Expert Q & A: I keep hearing about collagen. What is it?
Written by Sierra Harper, Mayo Clinic Dietetic Intern
What is collagen?
As the most abundant protein in the body, collagen has numerous benefits. It plays a vital role in skin and hair health and keeping tendons, ligaments, and bones strong.
Is there collagen in foods?
If you are asking this question, you are already thinking in the right direction. If humans have collagen, then animals probably do too, right? Collagen is naturally found only in animal flesh like meat and fish that contain connective tissue. However, a variety of both animal and plant foods contain materials for collagen production in our own bodies. Try including the following foods in your diet to promote collagen production:
- Bone broth
- Organ meats (such as liver)
- Meat, chicken and fish
- Soy products
- Dry beans and legumes
Who could benefit from supplementing with collagen?
Around the age of 25, the body’s ability to make collagen sharply decreases. As one ages, this decrease in collagen production is shown through wrinkling of the skin, hair loss or changes, and aches in joints. Loss of collagen is also accelerated by over-exposure to the sun, over-consumption of alcohol, smoking and lack of exercise. Athletes and active adults, elderly people and those who struggle to meet their protein needs through diet may benefit from collagen supplementation to help promote joint health and to prevent weak tendons and ligaments. Of note, collagen is considered an incomplete protein source (meaning it does not contain all the essential amino acids needed by the body). Do not replace dietary protein with collagen exclusively, as this will lead to deficiency. Collagen supplementation should be in addition to a well-balanced diet.
What to look for in a collagen supplement:
- Ingredients: Single-sourced collagen is from one animal (chicken, fish, beef, egg) while multi-sourced collagen comes from two or more animal sources. Choosing a multi-sourced powder will offer you a wider variety of proteins. Top brands in the industry may also advertise being sourced from grass-fed beef or may be gluten-free.
- Third party certified: Ensure that the supplement uses ‘Good Manufacturing Practice’ (GMP) in the USA. This stamp verifies that the supplement was made using safe, sanitary and truthful manufacturing techniques. Choosing a collagen supplement that is 3rd party tested means that you can guarantee that your supplement is free from harmful ingredients such as metals, solvents, toxic ingredients and banned substances. The 3rd party testing also verifies that the supplement facts label is 100% truthful.
So, do I need to supplement with collagen?
With its natural occurrence in the body and its lack of side effects, it is a safe for most people to incorporate a collagen supplement into their diet. However, more research is needed to assess overall health benefits of supplemental collagen.