Collagen is one of the wellness world’s buzziest foods. But why are people putting what essentially amounts to ground up animal hides, bones or fish scales (sorry, but it’s the #truth) in their coffees and smoothies? To get to the bottom of the benefits of collagen, we turned to experts in the area: Dr. Josh Axe, DNM, CNS, DC and founder of Ancient Nutrition and DrAxe.com; Kurt Seidensticker, CEO and Founder of Vital Proteins; and Taryn Forrelli, the Resident Nutritionist for OLLY Nutrition.
Keep reading to learn more about the benefits of collagen.
"Collagen is this pretty incredible protein found naturally in our bodies that acts as a structural support for your skin, hair, nails, joints—even your gut. The problem is, we just don't produce enough of it as we get older, which is why making it a part of your daily diet is so important," says Seidensticker. He recommends taking around 20 grams of collagen a day consistently in order to see and feel the benefits.
Yep, you read that correctly—as you get older, your body starts to produce less collagen.
"The loss of collagen can affect many aspects of health, and adding a collagen protein supplement into your diet is a great way to minimize the symptoms caused by a decrease in collagen," says Axe.
"Collagen may also have some benefits when it comes to digestive health," says Axe. "It’s believed that collagen can also help strengthen and seal the protective lining of the digestive tract." What that means for you: It could help prevent issues like IBS and leaky gut syndrome, according to studies.
According to Axe, collagen can help relieve joint pain—and even help reduce the deterioration of your joints as you age.
In fact, collagen loss in his joints was the reason Seidensticker started Vital Proteins. "I created this company back in 2014 because I suffered from collagen loss in my joints due to years of running. It's pretty amazing to look back now and see how profound an impact adding collagen to my diet has had," he says. "It helped improve the health of my joints—it's helped me recover from my runs more quickly."
"Starting at age 25, the rate of collagen synthesis decreases at a rate of about 1.5 percent per year," says Forrelli. "By the time you are 45 years old, skin collagen levels may have dropped nearly 30 percent." (Cue the screaming face emoji.)
"Collagen’s biggest enemy, however, is sunlight. Ultraviolet rays from the sun activate an enzyme called collagenase that essentially destroys collagen, and just a little bit of exposure can keep the enzyme active for days," she adds.
Okay, before you totally freak out, there is good news for your skin, "Clinical studies show that oral consumption of collagen can help boost and replenish skin collagen, improving skin firmness and smoothness for a more youthful appearance," she says. Just make sure that the collagen is in its peptide form, she cautions. This is essentially a smaller version of the protein molecule that's bioavailable (read: easily absorbed by your body).
Wait, there's more: "Collagen can help improve skin health by boosting skin moisture, enhancing elasticity and reducing cellulite and stretch marks," says Axe. Okay, wait, go back to that cellulite thing. Cellulite is notoriously difficult to get rid of, but one study found that the appearance of cellulite decreased among women who took a collagen supplement.
"Studies suggest that collagen may also strengthen your hair, nails and teeth and may be effective for preventing hair loss as well," adds Axe.
So, how can you actually incorporate collagen into your diet? A high-quality supplement is a good place to start. We like Vital Proteins' Matcha Collagen because it gives us an energy boost as well as our daily dose of collagen, thanks to the antioxidant rich Matcha green tea. They also have unflavored Collagen Peptides that easily dissolve into your coffee or smoothie.
We're also fans of Dr. Axe's Multi-Collagen Protein, which contains five types of collagen from four food sources (chicken, egg, bovine and fish). Each type of collagen helps with different areas of your body.
OLLY Nutrition's Vibrant Skin Gummy also contains marine collagen, along with skin-nourishing hyaluronic acid and sea buckthorn.