As someone who took (and passed!) an anatomy class in high school, I’ve long been aware that collagen is something that exists, relating to joints, ligaments, and all that jazz. Beyond that, as someone who watches reality TV, I’ve also long been aware that people get injections of collagen to plump up their lips or skin. But I’ve recently learned that my friends have started adding collagen powder to their foods and taking collagen as a supplement. My high-school class didn’t cover this, so I consulted with some experts to understand whether I, too, should be taking collagen.
Okay, let’s start with basics: What is collagen? As New York–based registered dietitian Brigitte Zeitlin explained to me, collagen is a connective tissue protein. Of course, as you probably know, proteins are made up of amino acids and help the body with building muscles, cartilage, skin, and things like that. Dr. Chris D’Adamo, an assistant professor at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, added that collagen doesn’t have all of the essential amino acids, which means it’s not a complete source of protein (as in, don’t use it as the only protein you get in your diet), but it’s still beneficial.
And why is it cosmetic procedures? Collagen has been shown to help fight wrinkles and keep our skin plump, so some people opt to get it injected for cosmetic purposes. But you don’t have to get your collagen through a needle to see some of its “beauty” effects, according to Zeitlin. Any way you choose to take your collagen (more on that later), it can help decrease redness in your skin by fighting inflammation, in addition to helping make your hair stronger and decrease the signs of aging.
So, do I need to be taking collagen? Well, your body needs collagen, but you actually make it on your own, most of us don’t actually need to be adding collagen powder to your foods or taking it as a supplement. But, as Zeitlin points out, it can be a good idea to take it. That’s because ingesting collagen helps our body make more of it — in other words, the more we take in, the more our bodies produce. Also, D’Adamo told me that taking collagen has been proven to aid with arthritis, so if you suffer from that, it could be beneficial to add it to your diet.
How can I get it? Collagen occurs naturally in bone broth, but if you’re not interested in going down that road, you can also eat foods that help your body naturally boost its collagen. For instance, foods that are high in vitamin C — like citrus fruits, dark leafy greens, strawberries, and blueberries — can help with collagen production. You can also find collagen as a powder — D’Adamo recommends collagen hydrolysis powder, and Zeitlin notes that you only need a spoonful or two of it per day. Collagen powder is tasteless, so you can easily add it to your oatmeal or yogurt without making it taste gross. On top of that, collagen is also available in a capsule form — D’Adamo recommends the UC-II and Health Logics BioCell collagen supplements.
Who should steer clear of collagen powder or supplements? In general, collagen is good for you, so D’Adamo says it should be a healthy pick for most of us. However, if you have any sort of a collagen disorder — for instance, if your body doesn’t produce enough of it — you should definitely consult with your physician before starting supplementation. Also, if you’re a vegan or vegetarian, you might want to double-check what source you’re getting collagen from, since Zeitlin says a lot of collagen comes from chicken or beef.