What Are Collagen Peptides — And Should You Be Taking Them?

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What is collagen and why should you care?

Maybe you’ve been seeing a lot about collagen recently and you’re thinking it’s just another passing health fad that won’t matter in a few years. You’re thinking there’s nothing new with these protein powders, and you’re not about to invest in something that’s not going to help you. 

Then again, maybe you’ve never even heard of collagen and you’re wondering what the heck I’m talking about. Well, collagen is not just a fad.

So, what is collagen?  

Have you ever noticed how younger people have plumper, fuller-looking skin? Have you noticed that your hair and nails have become thinner and more brittle with age? Maybe you’ve also noticed more aches and pains in your joints as you’ve gotten older.

Well, what makes a difference with these bodily changes is collagen.

RELATED: 8 Best Collagen Powders (To Make Your Skin Forever Young)

On the most basic level, collagen is the protein that builds up the soft tissues in our bodies.

Racheal Link, MS, RD explains collagen more simply by saying, "It's the 'glue' that helps hold the body together." However, a lot of people misunderstand collagen by assuming that if they just eat enough protein, they’ll get their daily dose. Well, despite being a protein, collagen does not come from a steak or chicken; rather, it comes from the parts of the animal we don’t eat: the bones, hooves, hide — yes, the gross parts.

Our ancestors used to get more than their daily serving of collagen when they used the entire part of the animal and boiled even the bones and hides. Unfortunately, our modern American diets do not lend themselves well for us to get a sufficient amount of collagen.

When was the last time you made soup by soaking and boiling the animal bones and meat to make a broth instead of using store-bought chicken stock or bouillon cubes? I’m going to take a guess and say not recently. Maybe it’s been a while since you’ve even made soup.

If you take a daily dose of a powdered collagen supplement or collagen peptides, you can quickly fight the aging process and you won’t have to rely on soups to do it. Taking collagen in a powdered form also helps your body absorb it more quickly.

Why do you need it and what are the benefits?

After the age of 25, our bodies slowly stop producing collagen by about 1 percent each year; this is exactly why older people have more brittle and wrinkly skin. According to Link, "Increasing collagen levels can help your skin look firmer, increase smoothness, and help your skin cells keep renewing and repairing normally."

So, taking collagen peptides will actually help offset the body’s natural depletion of this protein and will help decrease the effects that come from losing collagen. Link also explains that collagen's number one benefit is for the skin, whether that be through decreasing wrinkles, cellulite, or stretch marks. 

Collagen not only helps your hair, skin, and nails, but it will also significantly benefit your joints, tendons, and ligaments. People who suffer from arthritis will notice a difference from taking collagen because it can restore the depleting cartilage in their joints. Link further explains, "When we lose collagen, our tendons and ligaments start moving with less ease, leading to stiffness, swollen joints and more."

Another area of the body that’s made up of soft tissue is the stomach. According to Dr. Josh Axe, DNM, DC, CNS, a doctor of natural medicine and a clinical nutritionist, "Collagen is in the gut’s connective tissue and can help support and strengthen the protective lining of your digestive tract." That's why consistently taking collagen may significantly help your digestion and can decrease bloating and constipation.

Dr. Axe further explains that there needs to more research to show the direct connection between collagen and digestion, but he theorizes that increasing collagen intake can "help build up the tissues that line your gastrointestinal tract and promote better gut health." 

RELATED: 50 Ways To Increase Your Collagen Intake For Firm, Youthful-Looking Skin

Where do you get it?

Not all collagen is created equal. Just because something says it has collagen, does not mean it has enough to make a difference in your skin. Maybe you’ve heard about collagen and seen it in skin creams, but don’t rely on topical collagen treatments for your main source of the protein.

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For instance, Dr. Jolene Brighton, a Functional Medicine Naturopathic Medical Doctor and the founder of Rubus Health, says the first step to maintaining good skin is taking a daily gelatin supplement, which is a type of collagen. 

In reality, the best way to use collagen is to have it absorb internally and transform your body from the inside out, and you can do this through taking a powder that mixes into hot or cold liquids.

What’s the best kind of collagen?

Single-ingredient collagen. Here’s a helpful cheat sheet for you to reference as you consider buying a quality collagen:

  1. Buy a powder. Don’t even bother to buy collagen pills, as they don’t have enough protein to make a noticeable difference.
  2. Make sure your collagen has no added ingredients. It should just be collagen (i.e., Bovine Hide Collagen Peptides).
  3. Check the sourcing. Does it say it comes from grass-fed, pasture-raised cattle, or wild caught fish? (Warning: you will see some gross and weird ingredients on there, but don’t be turned off if you see cow hide or fish scales; this is where collagen comes from!)
  4. It should have at least 10 grams of protein. But a good product will have anywhere from 12-18, maybe even 20!

How long does it take it to see results?

After you start taking collagen, you’re not going to see results overnight. Be patient and give your body at least 2-3 months to really get used to the new protein, and you will start noticing a difference. If you want to try something new this summer, buy some from your local health food store or Target.

Collagen will not only provide great health and beauty benefits but it will also help your daily life. It’s an essential supplement to add to your diet and health regimen. You’ll notice so many positive effects, both internally and externally that you’re going to wonder how you ever lived without it.

RELATED: I Tried Collagen For A Month And I Couldn't Be Happier With My Skin

Elisa Palumbo is a blogger who writes about fitness, exercise, health, and nutrition.