From healing chronic gut conditions to combating fine lines and wrinkles, collagen’s superpowers certainly seem without end

But is all the hype real? And if so, how can we ensure we’re taking the best product?

What is collagen?

Thanks to Dr. 90210 we’ve all heard the word ‘collagen’ before, but possibly with not the best connotations. The most important thing you need to know about collagen is the fact that it’s a protein produced naturally in our bodies. It’s found in skin, hair, nails, bones, as well as in the gut lining and blood vessels.

Up until about 25, our bodies produce collagen in abundance, after which it starts decreasing steadily. After 30, collagen levels start to drop by one to two per cent per year, which is why you’ll start noticing fine lines and wrinkles that were never there before.

While all of this is a natural process, the breakdown of collagen can be aggravated by factors such as stress, smoking, alcohol abuse and excessive sun exposure.

Can I boost collagen?

Now, this is the million-dollar question. While there are many products and procedures that claim to boost collagen, there is yet to be a conclusive scientific study proving this. Some of the most popular options include:

  • Collagen fillers

Before Botox came along, visiting your dermatologist to inject pure bovine collagen straight into unwanted wrinkles was all the rage. But, there were a few serious downsides: it didn’t last much longer than a month or two and it caused allergic reactions in a relatively high number of patients.

  • Collagen cosmetics

Collagen creams fall into one of two categories – those that contain collagen and those that boost collagen. Surprisingly, creams that contain collagen are less effective, because the collagen molecules are actually too large to be absorbed through the skin. Creams that contain collagen boosting ingredients, such as retinol, are therefore, preferable.

  • Collagen supplements

While most people who take collagen supplements, swear by it – citing glowing skin, a reduction in wrinkles and even a marked improvement in gut health – there is little scientific evidence to support this.  

How to choose the best collagen source?

This will basically come down to your personal preferences. The first thing to consider is the collagen source. A quick look through the supplement aisle will reveal that most collagen supplements are either derived from bovine or marine sources.

As the names suggests, marine collagen is extracted from the scales, bones and skin of fish, while bovine collagen comes from that of cows. While they do contain different types of collagen, your body doesn’t differentiate, which means the benefits are pretty similar.

Hydrolysed collagen

Another important thing to take note of is whether the collagen has been hydrolysed or not.

The ability of your body to absorb collagen is improved when the protein is broken down into smaller particles and this process is known as hydrolysation. Basically, it’s important that you always opt for hydrolysed collagen.

Powder, capsules, gelatine or bone broth?

The final thing to consider when choosing your collagen supplement is the form it comes in. Here’s a quick rundown:

  • Collagen powder is great for anyone who sips a smoothie or cup of coffee/tea in the morning. They are usually tasteless and may even add a pleasant frothiness to your drink.
  • Capsules are probably the best option for those who already have a good vitamin routine going, as you will simply pop your collagen with the rest of your pills.
  • Gelatine is another collagen-rich option that can be used in a similar way to collagen powder. Alternatively, if neither powder or capsules appeal to your sensibilities, you can whip up healthy jelly treats with gelatine in no time!
  • Bone broth is, of course, also an excellent protein source and perhaps one of the easiest ways for your body to absorb collagen.

The one major drawback of collagen supplementation is, of course, the fact that it is animal-derived.

Why does source matter?

The one major drawback of collagen supplementation is, of course, the fact that it is animal-derived. If you do consume animal products and are curious to see whether taking collagen may help improve your skin, hair, nails or gut, you can make a concerted effort to purchase those that have been sourced as ethically as possible.

When it comes to marine collagen, make sure the label specifies the type of fish from which it has been sourced. If it doesn’t, chances are it may have been derived from an array of species, including jellyfish and sharks.

With bovine collagen, always opt for grass-fed and preferably go for labels which clearly state the country of origin.

Are there plant-based alternatives?

Unfortunately, there are currently no plant-based collagen alternatives. You can, however, reap similar benefits from taking a vegetarian-friendly supplement, such as L-Lysine. And luckily, pineapples contain high levels of this collagen-boosting mineral.