplementation can be beneficial for more than just skin health. Research suggests collagen may be beneficial for gut health as well. [10]

Collagen plays a vital role in tissue repair when damaged or injured. Diseases of the GI system, like IBD and Crohn’s disease, result in the damaged intestinal lining. Collagen plays a key role in repairing and maintaining cellular structure. [11] 

The Bottom Line

Collagen is not a miracle supplement that is magically transported to your skin and will cure all of your beauty concerns. While collagen ingestion does not remain intact and functions as collagen in your body, it is broken down into amino acids. Glycine and proline, the two main amino acids that makeup collagen, have both been shown to increase collagen production and may potentially improve hair, skin, and nail health. Additionally, collagen may be beneficial for gut health.

That being said, other protein supplements, as well as foods high in protein may yield the same results. Grass-fed meats, bone broth, and even whey protein powders yield glycine and proline, as well as many other beneficial amino acids. [12]

Collagen supplementation is by no means necessary and you may yield the same benefits from consuming other protein-rich foods or supplements. [13] Collagen supplements tend to market towards the female population who may be persuaded away from other protein powders, bone broths, and other supplements that traditionally target a male audience. Collagen powders also tend to be unflavored, low in calories, and simple to add to smoothies or shakes.

Whether or not you choose to supplement with collagen is up to you are your needs. Increasing your daily protein content yields multiple health benefits, beyond just skin health.

References

1.

Ricard-Blum S. (2011). The collagen family. Cold Spring Harbor perspectives in biology3(1), a004978. https://doi.org/10.1101/cshperspect.a004978

2.

Hew, J., Solon-Biet, S. M., McMahon, A. C., Ruohonen, K., Raubenheimer, D., Ballard, J. W., Le Couteur, D. G., Nicholls, C., Li, Z., Maitz, P. K., Wang, Y., & Simpson, S. J. (2016). The Effects of Dietary Macronutrient Balance on Skin Structure in Aging Male and Female Mice. PloS one11(11), e0166175. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0166175

3.

Cao, C., Xiao, Z., Wu, Y., & Ge, C. (2020). Diet and Skin Aging-From the Perspective of Food Nutrition. Nutrients12(3), 870. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu12030870

4.

Bolke, L., Schlippe, G., Gerß, J., & Voss, W. (2019). A Collagen Supplement Improves Skin Hydration, Elasticity, Roughness, and Density: Results of a Randomized, Placebo-Controlled, Blind Study. Nutrients11(10), 2494. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu11102494

5.

Choi FD, Sung CT, Juhasz ML, Mesinkovsk NA. Oral Collagen Supplementation: A Systematic Review of Dermatological Applications. J Drugs Dermatol. 2019 Jan 1;18(1):9-16. PMID: 30681787.

6.

Gauza-Włodarczyk M, Kubisz L, Włodarczyk D. Amino acid composition in determination of collagen origin and assessment of physical factors effects. Int J Biol Macromol. 2017 Nov;104(Pt A):987-991. doi: 10.1016/j.ijbiomac.2017.07.013. Epub 2017 Jul 4. PMID: 28687386.

7.

Park K. (2015). Role of micronutrients in skin health and function. Biomolecules & therapeutics23(3), 207–217. https://doi.org/10.4062/biomolther.2015.003

8.

Karna E, Miltyk W, Wołczyński S, Pałka JA. The potential mechanism for glutamine-induced collagen biosynthesis in cultured human skin fibroblasts. Comp Biochem Physiol B Biochem Mol Biol. 2001 Aug;130(1):23-32. doi: 10.1016/s1096-4959(01)00400-6. PMID: 11470441.

9.

de Paz-Lugo P, Lupiáñez JA, Meléndez-Hevia E. High glycine concentration increases collagen synthesis by articular chondrocytes in vitro: acute glycine deficiency could be an important cause of osteoarthritis. Amino Acids. 2018 Oct;50(10):1357-1365. doi: 10.1007/s00726-018-2611-x. Epub 2018 Jul 13. PMID: 30006659; PMCID: PMC6153947.

10.

Chen Q, Chen O, Martins IM, Hou H, Zhao X, Blumberg JB, Li B. Collagen peptides ameliorate intestinal epithelial barrier dysfunction in immunostimulatory Caco-2 cell monolayers via enhancing tight junctions. Food Funct. 2017 Mar 22;8(3):1144-1151. doi: 10.1039/c6fo01347c. PMID: 28174772.

11.

Graham MF, Drucker DE, Diegelmann RF, Elson CO. Collagen synthesis by human intestinal smooth muscle cells in culture. Gastroenterology. 1987 Feb;92(2):400-5. doi: 10.1016/0016-5085(87)90134-x. PMID: 3792777.

12.

Gorissen, S., Crombag, J., Senden, J., Waterval, W., Bierau, J., Verdijk, L. B., & van Loon, L. (2018). Protein content and amino acid composition of commercially available plant-based protein isolates. Amino acids50(12), 1685–1695. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00726-018-2640-5

13.

Paul, C., Leser, S., & Oesser, S. (2019). Significant Amounts of Functional Collagen Peptides Can Be Incorporated in the Diet While Maintaining Indispensable Amino Acid Balance. Nutrients11(5), 1079. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu11051079

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