Reality check: Is it safe to drink collagen powder?

Search the hashtag #collagenpowder on Instagram and nearly 100,000 posts will come up.

It’s the latest must-have product for health nuts and influencers, who are mixing it into everything from morning coffees to post-gym smoothies.

Proponents of collagen powder claim it helps with everything from bad skin to joint pain, but according to registered dietitian Jacklyn Villeneuve, there’s not enough scientific evidence to suggest it has any impact at all.

Collagen is a protein which your body naturally produces, and it exists in large quantities in your connective tissue. It’s the main structural protein found in your bones, skin, ligaments and cartilage.

According to Villeneuve, there’s a misconception that consuming more collagen will lead to higher quantities of collagen in our bodies, which will make our bones, skin, ligaments and cartilage stronger. This isn’t the case.

“Proteins are synthesized from amino acids. When we consume collagen, we need to first break it down into those amino acids,” said Villeneuve, who services three Loblaws grocery stores in the Ottawa area.

“It goes into a bigger amino acid pool, which our body may or may not use to create more collagen… but it could also just use it for other purposes,” like producing other proteins.

“There are some really interesting and potentially promising studies coming out particularly relating to joint health… but I’ve never seen a study that feels solid enough to make a conclusive claim,” she said.

Research from 2009 found that four out of five osteoarthritis sufferers who took a daily 40 mg dose of undenatured type-II collagen saw their pain drop by an average of 26 per cent.

However, researchers cautioned that they could not directly link this to the collagen specifically. They instead suggest that the reduction in pain may have been due to the anti-inflammatory properties of the supplement.

Lauren McNeill, a Toronto-based registered dietitian, is also skeptical about the impacts of collagen powder. “The evidence on collagen is very limited,” she told Global News.

According to McNeill, most of the studies that do show benefits are actually funded by collagen companies or institutions, which presents a conflict of interest and makes the research unreliable.

“[For example,] the claims that have been studied the most frequently are utilizing collagen for reducing joint pain in athletes or among individuals with osteoarthritis, however, most of these studies have conflicts of interest or are directly funded by the collagen industry.”

McNeill believes consistent use of collagen powder might even have harmful side effects.

“What many people don’t realize is that collagen supplements are very high in protein, which most people are already getting plenty of,” she said. “Consuming excessive amounts of protein can actually have detrimental effects on our kidneys and may potentially lead to certain chronic diseases.”

Villeneuve says that the lack of research on collagen powder means little is known about the best way to consume it.

“[We] don’t really have any information about the optimal dosage that’s safe, either,” she said.

She’s concerned because of the widespread availability of these products. Anyone can buy collagen powder off the shelf or online, without any medical guidance.

“Consult a health professional who knows your medical history,” Villeneuve says to those who still really want to try the supplement.

A doctor who is aware of your pre-existing medical conditions and current medications can monitor you closely to ensure the supplement isn’t interacting negatively.

“It’s not to say that I would be totally against someone taking [a collagen supplement], but I think that we can really focus on first making sure those other pillars are there… making sure there’s enough protein and enough vitamin C in the diet so your body can make all of its own collagen.”

Naturally promote collagen production

As a safer alternative, both dietitians recommend adding foods to your diet which can stimulate the natural production of collagen.

“I always recommend a protein at every meal and with every snack,” said Villeneuve.

“The easy ones are eggs, which make sense at any time of the day… things like Greek yogurt or skyr… and fish, fresh or canned,” Villeneuve said. “If you want to go more plant-based, that could be soy foods [like] tofu, tempeh, beans or lentils.”

Not only will this provide your body with the ingredients necessary to produce collagen, but it will also ensure that “you’re well-satiated and that your energy level is stable.”

McNeill agrees — with her clients, she focuses on promoting a diet rich with vitamin C, which you can get from foods like leafy greens, broccoli, bell peppers and citrus fruits.

“Getting enough copper, zinc and protein are also important to help with collagen production in our body. Copper can be found in foods such as sesame seeds, cocoa powder, cashews and lentils. Zinc is found in oatmeal, tofu, legumes, nuts, and seeds, and high-quality protein can be found in beans, lentils, edamame, tofu and tempeh,” she said.

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