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Published on February 04, 2020

woman looking at computer eating collagen bar and drink

Is Dietary Collagen the Next Big Thing?

Although it is not being used much anymore as an injectable to plump our lips, collagen is becoming a popular oral supplement and it is being added to protein bars, teas and even coffee creamers. It is expected that U.S. consumers will spend $293 million on collagen in 2020.

What You Need to Know

Collagen is a protein, accounting for about 30% of total protein in a human body. It is often considered the glue holding the body together. Although there have been 29 types of collagen identified, the human body is made up of primarily three types (types I, II, and III). Type I is common in bones, ligaments, tendons and skin; type II is more common in cartilage; while type III is found in skin, blood vessels and internal organs.

Collagen supplementation has been associated with improvements in skin, arthritis symptoms, wound healing and muscle wasting.

Although that sounds great there are a few things to keep in mind. Many experts warn that the research is in its infancy, and of the small studies that exist many were funded by the industry. It is also crucial to keep in mind that collagen cannot be digested and utilized whole; the body breaks it down into smaller collagen peptides. It’s impossible to know how the body will use a collagen peptide. It may turn it back into collagen but it might also turn it into one of the proteins that make up the other 70% of our bodies’ total protein.

For example I might buy a collagen sourced from fish which is advertised as improving skin (higher levels of type I collagen) because I want to vanish the fine lines from holiday stress and improve skin dryness from a Midwest winter. However, unless my body also thinks fine lines and dry skin are the priority, that collagen could be used to do something completely different (like try to restore some of my GI organs from holiday eating).

Collagen Without Supplements

Although things like pigs’ feet, shark fins and donkey skin have been consumed due to their high levels of collagen you can stick with the common cuts of meat (beef, pork, turkey, chicken, fish, etc.) and still get a decent amount of collagen. It is also prevalent in egg whites and bone broth.

Not to be gross but the animal parts typically used to make collagen supplements include hooves, hides, bones and nerve tissue which can be higher in contaminants and heavy metals. If you do decide to go the supplement route look for companies that get their bones and tissue from cage-free, free-range and antibiotic free sources and stick to trusted brands with third party testing completed by NSF or USP.

Lauren Cornay, RD, LN, is a registered dietitian at Avera Heart Hospital

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