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A Deeper Look at Collagen Supplements

Along with many other “trendy” supplements, collagen (usually in the form of a powder or bone broth) has been popping up along shelves everywhere over the last year or so. And while you might not have heard the word “collagen” before seeing it in the supplements aisle, you’re actually very familiar with it, because collagen is the most abundant structural protein in your body. Found in skin and other connective tissues like ligaments and tendons, collagen makes up about 1/3 of the protein in the human body. But before throwing that box of bone broth in your shopping cart, let’s take a closer look to see if this supplement could help improve your health and wellbeing.

“Collagen fibers start to break down in our early to mid twenties, so the idea behind taking dietary collagen supplements is that it could help repair our bone matrix and joint surfaces.”

While it might seem like a trend, collagen supplements actually date back to 1981, when the FDA approved bovine collagen to be used for cosmetic injection. For decades, collagen has been used to smooth wrinkles and improve things like skin complexion and hair health. And its proven to be very good at doing this job, but how did we transition to using collagen as a dietary supplement? Lately, improvements in technology have allowed production of ingestible forms of collagen supplementation like powders and bone broths, which have their roots in Chinese medicine dating back over 2,500 years.

Collagen fibers start to break down in our early to mid twenties, so the idea behind taking dietary collagen supplements is that it could help repair our bone matrix and joint surfaces.  This might prevent some musculoskeletal issues that are common with aging.  If you’ve ever had achy knees, this might sound like a worthwhile investment.  However, it’s not quite that simple. Collagen is a protein that is produced from a long and complicated chain of reactions that happen within the body. When we consume collagen in its pure form, digestion breaks it down into its individual amino acids, so there is no guarantee that it will actually end up being built back up into collagen proteins.  Therefore, collagen supplements are most likely not any more effective than consuming adequate amounts of protein that can also supply the essential amino acids necessary to allow our bodies to produce collagen.

Related: Protein Intake for Best Results

Further, when taking a look at the research, there are few if any studies that have even looked at, let alone supported, the idea that collagen supplements can have an effect on musculoskeletal health. And as with all supplements, keep in mind that the FDA does not require that supplements be effective or have accurate labels to be put on shelves, they only have to prove they don’t do any harm.

Don’t worry though, all is not lost in the battle to keep our skeletons happy and healthy, because there are a variety of foods that have been proven to boost collagen production within our bodies; including red, orange, and dark green vegetables, berries, fish, citrus, lean proteins (egg, nuts, etc.), white tea, and garlic.  Ensuring that we’re eating these foods and getting sufficient amounts of other vitamins that support bone and joint health like vitamin D and calcium may be a better first step than jumping on the collagen bandwagon. However, if you have dietary restrictions or struggle to eat enough protein throughout the day, collagen supplements might be a good choice for you, just know that they’re not the only option and make sure to do your research first. Email me at jay@crossfitslipstream.com or set up your monthly consult to talk with one of your coaches about the best nutrition plan to help you reach your goals.

Related: 3 Key Elements of a Successful Nutrition Plan

–Jay Alexander