Collagen is the main component of your body’s connective tissues, which means it’s the primary building block of many bodily components, including your skin, teeth, cartilage, bones, and tendons.
The main reason people take collagen protein is to replenish their body’s collagen stores and thereby improve their joint, skin, and hair health and improve muscle growth and recovery.
Unfortunately, collagen protein is little more than a low-quality food that likely doesn’t offer any special benefits.
In the past few years, collagen protein has become a glittering moneymaker.
According to some, it’s the new fish oil, what with its long list of benefits for nearly every major part of your health and physiology.
The most popular claims include . . .
And if none of that tickles your processors, then maybe you’d be interested in boosting immunity, making your hair prettier, and improving your digestion?
On the other hand, collagen protein detractors say that the benefits are misrepresented, overblown, or flat out false. You know, like most supplements.
Who’s right? Well, the short answer is this:
Collagen protein is basically garbage—literally and figuratively.
While some forms of collagen can help your joints, most, are nothing more than low-quality but highly profitable fodder for supplement shysters to separate people from more of their cash.
And in this article, you’re going to learn why.
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What Is Collagen Protein?
Collagen is a protein that serves as the main component of your body’s connective tissues, which means it’s the primary building block of many bodily components, including your skin, teeth, cartilage, bones, and tendons.
The collagen found in collagen protein supplements comes from the connective tissues of various animals, including cows, chickens, and fish. There are over 37 different kinds of collagen in animals, as well, and they can be categorized into different types (type l, type ll, type lll, etc.) based on their specific amino acid makeup and where they’re found in the animal’s body.
For example . . .
Type I collagen is the most abundant type of collagen in the human body, and it’s present in scar tissue, tendons, ligaments, skin, bones, and more.
Type II collagen protects joints against damage and helps preserve their function.
Type lll collagen supports various organs such as the liver and bone marrow as well as tissues in the lymphatic system.
Now, most collagen protein supplements come as a tasteless powder that looks like this:
And most are made of a combination of different types of collagen extracted from beef skin, chicken and fish bones, or byproducts of food processing like egg shells or intestines.
What Are the Benefits of Collagen Protein?
According to various “gurus,” and “experts,” collagen protein helps prevent or heal all kinds of minor to severe health issues, including:
Wrinkles and sagging skin
Brittle hair and nails
Infections of all kinds
Leaky gut syndrome
Some people also consume collagen protein because they believe it’ll help them build muscle and recover faster from their workouts.
Instead of exhaustively examining all of the claims made about collagen protein, let’s look at what the evidence has to say about the three most common selling points.
Collagen Protein and Joint Health and Function
According to collagen hypesters, all it takes is a couple scoops of collagen protein in your daily smoothie, coffee, or protein shake, and you’ll be well on your way to enjoying significantly healthier, quieter, less painful joints.
The most popular explanation for this almost miraculous feat goes like this:
As you age, your joints (and other connective tissues) gradually lose collagen at a rate of around 1 to 2% per year after age 30.
This collagen needs to be replaced if you want to remain sprightly, and the easiest and most effective way to do this is eating collagen protein. This way, your derelict, damaged, and collagen-depleted joints can revitalize themselves by soaking up the new, pristine collagen molecules you’re gulping down every day.
A study often trotted out in support of this was conducted by scientists at Penn State University where researchers split 147 college athletes with joint pain into two groups:
Group one consumed 10 mg of collagen protein dissolved in 25 ml of water every day.
Group two consumed roughly the same amount of xanthan gum (a kind of fiber) dissolved in the same amount of water every day.
Both groups followed this protocol for six months, and both before and after the treatment period, the scientists estimated the athletes’ joint health by recording a few data points:
How many athletes were taking painkillers or anti-inflammatory drugs (an indicator of how much joint pain they were experiencing)
How many showed signs of joint damage and to what degree
Which joints hurt and how much
At the end of the study, there was no difference between the groups in terms of joint damage or anti-inflammatory or painkiller usage, but when the subjects were asked to rate their level of joint pain while performing different movements, the group taking collagen protein reported they had slightly less pain than the group taking the placebo.
Hardly anything to write home about, and especially when you consider the following:
The results weren’t impressive. The group that consumed collagen protein experienced slightly less joint pain than the group consuming the placebo. Furthermore, on most of the tests the researchers did, neither group fared better than the other.
The study was funded by Gelita Health, which makes and also supplied the collagen protein used in the study. While this doesn’t automatically invalidate the results, it’s an obvious red flag. Unsurprisingly, nearly all of the most positive studies on collagen protein—of which there aren’t many—were funded by companies who produce and sell it.
There was no group in the study that took a more powerful, well-researched drug or supplement for joint pain, like ibuprofen or curcumin, to establish the real magnitude of the collagen protein’s benefits. And based on its relatively anemic performance here, it’s likely that collagen protein would’ve been left in the dust by something already proven to work.
So, believe it or not, that’s the strongest scientific evidence currently available that collagen protein can help with joint pain. There are a handful of other studies on the matter, but they suffer from similar methodological flaws and simply can’t be taken seriously.
You know what there’s a lot more evidence of, though? That collagen protein does basically nothing for your joints.
To understand why you need to first understand how collagen protein is digested by the body.
As you learned a moment ago, collagen is a protein, and when you eat it, it’s digested and absorbed like any other protein.
That is, it’s broken down into individual amino acids, some of which are used to create collagen in the body, some of which are burned for energy, and some of which are used to make many other things like hormones, tissues, cells, and so on.
In other words, most forms of collagen protein are processed in the same way as protein from peas, beef, chicken, or whey, and by the time the amino acids they contain enter your bloodstream, they’re indistinguishable from amino acids from any other food.
(There’s one notable exception, which we’ll get to in a minute.)
This alone explains why eating collagen protein doesn’t necessarily increase the amount of collagen in your joints. Most kinds of collagen protein provide the body with amino acids that may or may not be turned into collagen in your joints, depending on many different physiological factors.
In this way, most forms of collagen protein are no more conducive to joint health and function than any other type of protein.
Moreover, even if all forms of collagen could make their way through your digestive system intact, there’s still no guarantee it would improve joint health because there’s no telling whether the collagen molecules would be used to restore cartilage, tendons, and ligaments or for other purposes, like creating glucose or constructing cells.
No studies have been done to investigate this, but based on what we know about human physiology, it’s unlikely that infusing our blood with collagen molecules would help our joints.
The amount of collagen in your body at any given time is largely dictated by your age, activity levels, and genetics, and it’s wishful thinking that just dumping collagen molecules into our blood would affect this to a meaningful degree.
Another claim often made by collagen crooks is by ingesting a special blend of collagens, you can heal achy joints by “activating the collagen receptors in your body.”
While it’s true that many cells have collagen receptors, they respond to the collagen naturally produced within the body—not animal collagen that you’ve eaten, which is mostly broken down into amino acids anyway. Consuming multiple kinds of collagen doesn’t change this, either, as most are broken down in the same way.
“But wait,” I hear a scumbag somewhere lying, “that’s why you need my patent perpetually pending hydrolyzed collagen protein!”
Protein contains long, interlocked chains of amino acids, and hydrolyzation is a process that breaks those chains into shorter ones. In other words, hydrolyzation “pre-digests” protein for you, which allows your body to digest and absorb it faster.
This doesn’t change the fact that hydrolyzed proteins of any kind are turned into amino acids before being released into the bloodstream, however.
In fact, you could argue that since hydrolyzed protein is already partially digested, and requires less work to convert into amino acids, it’s even less likely to survive digestion intact than non-hydrolyzed collagen protein.
All of this is likely why a report written by researchers for the European Food Safety Authority concluded that “a cause and effect relationship has not been established between the consumption of collagen hydrolysate and maintenance of joints.”
Here’s another reason to laugh at hydrolyzed collagen protein powders: Gelatin, one of the cheapest, most widely available food additives, is just hydrolyzed collagen. Another name for gelatin is collagen hydrolysate, which is just another way of saying hydrolyzed protein.
So, on the whole, collagen protein is a dud for improving joint health. There is, however, a form of collagen that helps joints, and it’s called undenatured type ll collagen, also known as UC-ll, which is what we use in our joint supplement, Fortify.
Research shows this type of collagen, partially survives digestion and is able to exert positive effects on joint tissues.
How it does this, however, isn’t what you’d expect. Instead of rebuilding damaged joints and replenishing lost collagen, undenatured type ll collagen minimizes a natural but unwanted immune response in the body that gradually eats away our joint cartilage over time (a process known as arthritis).
Studies show that undenatured type II collagen accomplishes this by “teaching” the immune system to stop attacking the proteins in joint cartilage, which in turn can significantly improve joint health and function and decrease or even eliminate pain and swelling.
In other words, undenatured type II collagen allows your body to recognize its own joint collagen as a safe substance that doesn’t need to be destroyed. And the best part about type II collagen supplements is that these effects have been demonstrated in people with healthy joints in addition to those with joint problems.
This is significant because it makes undenatured type II collagen one of the only supplements known to help preserve joint health and function (as opposed to just treating joints that are already damaged and dysfunctional).
That said, there’s still very little research on undenatured type ll collagen, and it’s still unclear just how beneficial it is for different kinds of joint conditions and injuries.
It does have a significant downside as well: it’s extremely expensive. This is why most collagen supplements, including collagen protein, either contain no undenatured type ll collagen or so little that it might as well contain none.
A good rule of thumb: If the ingredients of a supplement don’t specifically list undenatured type ll collagen, the product doesn’t contain any, and if it does but doesn’t provide an amount, assume it’s a negligible dose.
If you want to learn more about undenatured type ll collagen, check out this article:
The Definitive Guide to Collagen Supplements
Summary: Collagen protein supplements won’t improve joint health or reduce joint pain, and the one type of collagen that can help your joints—undenatured type ll collagen—generally isn’t included in collagen protein supplements because it’s very expensive.
Collagen Protein and Skin, Hair, and Nail Health
Collagen protein is often sold as a beauty product, and here’s the typical spiel:
We lose 1 to 2% of our body’s collagen per year, which makes our skin, hair, and nails ugly, dry, and brittle, and supplementing with collagen protein boosts our body’s collagen levels and thereby reverses those effects and makes us look prettier.
The first problem is what we touched on earlier: Almost all of the collagen you can consume is broken- down into amino acids before it ever gets a chance to interact with your hair, skin, or nails.
Thus, there’s no reason to believe that collagen protein would beautify you more than any other type of protein, and no studies have shown this to be the case.
That doesn’t mean that marketers don’t have studies to bandy about, however. People selling collagen protein often refer to a couple studies that seem to show results, but when you look beneath the hood, you quickly realize it’s just more chicanery.
For instance, two studies commonly cited are one conducted by scientists at Minerva Research Labs and another conducted by scientists at International Research Services. If you simply read the abstracts of these papers, you’d probably conclude that consuming collagen protein for 8 to 12 weeks can decrease the appearance of dry skin, flaking, lines, and wrinkles and increase the collagen and moisture content of your skin.
As expected, however, there are some major problems with this research. Namely . . .
1. Neither of the studies were blinded.
In both cases, the researchers and the subjects knew exactly who was consuming what, which all but guarantees the results were influenced at least somewhat by the placebo effect. This is especially likely in this study, as the results were based on mostly subjective opinions about how the participants’ skin looked.
2. Both of the studies were funded by the companies that manufacture the collagen protein used (Minerva Research Labs Ltd. and BioCell Technology, LLC.).
Furthermore, in both cases the scientists conducting the research were employed by the companies, which raises serious questions about researcher bias.
For example, in the study conducted by Minerva Research Labs, their Research and Development Manager, Thane Aung, was involved in the process. He was allowed to help but wasn’t listed as one of the authors. Instead, his name was hidden at the bottom of the paper in the acknowledgments section, almost like they didn’t want anyone to notice it was there . . .
Maybe it’s because Thane’s also involved in Minerva’s PR and marketing, as evidenced by this puff piece on collagen where he claims that “Our skin gets thinner and drier and replenishing it is the only way to get healthy, young-looking skin. We can get collagen, a protein, from fish and it helps hair, skin and even our mood.”
No, no, that would be a dirty conspiracy theory, and everyone knows that conspiracies rarely happen and most everyone everywhere almost always acts as honestly and straightforwardly as possible- no matter the activity or stakes.
3. In both of the studies, the researchers used some dubious techniques and tools to measure the appearance and collagen and moisture content of the subjects’ skin.
For example, improvements in skin appearance were based on subjective assessments by the researchers (“her skin looks better, doesn’t it?”), and collagen and moisture content was measured using a machine that’s normally used for measuring melanin content. The machine isn’t approved for evaluating collagen and moisture, and there’s no research showing it’s a reliable way to do either of these things.
Individually, any of these points would be reasons for skepticism, and when taken together, it makes it hard to take either of these studies seriously.
Summary: There’s no valid evidence that collagen protein improves skin, hair, or nail health, and no reason to think it would.
Collagen Protein and Muscle Building
The best types of protein for building muscle are those that contain an abundance of essential amino acids, particularly leucine, and are digested and absorbed well.
Essential amino acids are amino acids that can’t be produced by the body, so they must be obtained from the food you eat.
Most essential amino acids, such as lysine, methionine, and histidine, are key building blocks of muscle proteins, and leucine is unique in that it also directly stimulates muscle protein synthesis—the formation of new muscle proteins.
In other words, leucine is particularly good at kickstarting your body’s muscle-building machinery, so to speak, and this is why high-leucine foods such as beef, poultry, fish, and dairy are considered best for building muscle.
When evaluating a protein in terms of its muscle-building benefits, then, the first thing to look at is its amino acid profile. If it’s high in essential amino acids and leucine in particular, then it’s probably going to be good for building muscle.
The next thing to consider is how well the protein is digested and absorbed. While this is more difficult to measure, animal proteins tend to be easier to digest and absorb whereas plant proteins tend to be less so.
Collagen protein, however, is a rare exception to this rule. While it’s easy to digest and absorb, its amino acid profile is severely lacking in essential amino acids necessary for muscle gain.
The three primary amino acids in collagen protein are glycine, proline, and hydroxyproline, none of which are essential amino acids or are required or helpful for muscle building.
Additionally, collagen is about 2.7% leucine by weight, whereas beef protein is around 8% leucine by weight, and whey protein is about 10% leucine by weight.
Collagen profiteers might retort that muscle contains collagen, however, and this is why collagen protein can help maximize muscle growth.
To bolster their case, they might also refer to a study conducted by scientists at the University of Freiburg that has made the rounds on the Internet.
Researchers divided 60 men aged 65 years or older who had experienced substantial muscle loss in the past three to four years into two groups:
Group one consumed 15 grams of collagen protein per day.
Group two consumed 15 grams of silicon dioxide, a safe food additive that looks similar to collagen protein but passes through the digestive system intact.
All of the participants followed a full-body resistance training program that involved three one-hour workouts per week for 12 weeks. They were instructed to drink the collagen protein (or placebo) within one hour of their workouts on their training days and at roughly the same time they would normally finish their workouts on their off days.
At the end of the study, scientists found the group that consumed collagen protein every day gained about 25% more muscle and lost about 30% more body fat.
That makes for a neat headline and sexy sales pitch, but there’s actually no reason to get too excited over these results. Here’s why:
1. Both groups were likely consuming very little protein to start with.
We don’t know how much protein participants were eating before the study (problem), but we do know one of the primary causes of muscle loss in the elderly is low protein and calorie intake.
And while eating an additional 15 grams of protein per day may not seem like enough to make a difference, it might have been enough to tip the balance in favor of the group eating collagen protein. For instance, if the collagen group’s average protein intake was just 60 grams per day, bumping it up to 75 grams per day is a 25% increase.
2. Both groups were severely under-muscled and thus primed for muscle gain.
This would further magnify the benefits of the collagen group’s increase in protein intake.
3. This is one of the only studies available demonstrating any such benefits, and it’s entirely possible that future studies may not produce the same results.
Let’s also not forget this: collagen protein doesn’t infuse your muscles with collagen. Instead, it infuses your blood with amino acids that may or may not be used to create collagen or muscle tissue—amino acids that can be obtained from any other source of protein as well.
Summary: Collagen protein isn’t a good source of protein for building muscle because it’s low in essential amino acids—and leucine in particular—compared to other, much tastier and more affordable foods like beef, fish, chicken, and whey protein.
Collagen Protein Is Hot Garbage
It’s a red-hot moneymaker that’s produced by boiling down, filtering, and drying the connective tissue, bones, feet, and other collagen-rich parts of animals that have been discarded after butchering or processing—stuff that would otherwise be turned into animal feed, pet food, or fertilizer.
And guess what that means? Margins, baby!
Collagen protein is both dirt cheap to make and in high demand by consumers (who have been misled into wanting it) and thus extremely profitable, and that’s why so many “gurus” and “experts” have hopped onto the collagen protein bandwagon and intend on riding it until the wheels fall off.
To wit, people spent about $100 million on collagen protein supplements and foods in 2017, and experts expect that number to surpass $250 million by 2021.
If that sounds a bit cynical to you, well, welcome to the supplement industry, which is brimful of cheats, charlatans, and crazies perpetrating all manner of shams and scams to scratch their forever itchy palms.
That’s why I’m the guy who sells supplements but also regularly tells people things like . . .
You don’t need supplements whatsoever. You can reach all your health and fitness goals with diet and exercise alone.
No amount of pills or powders are going to change your life. Supplements are supplemental by definition and can never replace the need for proper eating and exercising.
Many of the most popular supplements on the market do absolutely nothing and aren’t worth the bottles they’re sold in.
If you want to learn more about what’s wrong with the supplement industry and what I’m doing differently, click here.
Summary: Collagen protein is a scam. It’s a low-quality protein supplement that doesn’t work as advertised, and the primary reasons it’s so popular are it’s cheap to produce and easy to market.
The Bottom Line on Collagen Protein
Collagen is a protein that serves as the main component of your body’s connective tissues, which means it’s the primary building block of many bodily components, including your skin, teeth, cartilage, bones, and tendons.
Most people take collagen in hopes that it will:
Improve their joint health and reduce joint pain
Improve the appearance and health of their skin, hair, and nails
Boost their muscle growth and recovery
Most pitches for collagen protein revolve around the claim that the body loses collagen at a rate of about 1 to 2% per year after around age 30, and this causes myriad problems in the body including joint degeneration and pain, dry, unhealthy, and unattractive skin, hair, and nails, and impaired muscle growth and recovery.
By consuming collagen protein, however, you can supposedly replenish your body’s collagen stores and mitigate or even reverse many of those conditions.
This is horseshit.
While a special type of collagen rarely ever found in collagen protein supplements (undenatured type ll collagen peptides) can improve joint health and function, collagen protein can’t.
There’s also no strong evidence collagen protein can improve skin, hair, or nail health, and no reason to think it would.
And ironically, collagen protein is one of the worst proteins for building muscle because it’s low in essential amino acids—and leucine in particular—compared to other, much tastier and more affordable foods and supplements like beef, chicken, and whey protein.
The reason so many people are talking about collagen protein these days has nothing to do with its supposed merits and everything to do with its financial advantages. It’s cheap to produce and package and easy to sell at a premium, and that makes it irresistible for carpetbaggers who’d steal the pennies off a dead man’s eyes.
In other words, collagen protein is an out-and-out scam. Don’t buy it and don’t follow the advice of anyone who says you should.
The only type of collagen worth swallowing is undenatured type ll collagen, which, by the way, is what you’ll find in my joint health supplement, Fortify (along with three other ingredients proven to improve joint health: curcumin, grape seed extract, and Boswellia serrata extract).
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