There’s been a lot of buzz lately about collagen peptides. Me being the curious nutrition student that I am, I wanted to learn more about what they are and why everyone is so interested in them. After doing some research, I felt like I understood a little bit more about what collagen peptides are.
So what exactly are collagen peptides? Basically, collagen is a structural protein that is found in humans and animals. It is responsible for forming connective tissue, and therefore, holding things together within the body. Collagen peptides are just hydrolyzed collagen, meaning they are collagen just broken down into small pieces, making them easier to dissolve. The collagen peptides we can get at the store have been extracted from animal hides and other connective tissues. These animals are usually cows, but can come from other sources as well.
So why have we suddenly decided that it’s a good idea to consume this stuff? Well, as we age, our body produces less collagen, which explains things like decreased skin elasticity, wrinkles, and joint stiffness. So it seems like a logical solution is to replace this lost collagen by ingesting more, right? Maybe, and many people seem to think it’s worth a shot. But I was still a little skeptical, especially since the research to back this product is so limited and it’s so new to market.
After looking into all of this, I didn’t really feel like I could definitively say whether or not I would recommend collagen peptides. So I took it upon myself to ask some experts, specifically Registered Dietitians. I asked them, “Do you believe that taking collagen peptide supplements is beneficial for hair, skin, nails, tendons, ligaments, and joints?” Here’s what they had to say.
Monica Reinagel, MS, LD
Nutrition Over Easy.com, Nutrition Diva Podcast
“Although it’s true that we tend to have less collagen in our skin and joints as we age, it’s not necessarily because we don’t have enough building blocks to make more. More likely, it’s that our aging DNA simply doesn’t build new proteins as fast as it used to. Imagine a factory full of aging workers who can’t build widgets as quickly as they did when they were younger. Bringing more and more raw materials into the factory isn’t going to make your elderly workers move any faster. Likewise, loading up the body with extra collagen doesn’t necessarily translate into younger-looking skin or less creaky knees.
A healthy diet, including adequate protein, is important to healthy aging. You can also help slow the loss of collagen from skin by protecting it from UV radiation. To that end, I think a good quality sunscreen is probably a better investment than collagen supplements”
Stephanie McKercher, RDN
“We need more studies to fully understand the potential benefits of collagen. Some studies indicate this structural protein could help decrease joint pain and swelling, but any effects seem minimal. Collagen may be even less effective for people who’re taking immunosuppressant medications. For healthy hair, skin, and nails, I generally recommend staying hydrated and eating mostly whole foods with an emphasis on seasonal fruits and vegetables.”
Jennifer House, MSc, RD
“Skin loses elasticity as we age. Partially because of decreasing collagen. So it makes sense that taking collagen supplements might improve the look and feel of our skin right?
Research has shown that collagen supplements can improve at least elasticity of the skin. Yet, physiologically the collagen supplements don’t automatically transport collagen directly into our skin and hair. Like any protein, it is broken down into separate amino acids and then built back up to piece together almost all parts of our body!
Collagen is high in protein, so it may just be the extra dietary protein intake that increases collagen in our skin, rather than the collagen supplement itself.”
Natalie Rizzo, MS, RD
“There is some research that collagen supplements are beneficial for skin and joints. As a matter of fact, I’ve told my mom to take them because she has bad arthritis in her hands. However, collagen supplements are quickly broken down by the body, so it’s important to make sure you buy hydrolyzed collagen, which means the molecular bonds in collagen has been broken down into 19 amino acids. Research has found that this form of collagen is about 85% absorbable by the bloodstream.
Research has found that collagen helps contribute to skin elasticity, which may reduce the signs of wrinkles. And it’s a major part of the tendons and ligaments, so research shows that supplementing with collagen can reduce the pain associated with arthritis. Collagen is naturally found in meat, so supplementing with it isn’t 100% necessary, but it’s worth a shot!”
Sharon Palmer, RDN
“I don’t believe there is enough evidence to support the recommendations for taking collagen supplements for health benefits, such as hair, skin, nails, joints, and muscles.”
Alexis Joseph, MS, RD, LD
Hummusapien.com, Co-Owner of Alchemy Juice Cafe
“I don’t have anything against collagen, but I also haven’t seen much evidence to back the health claims. I don’t use it personally. I call it the coconut oil of 2017. It’s got tons of coverage on social media this year as the latest must-have superfood, quite honestly thanks to some of the best influencer marketing strategies I’ve ever seen.”
According to these dietitians, the jury is still out on whether or not collagen peptides can actually improve hair, skin, nails, etc. Many mentioned the same thing that I noticed when doing research: there simply isn’t enough research out there to be sure one way or another. This is the case for so many other products on the market, that tend to cost a lot of money. Every once in a while, something like this comes along and has revolutionary impact. But if we’re being realistic, most of these products come and go, without making any improvements on health whatsoever. I personally will not be running to the store to buy collagen peptides anytime soon. Maybe one day, when the research is more conclusive I will. Until then, it’s up to you to decide whether or not collagen peptides are worth investing in.