With physical training, collagen supplements may promote joint health, muscle recovery, and body composition.
Studies support collagen supplements for anti-aging effects in cosmetic dermatology.
Although collagen supplements are generally safe, clinicians should ask about supplement use and warn patients about the lack of industry regulation.
Patients look to their physicians for guidance on the latest health trends, including dietary supplements and anti-aging products. And the increasingly popular supplement collagen appeals to a wide range of healthcare consumers. It’s easy to see why.
Collagen supplements promise a lot of benefits. But do the claims for healthier joints and more youthful skin stand up to scrutiny?
Here’s what providers and patients need to know.
What are collagen supplements?
Collagen is the body’s most abundant protein. It’s responsible for strong and resilient connective tissues, according to an article from the Harvard School of Public Health.
Although a varied diet provides the building blocks to make your own collagen, supplement manufacturers have successfully capitalized on collagen’s known importance by isolating it and selling it in powders, pills, and health drinks. You can find supplements made with collagen peptides or in the form of hydrolyzed collagen. In addition, some collagen supplements are formulated with amino acids or vitamins and minerals.
Potential benefits of collagen
British researchers published a 2021 review on the impact of collagen supplements when paired with exercise.
With regard to resistance training, they found that elderly sarcopenic men gained more significant improvements in body composition with collagen plus resistance training vs resistance training alone.
Other studies supported collagen use to improve joint pain, joint function, and muscle recovery after exercise.
There’s also a strong interest in collagen supplements to reduce wrinkles. A 2022 review evaluated 12 randomized, controlled studies on collagen’s anti-aging effects, focusing on the use of oral collagen and collagen-containing skin creams. The conclusion was that “oral collagen supplements improve skin elasticity, turgor, and hydration and reduce skin wrinkling and roughness.” Regarding the administration method, the review author said that “neither oral nor topical collagen is superior to the other; rather, both types reduce or delay skin aging.”
Although the author felt collagen supplements had earned a place in cosmetic dermatology, more robust evidence is needed.
For one thing, there are differences in the weight of collagen absorbed when it is given orally as opposed to topically. Larger and longer-term studies, the author wrote, would allow a more comprehensive understanding of the potential of these two types of collagen.
Supplement concerns and real-food alternatives
Some of the issues with collagen supplements are common to the supplement industry as a whole. Lack of regulation and quality testing makes it difficult for people to know if they’re actually getting what they’re paying for.
To help mitigate this issue, you can advise patients to look for third-party testing from the following agencies:
Fortunately, most collagen supplements are relatively benign, with no established toxicities or overdose limits. But if you’re wary of the high cost and potentially low return of collagen supplements, you can suggest other sources of collagen.
Collagen is a natural component of red meat, fish, and gelatin. In addition, high-protein foods provide the amino acids necessary for the body to make collagen.
Perhaps one of the most popular nonsupplement sources of collagen is bone broth. Bone broth can be made by simmering animal bones (usually chicken bones) for several hours to extract the collagen-containing gelatin and small amounts of minerals. Bone broth has earned a health halo, notes Harvard School of Public Health, that’s helped skyrocket its predicted market value to $3 billion by 2024. However, concerns about heavy metals and questionable nutritional value leave many lingering skeptics.
What this means for you
Clinicians can get in the habit of asking their patients about dietary supplement use at every visit. Collagen supplements may offer some benefits for more youthful skin and joint health. However, patients should be advised that supplements cannot replace healthy lifestyle habits like using sun protection, not smoking, and doing resistance training.