Why Are People Freaking Out About Collagen Peptides-and What Do They Even Do?

Another day, another supplement's taking over the internet. If you've been cruising around Paleo websites or following the latest beauty advice, you've probably seen the word “collagen” thrown around more than once. Until recently, collagen was a treasured ingredient in antiaging creams, but didn't play a big factor in the Western supplement industry. But with collagen peptides gaining popularity, it seems time to answer the question: What exactly are collagen peptides, and even more importantly,Why should anybody care?

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Collagen is basically body glue.

Before we get into the ins out outs of collagen peptides, it's good to know what collagen actually, uh, is. Collagen is a structural protein that's found in abundance in human and animal bodies. In fact, it's pretty much the glue that holds all our parts together. As we age, we produce less collagen, which causes loss of elasticity in your skin and all the other fun stuff that goes along with getting older.

So, the basic idea of adding more collagen to your diet sounds like a great idea. Who doesn't want to have fewer wrinkles and less joint pain? But do these supplements really make a difference?

What are collagen peptides?

It's not a shock that collagen peptides are a form of collagen. But it's slightly more surprising to learn that collagen and gelatin are almost exactly the same. Yes, the new supplement craze is basically just the stuff you use to make Jell-O shots; collagen naturally occurs in all animals, and gelatin is just the processed version of this common protein, or “hydrolyzed collagen.” Sadly, the high sugar content of stuff like Jell-O pretty much outweighs the benefits of the gelatin, so don't start mainlining Jigglers in the name of good health.

The biggest difference between peptides and gelatin is how they dissolve. Collagen peptide supplements are hydrolyzed to a low molecular weight so they can be dissolved in hot or cold water and are supposedly easier to digest. Gelatin can only be dissolved in hot water (something all you Jell-O shot pros already know). Eating undissolved gelatin can be a little harsh on the stomach. Also, it's kind of gross.

Since a hot and cold water soluble supplement is much easier to use, collagen peptides have taken off in popularity. Plus, a collagen peptide-infused smoothie sounds a lot fancier than a gelatin juice.

Why take collagen peptides?

People all over the internet have been singing the praises of bone broth for years. Why? The collagen content. But since we all can't keep a jug of bone broth around to swig from, collagen peptide supplements have become more and more popular.

Most blogs and wellness enthusiasts claim that collagen is a good source of protein that helps increase skin elasticity and strengthens hair and nails. You'll also find claims that it'll help you lose weight, sleep better, fix your joints, improve digestion, heal leaky gut, and make Jesus love you. Okay, I added in the last one, but if you look at enough websites, you'd think collagen was some kind of miracle powder that cures everything except cancer and herpes.

What does it really do?

Most supplements have evangelical enthusiasts, but most of the time it's too good to be true. So what can collagen peptides really do for us? Well, it is a good source of protein. In one scoop of peptide powder, you typically get 10 grams of protein. At 40 calories a scoop, that's not too bad. Now, if you're a vegetarian, watch out. Most collagen products are derived from animal bonesor fish scales, so it's not vegan safe.

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When it comes to skin, there is some evidence to suggest that collagen supplements really do help. One study found that skin hydration and collagen density increased after eight weeks of oral collagen supplementation.The effect of oral collagen peptide supplementation on skin moisture and the dermal collagen network: evidence from an ex vivo model and randomized, placebo-controlled clinical trials. Asserin J, Lati E, Shioya T. Journal of cosmetic dermatology, 2015, Sep.;14(4):1473-2165. Basically, collagen was considered a helpful tool in decreasing the skin's signs of aging. Now, that's only one study, but it's hopeful information all the same.

What might collagen do?

The other collagen claims are a little harder to nail down. Sure, studies have been performed, but they offer contradictory results. Here are a few places where collagen might really work.

If you suffer from brittle or ever-breaking nails, there's some evidence to suggest collagen peptides could get you the manicure of your dreams. Read anyone's blog who's ever taken collagen for more than a day, and they'll insist their nails are better than ever. Some scientific studies support that claim. A German/Brazilian study found that participants taking supplements for 24 weeks had a 12 percent increase in nail growth and a 42 percent decrease in the number of broken nails.Oral supplementation with specific bioactive collagen peptides improves nail growth and reduces symptoms of brittle nails. Hexsel D, Zague V, Schunck M. Journal of cosmetic dermatology, 2017, Aug.;():1473-2165.

Before you start chugging collagen, know that this was a non-blind study with 25 participants and no placebo group. Basically, the study doesn't mean much. Sorry to rain on your supplement parade, but the connection between collagen and nails still isn't scientifically solid.

When it comes to joint pain, there is some evidence to suggest that collagen supplements might help your creaky bones feel a little better. A study from Penn State University found that athletes had significantly less joint pain at rest and in movement after taking collagen peptides.24-Week study on the use of collagen hydrolysate as a dietary supplement in athletes with activity-related joint pain. Clark KL, Sebastianelli W, Flechsenhar KR. Current medical research and opinion, 2008, Apr.;24(5):1473-4877. So collagen could have the capability to ease pain, inflammation, and reduce joint damage on the whole. Sadly, we can't officially extrapolate all of that from one 97-person study, but it shows collagen's potential in the healthy joint world.

What can't collagen do?

There are claims that collagen can help with digestion and fix “leaky gut.” The science behind the whole leaky gut phenomenon is hotly debated, with many gastrointestinal experts denying leaky gut's existence entirely. Now, I'm not an expert, and if your health professional diagnosed you with leaky gut, feel free to take their advice. Either way, there isn't much evidence to suggest that collagen would help with any gastro problems.

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Lastly, collagen won't give you a ticket to dream town. Many holistic sites claim that collagen peptide supplements help you faller asleep faster and sleep deeper through the night. Unfortunately, there's really nothing to suggest that it will help you snooze. Sure, if your joints are less achy because of supplements or you're so filled with glee over your collagen-induced wrinkle-free skin, you might sleep pretty well. But don't turn to peptides to knock you out at night.

What did collagen do for me?

I added collagen peptides to my morning smoothie for a month, so I could have some firsthand experience with the collagen craze. Was my skin transformed? Were my nails healthy and long? Did my joints feel 10 years younger? No. No to all of it. Now, I didn't notice anything bad, but in all honesty, I noticed absolutely zero difference in my skin, hair, nails, joints, sleep, or cellulite. (A lot of folks are hawking it as an anti-cellulite cure, but… there's no real evidence.) Of course, I only tried it for a month, and I'm only one person, so just because it didn't work with me, doesn't mean it won't help you out.

Will I still take collagen supplements? Weirdly, yes! I don't get a lot of protein, and I don't like the taste of most protein powders. But the collagen blended easily into smoothies without adding any texture or flavor whatsoever. Even in thin juices, I could never tell it was there. So, for that alone, I'm willing to keep up my collagen intake.

As far as supplements go, collagen peptides seem pretty promising. Though the science to prove its efficacy is in the early stages, there are good signs pointing toward increases in skin and joint health when you add collagen to the mix. Will it change everything overnight? Of course not. But if you're looking for an unintrusive protein powder that might do a couple other good things for your body along the way, collagen peptides are worth a try.

Amber Petty is a freelance writer in Los Angeles who writes for Bustle, Elite Daily, Thrillist, and a lot of other random sites. If you like easy crafts and Simpsons gifs, check out her blog Half-Assed Crafts.