Benefits of Collagen, From Your Skin to Your Gut
Ingestible collagen supplements are trending among experts and consumers alike.
Ingestible collagen supplements are trending among experts and consumers alike. Everything we digest is broken down into its components, and studies seem to suggest that our bodies can use collagen’s components to bolster its existing stores. Because our natural collagen levels decline with age, many have been incorporating collagen supplements into their diets.
“It doesn’t take much for collagen levels to naturally begin to diminish,” says Dr. Josh Axe, DNM, CNS, founder of Ancient Nutrition. “Truth be told, after a person reaches his or her late 20’s or so, natural collagen production begins to slow—and can slow significantly in the decades after that.” He points out that most diets possess absolutely no collagen in them, which is why he is such an advocate of collagen supplementation.
In the beauty industry, collagen supplements are lauded for their anti-aging skincare benefits, as well as benefits for nails and hair. But our overall health also stands to benefit through optimal gut health, improved muscle mass, lessened joint pain, and reduced bone loss.
Below, experts explain the benefits of ingestible collagen, from the skin to the gut.
What is collagen?
“Collagen is a protein made up of building blocks called amino acids, and is so important that it makes up approximately 30% of all the proteins in the body,” says Axe. “To put it simply, collagen is quite literally the glue that holds our bodies together — everything from our joints, bones, ligaments, and tendons, all the way down to the cellular level.”
Animal-sourced collagen is commonly derived from chicken, bovine (i.e., cow), and marine (i.e., fish) sources, sourced from hooves, hides, bones, and connective tissues. If you’re wondering about plant-based options, the short answer is that no true “vegan collagen” exists. That being said, botanically-sourced blends to support the creation of collagen in the body are available, some of which come from algae. “There are vegan proteins that can be broken down into amino acid building blocks for synthesizing collagen,” board-certified dermatologist Hadley King, MD, FAAD, says of vegan collagen options.
Benefits for the Skin:
King describes a 2019 review of randomized controlled trials using oral collagen supplements which found that collagen supplements aided with skin elasticity, moisture, dermal collagen density, and wound-healing. That being said, the exact impact on the skin specifically (relative to other stores of collagen in the body) is still unknown. “Collagen, whether vegan or animal-based, is broken down in the gastrointestinal tract into amino acids and peptides,” says board-certified dermatopathologist Michelle Hure, MD, owner of OC Skin Lab. “It’s these building blocks that are absorbed by the gut and used to make proteins in the body. Whether these amino acids and peptides are used to make collagen in the skin versus other areas in the body has not been entirely proven.”
Naturopathic doctor Stacy Shillington, ND, who specializes in using naturopathic medicine to improve and treat the skin, says, “[Collagen supplements] help stimulate the body to make additional collagen, along with elastin and fibrillan, proteins that keep the skin hydrated and wrinkle-free.” She explains that research indicates results will begin to take effect on the skin after eight to twelve weeks.
Benefits for the Gut:
Collagen is also a fantastic supplement for maintaining a healthy gut, a cornerstone of our overall health. “To be honest, I believe all health begins in the gut,” says Axe. “More and more studies have determined the major influence of gut bacteria — which outnumber our bodily cells — have on the quality of our health. In short, when our gut and gut bacteria are healthy, then we are healthy.”
Plus, there’s a medically-verifiable link between gut health and the skin — among other things. “We really are what we eat,” says Hure. “Studies have shown that ingested collagen can affect the growth and selection of more beneficial intestinal normal flora (bacteria), which directly influences many other organs including the skin.”
Some experts also believe that collagen can aid with gut healing, too. “Collagen contains high levels of the amino acid glycine, which can be helpful when it comes to healing the gut — especially ‘leaky gut,'” says Shillington. The benefit could potentially be relayed by decreasing ‘intestinal permeability,’ a condition that Axe explains is characterized by loose binding between the cells of your intestinal lining (which, he also points out, is partly made of collagen). This can lead to the condition known as “leaky gut syndrome,” which causes you to lose vital nutrients from food on the way to your stomach, and become at-risk of leaking toxins directly into your bloodstreams, with a long list of health concerns that can result.
How to Select Your Collagen:
Our experts agree that not all collagen supplements on the market relay equal benefits. When selecting your collagen supplement, they provided us with specific tips to choose the best product.
First, look for collagen that comes from organically-raised sources, whether chicken, bovine, fish, or eggshell-membrane derived. If it is a bovine source, King emphasizes that both grass-fed and organic options are the best picks. “Look for labels that are certified by the American Grassfed Association (AGA),” King says. “This ensures all certified animals are only raised in open grass pastures, animals are free to graze rather than being confined in cramped living spaces, [and] are guaranteed antibiotic- and growth-hormone free, born and raised on family farms in the United States.”
Shillington also recommends shopping for hydrolyzed collagen supplements. “[This means that] the collagen molecules are smaller and more efficiently absorbed into the body, which will yield better results,” Shillington says.
It is also important to ensure that you are purchasing your supplements from a reputable, trustworthy company that is intentional about the sourcing of its ingredients.
Shop our favorite collagen blends below.
Ancient Nutrition Multi-Collagen Protein, $18.95
This fermented collagen blend boasts five different forms of collagen (Types I, II, III, V, X) from four different sources (chicken, bovine, fish, and eggshell membrane). This collagen supplement can cite skin, hair, and joint benefits in a matter of weeks as evidenced from clinical trials.
FURTHER FOOD VEGAN BEAUTY, $23.99
This new launch uses six plant-based, food ingredients to maximize the body’s collagen production, including natural sources of vitamins C, E, and aloe vera. It’s also sugar-free, gluten-free, dairy-free, and lab-tested for quality, purity, and potency.
THE BEAUTY CHEF COLLAGEN INNER BEAUTY BOOST, $50
Beauty fans can look into this collagen-promoting, probiotic-rich liquid that can be mixed with your beverage with ease. The company emphasizes gut health, incorporating bio-fermented fruits and berries providing powerful antioxidant support. Hint: Try it with sparkling water.
BareOrganics Beauty Superfood Water Enhancer, $4.99
Each USDA-certified organic, gluten-free packet contains collagen types I, II, and III, as well as proprietary blends of protein and beautifying antioxidants that can be absorbed in cold or hot water.
COPINA CO. MATCHA BEAUTY, $29.90
The vegan, non-GMO, and gluten-free collagen-supporting blend incorporates antioxidant-packed matcha for energy, vitamin C-rich amla, tremella mushroom extract for elasticity, and hydrating hyaluronic acid. Hint: For a calming alternative, try their Cacao Calm Beauty + Aswagandha.
WHIMSY OFFICIAL GLOW GETTER COLLAGEN BLEND, $49
Double-ground for higher bio-availability, these collagen-promoting superfoods also incorporate Rhodiola, an adaptogen that helps with focus, hormone-balancing maca, and blue pea flower, a source of vitamins A, C, and D.
VITAL PROTEINS MARINE COLLAGEN, $36
Made from wild-caught whitefish, this unflavored collagen powder can be added right to your coffee or smoothie in the morning.