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Updated on May 24, 2022
The Problem with Collagen Supplements: 3 Important Things to Know Before Buying
Collagen is one of the most popular nutritional supplements right now—and for good reason.
Until recently, researchers hadn’t really investigated the benefits of adding this unique protein into your daily diet. In the last few years, scientific studies are providing conclusive evidence that collagen supplementation can boost your joint and skin health, and promote healthy aging. Since then, the natural supplement market has been flooded with every variation of collagen product imaginable—all boasting impressive anti-aging results.
But before you go adding collagen powder into your coffee or smoothies, there are several critical factors that impact the effectiveness (and safety) of collagen supplementation. Not all collagen peptide supplements are created equal.
So What Is Collagen, Anyway?
Collagen is a fibrous structure in the form of amino acids that makes up one-third of the protein in the human body. It’s considered the primary building block for joints, muscles, bones, skin, and connective tissues. It’s also found within our skin, hair, and nails.
There are 28 different types of collagen in the human body, but Types 1 and 3 collectively make up 90% of the collagen in the body (1).
You can think of collagen as the "glue" that holds all these things together. In fact, the word comes from the Greek word "kólla," which means glue. Collagen is what keeps the skin supple, and helps sustain the production of new skin cells and replaces damaged body cells.
By age 25, collagen production in our bodies naturally begins to decline as we age. Within our joints and connective tissues, this collagen decline causes the strength of our ligaments and muscles to weaken—often leading to stiffness, soreness, and chronic pain.
Collagen is responsible for giving skin its structure. As such, when there’s less collagen, the skin isn’t quite as firm. When the skin loses elasticity and firmness, wrinkles often result.
When it comes to the outward appearance, collagen is responsible for giving skin its elasticity and firmness. And when collagen is depleted, skin becomes wrinkled and saggy and hair becomes thin and brittle. Research indicates that by the age of 40, the body’s ability to produce collagen decreases by 25%. By age 60, it has decreased by over 50% (2). Whatsmore, the breakdown of collagen can be accelerated by exposure to UV light, smoking, and a diet high in sugar.
Low Collagen Levels: What Are the Signs?
Despite being made up of non-essential amino acids, the ideal supply of naturally occurring collagen cannot meet the demand, and as a result, accelerated signs of aging occur. How can you tell if you have low collagen levels?
The most common symptoms of low collagen levels include:
1. Debilitating Joint Pain
Cartilage—the buoyant, rubber-like tissue that covers the ends of long bones at the joints—is made up of a lot of collagen. Collagen loss in these areas results in more bone-on-bone movement, which can cause joint pain. Aside from causing discomfort around the joints, collagen depletion may inhibit motion—including the movement of ligaments and tendons (3).
2. Loss of Mobility
Collagen vascular diseases, particularly lupus and Rheumatoid Arthritis, can cause a loss of movement due to joint damage or stiffness leading to a loss of mobility. People with these diseases experience a compromised immune response, producing inflammation within the collagen surrounding the joints (4).
3. Muscle Aches
Most of our body’s supply of collagen is in our connective tissue, which “connects” the ligaments and muscles to our skeletal system. As collagen depletes, these connections weaken, which can cause complications like muscle aches and pains (5).
4. Leaky Gut
As mentioned, collagen can be found nearly everywhere in the body, including the stomach. It wasn’t until recently that collagen was discovered as a key substance in the gut’s lining. A decline of collagen in the gut may lead to intestinal permeability or “leaky gut syndrome” (6).
Symptoms of leaky gut include constipation, diarrhea, brain fog, fatigue, nutrient deficiencies, and an impaired immune system.
5. Hollowing of Eyes and Face
When you look at a child, one thing that you may notice is the fullness of their face and smooth skin. Aging causes this natural, glowing look to fade. As we age beyond our 30s, the collagen depletion begins and as a result, you may notice that the area under your eyes appears hollower and darker. Your cheeks may begin to thin, giving your face a gaunt appearance (7).
6. Problems with Blood Flow
Collagen makes up the walls of blood vessels which, as collagen depletes, are less able to regulate blood flow (8). Interruptions to blood flow may produce symptoms such as chest pain, dizziness, fatigue, and frequent headaches.
Cellulite occurs when the layer of fat underneath the skin pushes up on the connective tissue, creating a dimpled or lumpy appearance. Loss of collagen causes the skin to lose some of its elasticity, which may contribute to the development of cellulite (9).
Of all things that collagen does, reducing the appearance of skin lines and wrinkles tops the list—and for a good reason. Collagen is responsible for giving skin its structure. As such, when there’s less collagen, the skin isn’t quite as firm. When the skin loses elasticity and firmness, wrinkles often result.
Research indicates that joint pain and wrinkles aren’t just a result of “getting old”, but conclusively a result of low collagen levels (7).
Can You Stop the Decline of Collagen Production?
While there’s no way to halt collagen loss completely, there are things that you can do to support your body’s production of collagen back to youthful levels to help mitigate chronic joint and muscle pain.
Research shows that Type 1 collagen is damaged by exposure to ultraviolet light, so wearing sunscreen regularly is important in slowing the breakdown of collagen in the skin (10). According to doctors and anti-aging experts, supplementing your diet with the right type and dose of collagen protein in your diet can have a dramatic effect on increasing collagen levels.
When hydrolyzed, collagen is reduced to small peptides (short chains of amino acids), which can be consumed in the form of a dietary supplement (11)…
Hydrolyzed collagen has a much smaller molecular weight in comparison to native collagen or gelatin. Studies suggest that more than 90% of hydrolyzed collagen is digested and available as small peptides in the bloodstream within one hour. From the blood, the peptides (containing hydroxyproline) are transported into the target tissues (i.e. skin, bones, and cartilage), where the peptides act as building blocks for local cells and help boost the production of new collagen fibers.
Though it’s possible to obtain extra collagen through diet (consuming animal products such as gelatinous meats, the cartilage on bones such as chicken drumsticks, and skin from poultry), some may find it unappealing or difficult to eat enough to support their body’s requirements. For this reason, supplementing with a high-quality collagen protein powder is often recommended.
The Superior Types of Collagen: Types 1 and 3
Now that the research concludes that ingesting collagen peptides can increase collagen levels in the body, more and more collagen supplements have saturated the consumer marketplace.
However, buyer’s beware, not all collagen is created equal. It’s important to understand the different types of collagen, as well as the different sources and health benefits associated with the most important types.
There are 28 known types of collagen that contain different proteins which serve separate purposes within the body. However, when it comes to anti-aging, there are two types in particular that we need to be concerned with when it comes to rewinding the clock on how we look, feel and perform as we age: Type 1 and Type 3.
There are 19 amino acids (proteins) found in Collagen Types 1 and 3—each essential to functions and maintenance within skin, muscles, and bones. These types are produced by fibroblasts (cells in connective tissues) and osteoblasts (cells that make bones).
Over 90% of the collagen in the body is comprised of Type 1 and 3 Collagen. Proteins in these types include glycine, proline, alanine, and hydroxyproline (1).
- Glycine: The main amino acid in collagen; requires more serine than our bodies can naturally produce. Studies suggest the need for glycine supplementation to achieve ideal metabolic processes (12).
- Proline: A non-essential amino acid synthesized from glycine; important in the function of joints and tendons (13).
- Hydroxyproline: An amino acid that plays an essential role in the stability of collagen (14).
- Alanine: An amino acid used in the biosynthesis of proteins (15).
Type 1 and Type 3 are the superior types of collagen that contain the vital amino acids to ease joint pain and look years younger.
Type 1 Collagen
Up to 90% of your body’s collagen is Type 1 collagen. Type 1 collagen fibers can be found in the skin, bones, and blood vessel walls, as well as connective tissue and fibrous cartilage—fibrous meaning fiber-like, or stiff.
It’s also found in scar tissue. This fact, along with findings from some studies, suggests that Type 1 collagen aids in wound healing and possibly blood clotting.
A more recent study provided Type 1 collagen peptides to 105 women who dealt with cellulite. Results indicate that the collagen reduced the prevalence of cellulite, especially in women of otherwise normal weight ranges (16).
Type 1 collagen is most notable for its anti-aging properties. Among the various types of collagen, this fibrous protein best minimizes wrinkles and improves the skin’s health and hydration.
Type 3 Collagen
Type 3 collagen provides and improves the structure of muscles and connective tissues as well as organs and blood vessels. Comprised of meshy reticular fibers, this form of collagen is the second most prevalent and important after Type 1.
Type 3 is abundant in the intestines. Some have purported Type 3 collagen to aid in intestinal health, especially within the lining of the gut wall. In this way, Type 3 collagen plays an important role in improving digestion and helping to prevent a leaky gut.
This type of collagen is understood to facilitate the synthesis of blood platelets, and therefore is vital to the process of blood clotting (coagulation), wound healing, immunity, and injury recovery.
Because Type 3 collagen is the type most commonly found in the muscles and connective tissues, this collagen type plays a large role in maintaining our ability to move without crippling aches and pains that often accompany older age. Providing support to our muscles, ligaments, and tendons with Type 3 collagen is perhaps the single most important measure one can take to avoid chronic pain, muscle soreness, and stiffness within our tendons and ligaments.
While all types of collagen are helpful to the human body as they each work in unique ways and aid many bodily processes and functions, only Types 1 and 3 have been researched specifically for anti-aging and mobility benefits. These are frequently thought to be useful collagen sources for the broadest number of people.
Type 1 collagen, which is the most abundant collagen naturally found in the human body, is useful for:
- Reducing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles
- Skin hydration
- Wound healing, the formation of scar tissue
- Reduction in cellulite, possibly even stretch marks
- Moderate weight loss
Type 3 collagen, which is the second most prevalent collagen naturally found in the human body, is useful for:
- Muscle, ligament, and tendon strength
- Mitigating muscle soreness and aches and pains
- Bone and joint health
- Gut lining and digestive health
- Injury prevention
- Tissue regeneration and repair
The Problem With Collagen Supplements: What You Need to Know So You Don’t Waste Your Money
The most conclusive research conducted about the benefits of collagen has been about the ability of Type 1 and Type 3 to support ageless skin, hair, and nails as well as effectively boost muscle, ligament, and tendon strength to support healthy joints. Therefore when choosing a collagen supplement, it’s important to ensure Type 1 and Type 3 collagen is present in the formula.
Based on recent clinical trials, there are 3 keys to getting the absolute best results with collagen supplementation…
1. Avoid “Multi-Collagen” Marketing Scams
In the case of collagen supplements, a formula with multiple types does not mean it’s better.
In fact, research indicates that some collagen types should be taken together while others should be taken separately. For example, because collagen Type 2 makes up the fluids and function in the cartilage, Type 2 collagen supplements should be taken separately from Types 1 and 3 to ensure adequate absorption.
Furthermore, other studies show that undenatured Type 2 collagen (UC-II) is not intended to be used by your body as a collagen rebuilder in the first place. In a process called oral tolerance, very small doses of UC-II are taken to train your body’s immune system to stop attacking its own collagen, explains Kimberly Sanders, ND, Assistant Professor of Clinical Sciences at the University of Bridgeport College of Naturopathic Medicine.
So while Type 2 collagen certainly has benefits for those with immune disorders, it poses no benefit in terms of replenishing your body’s collagen deficiency (which is the main reason for taking collagen in the first place).
Most notably, many collagen fiber types don’t have ample and conclusive research backing their effectiveness in longevity and anti-aging, making them far cheaper to source. This is why many big multi-collagen brands include non-proven collagen types as fillers to mitigate manufacturing costs—ultimately yielding a far less effective, low-quality supplement.
The bottom line: More isn’t always better.
Using a multi-collagen supplement isn’t the most efficient way to restore low collagen levels and will likely result in a blunted absorption of the vital collagen types (Type 1 and 3), hindering the body from reaping the full benefits of using collagen. Therefore, in order to experience maximum age-defying results with collagen supplementation, use a powder that combines Types 1 and 3—and leave out all the rest.
2. Make Sure the Collagen Supplement Is Certified Grass-Fed
With so many choices for collagen supplements available, picking a collagen source can be a bit confusing. Bone broth collagen, bovine collagen, chicken collagen, and marine collagen are all widely available sources to choose from.
There are superior types of collagen, so is there a superior source?
While the ratio and concentration of amino acids may vary slightly from source to source, structurally, collagen is the same whether it’s coming from a cow, chicken, fish, or bone broth.
The important factor to consider for the highest quality of collagen isn’t the animal so much as how the animal was cared for. In other words, whether the collagen comes from a grass-fed, pasture-raised, cage-free, free-range, and antibiotic-free source, or not, will have a direct impact on the absorption, effectiveness, and ultimately the safety of the supplement.
Grass-fed cows are never fed any genetically modified organisms and are not exposed to growth hormone treatment (rBGH & rBST), chemicals, antibiotics, or injected pathogens.
This makes grass-fed collagen one of the healthiest (and safest) protein supplements to include in your diet. It’s free of hormones, antibiotics, pesticides, and steroids. The only way to ensure you are avoiding this risk of toxin exposure is by using a collagen supplement that is Certified Grass-Fed.
3. Look for “Hydrolysate” on the Label
To ensure your body can easily digest and put the collagen to immediate use, make sure the supplement is fully hydrolyzed collagen. When hydrolyzed, collagen is carefully reduced to smaller, more digestible peptides during the manufacturing process.
This allows collagen to be further “predigested” into its basic amino acids…
Predigested collagen supplements are superior because the amino acids are more easily available to your tissues. When you take hydrolyzed collagen, you’re getting a boost of the specific amino acids that are rich in collagen much more rapidly. Studies indicate that properly hydrolyzed collagen peptides are available in the bloodstream within two hours of ingestion—usually within only one hour.
In other words, using a hydrolysate collagen peptide formula means your body will be able to start reaping the age-defying benefits faster and more efficiently.
NativeTip: The words “hydrolyzed” and “peptides” are interchangeable—both mean the same thing. So if you see a product that says “hydrolyzed collagen” or “collagen peptides”, they’re the same form.
Doctors Agree That It’s Important to Choose a Collagen Supplement Wisely
Consuming pure Grass-Fed, Type 1 and 3 collagen fibers that are fully hydrolyzed for fast absorption will give your body a huge advantage when it comes to minimizing joint pain and reducing visible signs of aging.
At NativePath, Dr. Chad Walding—Doctor of Physical Therapy and NativePath Co-Founder—has played a critical role in developing a breakthrough formula to make meeting daily collagen needs easier and more effective than ever.
“The good news is that collagen is restorable. This is perhaps the biggest pain-relief breakthrough I’ve seen in my patients.” —Dr. Chad Walding, DTP
Every scoop of NativePath Grass-Fed Collagen is consistently formulated with 10 grams of the highest-quality grass-fed, Type 1 and Type 3 collagen which is critical for maintaining the youthful function and appearance of the skin, hair, nails, joints, bones, muscles, and more.
Using an advanced hydrolyzed collagen peptide formula, NativePath’s premium collagen powder allows for maximum absorption and potency. This means it can be broken down, converted, and absorbed back into the body to rebuild joint strength, fill in fine lines and promote graceful aging much more effectively than non-hydrolyzed collagen brands.
As a doctor of Physical Therapy, Senior Wellness Expert, and co-founder of NativePath, Dr. Walding has helped millions of people improve their quality of life from the inside out—by speaking, writing, and educating others on how to live life a little more #OnThePath.
This content is for informational and educational purposes only. It is not intended to provide medical advice or to take the place of such advice or treatment from a personal physician. All readers/viewers of this content are advised to consult their doctors or qualified health professionals regarding specific health questions. Neither Dr. Chad Walding nor the publisher of this content takes responsibility for possible health consequences of any person or persons reading or following the information in this educational content. All viewers of this content, especially those taking prescription or over-the-counter medications, should consult their physicians before beginning any nutrition, supplement, or lifestyle program.