7 Weird, Harmful Collagen Side Effects You Need To Know About

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7 Problematic Collagen Side Effects + How To Take It Safely To Reap The Benefits

It seems as though you can't walk past an aisle at the store or notice a pop-up ad on your computer that doesn't preach about the many collagen benefits. Whether it's ingesting it or topically applying it, collagen products are the next big thing when it comes to cosmetics and the beauty world.

For those who are unaware of what it is, "collagen is the major insoluble fibrous protein in the extracellular matrix and in connective tissue." Thats just saying that it's super important in our connective tissue like bones, ligaments, and cartilage.

The most common use of collagen supplements is to improve skin. One of the several studies done showed that women who took 2.5-5 grams of collagen for 8 weeks showed less dryness and more elasticity to their skin than their controlled peers.

Another study proved the supplement can be used to improve hair and nail growth, while others showed it helps to reduce joint pains and overall joint health. A particular collagen benefit is that it most likely won't make you gain weight because the protein can make you feel full.

With these kinds of health benefits to taking the protein supplement, there's no wonder adding more collagen to your routine is the newest trend. 

Collagen Side Effects Can be Intense — So Why Do People Take It?

Collagen is a protein our body produces up until a certain point that creates firm, supple, and tight skin, and it almost seems as though using it would be the equivalent of finding the fountain of youth.

This new staple ingredient seems almost too good to be true. So, we spoke with nutritionists and medical professionals about the health implications of taking or applying collagen to our bodies.

Read on as we go over the potential collagen side effects that can happen the next time you try it. However, some side effects can be harmful to your body, so be sure to consult your doctor before adding any sort of supplements to your day-to-day life.

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1. Collagen can have possible implications in gut health.

According to Meghan Lyle, MPH, Registered Dietitian, Nutritionist, and Arivale Coach, "Though collagen peptides are all the rage right now, the benefits of their use are still under study. In some clinical trials, there have also been some side effects reported.

In several studies, gastrointestinal side effects have been noted with the use of collagen supplements: some patients notice constipation when they begin to include collagen peptides as part of their supplement regime. Others notice, though more rarely, a reduction in appetite. It’s always best to speak with your doctor when adding new supplements to your regimen, particularly in an effort to avoid medication interactions."

2. Some people are sensitive to collagen protein.

Though many have found success using collagen, there are others who may not be so lucky.

"Some people are sensitive to the free glutamic acid in collagen protein and may find they get mild headaches or have difficulty sleeping when they consume too much or take collagen too close to bedtime," says registered dietitian Pamela Schoenfeld, MS RD LDN.

3. It may cause kidney stones.

One big collagen side effect on kidneys is the possibility of developing kidney stones.

According to Schoenfeld, "If a person has a history of calcium oxalate kidney stones, it is a good idea to take it slow when adding collagen to the diet, starting with no more than 5-6 grams per day (about 1 tablespoon).

One of the amino acids that collagen is rich in, hydroxyproline, can be converted into oxalate and excreted through the kidneys into the urine. Under the right circumstances, this could trigger a kidney stone to form. Always drink plenty of water when adding collagen to the diet."

It may take a beating to your kidneys, but there is rarely any collagen side effects on livers. So, yay?

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4. Drinking collagen daily can raise calcium levels.

And it doesn't raise calcium levels in a good way. Instead, collagen can lead to hypercalcemia.

Dr. Samuel Malloy, medical director at Dr. Felix, says, "You may not notice if your calcium levels increase; however, if your calcium is too high, you could experience constipation, fatigue, nausea, vomiting, and bone pain. This side effect occurs as many collagen tablets contain products from high-calcium marine sources — i.e., shellfish. If you experience this side effect, you may wish to consider taking an alternative collagen product."

So, taking collagen could make you feel icky, almost like if you were sick due to this side effect. However, this is reaction differs per person so be aware of how you're feeling while taking the supplement.

5. It can cause allergic reactions.

"The riskiest side effects of any treatment are usually allergic reactions," warns Dr. Malloy.

"Collagen supplements or skin products can produce an allergic reaction, which could, in rare cases, be life-threatening. Symptoms of an allergic reaction include itching or tingling in the mouth or area of skin where collagen is applied, swelling of tongue or skin, wheezing, abdominal pain, nausea, and/or vomiting. If you experience any of these symptoms you should stop taking/using collagen immediately and seek medical attention."

6. Collagen can make you feel down in the dumps.

One of the worst effects of collagen supplementation is that it can mess with your mood.

Adding extra collagen protein to your regime could lead to a deficit in tryptophan. A decrease in tryptophan will cause your serotonin levels to lower which will bulldoze into possibly gaining feelings of nervousness, irritability, anxiety, and depression. This is especially important to note if you already suffer from a mood disorder.

7. You may be wasting your money.

Doctor and co-founder of Vous Vitamins, Arielle Levitan M.D., says it may be best to save your money and hide your wallet when it comes to supplemental collagen. Why? "There is no scientific research to suggest that this actually helps repair these tissues," she says.

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"Rather, you are more likely taking a number of unknown and untested ingredients. These products are not FDA regulated and their contents are questionable in terms of efficacy and potential side effects. In my opinion, taking a personalized multivitamin with the right nutrients geared toward your diet, lifestyle, and health concerns is far more likely to give you the nutrients that are the actual building blocks for these tissues.

For example, vitamin C is proven to be a needed nutrient in helping your body actually create its own collagen. This, in addition to vitamin D (also known to play a key role in facilitating the building of these body parts), and biotin is likely a more effective way of giving your body what it needs to maintain and rebuild damaged tissues such as skin, bones, cartilage, and hair."

Also, if you are taking hydrolyzed collagen or collagen hydrolysate (when the protein is broken into small particles) there is a good chance most of the amino acids will be lost in your digestive process.

If collagen side effects are deterring you, there are natural ways to encourage its healthy production.

The body makes its own collagen, but around age 35, this production begins to decline and signs of aging start to show. Sad news, indeed.

While it would be nice for our body to rev up its natural collagen production, it's only fair to wish dietary supplements would work for our bodies. But there's hope. Rather than sit by and watch the wrinkles set in, you can actually feed your body the collagen it’s missing (a more natural way).

Collagen is not a complete protein because it lacks the essential amino acid tryptophan that our bodies need to make our own proteins. It should be consumed together with another source of protein like dairy, meat/poultry, eggs, or high-quality plant proteins like legumes.

It is important (if deciding to move forward and take a collagen supplement) to have it sourced from grass-fed or organic animals. "Theoretically, collagen could accumulate a certain type of pesticide commonly applied to grains that are fed to livestock," says Schoenfeld.

Another option? Bone broth. High-quality bone broth is, by far, one of the best whole food sources of type II collagen, as it contains large amounts of “bioavailable” collagen.

"'Bioavailable' means the amount of a nutrient that gets absorbed and used by the body. Studies have shown that bioavailable collagen can, over time, improve collagen density in the skin," advises Delaney Lightel, who works with Bonafide Provisions.

"This will restore a smoother, more youthful appearance in the face and throughout the body. A cup a day of bone broth is all that’s needed to supply your body with collagen. And while many people just sip it straight (and it's delicious), you can use bone broth in just about any recipe that uses water, including cocktails (believe it or not)."

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Elizabeth Blasi is a New Yorker and lifestyle & travel writer who is often seen with a suitcase in hand, jet-setting to her next location. But as a true Digital Nomad, her love of writing and romance novels means her laptop is always beside her.