Collagen 101 — Why and How to Take This Super Supplement
by Catherine Morris | December 30, 2020, updated 6 months ago
Collagen sales soared this year as the trendy supplement hit headlines—endorsed by celebrities from the Kardashian clan to Jennifer Aniston. While most of the mainstream talk revolves around collagen's ability to keep skin young and supple, those of us in the wellness community know that this protein does so much more than make our skin glow.
Why Take Collagen?
Collagen is a protein that keeps our body moving, and boosts tissue elasticity and strength. It's the building block of our connective tissues, and the glue holding us together. If our bodies are constantly under construction, collagen is the scaffolding.
Collagen declines as we age, starting in our twenties, and that process speeds up if we have unhealthy habits, a poor diet, or too much stress, so it's a good idea to consider supplementing as we get older.
Collagen has an anti-aging effect on hair, skin and nails, but it's also great for protecting bone health and reducing joint pain. Your uncle with arthritis, your niece with dry skin, your friend with a bad knee—there's evidence they could all benefit from getting more collagen in their diet.
What you might not know is that collagen's also a good fit for anyone with digestive issues. The protein aids digestion and repairs and restores the intestinal lining, so if you've spent years battling IBS, Celiac, Crohn's or another digestive disease, collagen can be helpful as part of maintaining gut health.
What Type of Collagen Will Work for Me?
The global market for collagen products is expected to hit $7.5 billion by 2027, fuelled by increased demand and creative innovation. You can now find collagen in just about anything—sodas, candy, chocolate, tea, shampoo, bubble bath—but if you're taking it for health reasons, you're probably better with a concentrated collagen supplement so you can control your dose and make sure you're getting the real deal.
So, what are your options? The most popular are collagen capsules or powdered collagen, but even these need further explanation.
Collagen is a protein derived from animal sources (sorry vegans). You've probably seen either bovine collagen or marine collagen in your local health store. Bovine means the collagen comes from cattle, while marine collagen is extracted from fish like salmon. Happily, neither have a beefy or fishy taste.
Bovine collagen delivers Type 1 and Type III collagens, while marine is mostly Type 1. So, which to choose? It depends. Type 1 collagen is the most abundant in our body, maintaining our skin, nails, hair and bones. Broadly speaking, Type III is the collagen found in the gut, helping your digestive system stay healthy. So if you're taking collagen for digestive upsets, it’s probably best to go bovine.
Bovine's also a good choice if you're on a budget as it's more widely available and generally cheaper.
Both bovine and marine collagen can carry the label 'collagen peptides'. This just means the collagen has been processed and broken down into its more bioavailable and easily digestible form (peptides).
How to Get Collagen Into Your Diet?
Supplementing with a pill works, but the easiest and most natural way to up your collagen is to eat it in whole food form.
You can start by making bone broth a regular part of your diet. This rich soup contains plenty of gelatin, which forms when collagen is cooked and broken down into more digestible and accessible amino acids.
If you don't fancy cooking up a batch of broth, make it easier by simply getting more collagen-rich foods in your diet. These include meat, fish, poultry, eggs, and shellfish. Think 'nose to tail' when you go carnivore with organ meats, meat from bone joints, and even that tasty crispy skin.
For an even more convenient option, mix collagen powder into your breakfast smoothie, mid-morning coffee, or afternoon cup of tea. The powder is flavourless and blends easily into hot drinks—if adding to a cold smoothie, try mixing with room temperature water first until it's dissolved so it doesn't clump. If you do want a hint of flavour, there's plenty of varieties available from plain vanilla to chocolate.
Regardless of which type of collagen you choose, and how you're taking it, it's important to look for quality. Where possible, pick collagen sourced from animals that haven't been exposed to hormones, antibiotics or pesticides. Grass-fed animals are best for bovine collagen, and go for wild-caught sustainable fish when choosing marine.
Collagen is generally well-tolerated by all ages, but excessive consumption can cause stomach upset so always take according to the directions, and scale back if you notice any adverse effects.
Catherine Morris is an award-winning journalist with a bad case of wanderlust and a passion for all things health and wellness. Originally from Northern Ireland, she worked as a news and feature writer for media outlets in the UK, South Africa, France and the Caribbean before settling in Canada. Catherine now lives in Alberta with her husband and rescue mutt and spends her time happily exploring the great outdoors with both.