Do We Really Need to Be Adding Collagen to Our Food? Doctors Weigh In

If one (or 10) people in your social orbit has jumped on the bandwagon of either consuming collagen or getting collagen shots, you may be considering buying some supplements or powders to see what all the hype is about. But with all due respect to our wonderful friends and family members, they’re not always the best source when it comes to decisions about our health — especially in the case of health fads, which can be pricey and ineffective at best and dangerous at worst.

What is collagen supposed to do?

But first things first: What exactly is this collagen intake supposed to achieve? Physician Dr. Malini Reddy of Reddy Medical Group tells SheKnows collagen supplementation has been used for years to treat joint pain, mainly in patients who have osteoarthritis. “Recently, collagen supplementation has become popular for other reasons as well, such as improving skin elasticity, building muscle and losing fat and for digestive health,” Reddy says. 

Reddy explains that, although some small-scale research has indicated collagen may improve these things, she doesn’t believe there’s enough available reliable research to warrant recommending it to her patients. “I would have to have more evidence indicating that there is an increase in collagen in these organs that are targeted and that the increase is significant enough to actually have the desired effect,” she says. 

Dr. Andrew Ordon, physician, cohost of The Doctors and associate professor of plastic surgery at USC’s Keck School of Medicine, agrees, telling SheKnows ingesting collagen through supplements and powders hasn’t been found to produce significant results. “This is because your body breaks down collagen as it’s digested, and the resulting proteins are dispersed throughout the body,” Ordon explains. 

Should we be eating or taking collagen to improve our health?

If you think you could benefit from collagen, physician Dr. David Belk, along with Reddy and Ordon agree that a balanced diet is the best approach if you’re seeking the proteins collagen contains. “Collagen is a protein, which, when consumed orally — either eaten or taken as a pill or capsule — is digested by being broken up into its constituent amino acids,” Belk tells SheKnows. The amino acids you get from eating collagen aren’t that different from those in other sources of protein, like meat, eggs and milk

“In other words, taking a collagen supplement or eating more cartilage (which contains collagen) will not improve your health or appearance any more than, say, eating scrambled eggs would,” Belk explains. “Protein is protein.”

Ordon says eating a nutrient-rich diet that contains proteins, vitamin C, zinc and copper is the best way to increase collagen levels. Similarly, Reddy recommends foods that are high in omega-3 fatty acids if you want to make sure your body is producing collagen. “As long as you eat a well-balanced diet, you should have enough of these components to produce sufficient collagen without supplementation,” she says. 

So there you have it — eat a well-balanced diet that contains plenty of proteins and vitamins, and your body will produce enough collagen on its own. We must say, this is good news for our bank accounts.

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