Okay, I’m not talking about the kind of Jello we grew up with as a kid, cause that stuff is nasty and full of artificial ingredients. What I am talking about is gelatin and collagen–something that has incredible health benefits if you purchase the right kind. We took a skeptical look at all the marketing behind collagen and compared it to the actual research out there. What is real and what is bunk? You’ve trusted Mamavation to bring you topics like best & worst collagen brands, best & worst cookware brands, & why your supplements have a “CA Prop. 65” warning label on them, now join us as we bring you seven science-based benefits of collagen and the safest brand we could find.
Disclosure: this post contains affiliate links and was fact-checked by Rebecca Elizabeth Sherrick Harks, RN/BSN.
Table of Contents
What’s Real And What’s Probably Bogus About Collagen?
In 2018, a small, growing pile of evidence suggested that collagen and gelatin were able to smooth skins, ease the pains of arthritis, increase wound healing, as well as to decrease muscle wasting in certain vulnerable populations. The Nutrition Business Journal expects that in the United States, people are expected to spend over $120 million on collagen products – an increase from 30% from 2017. With new benefits being touted every day, it’s no surprise that collagen and gelatin are squarely in the public eye.
So…what’s true? What’s not?
Can Gelatin & Collagen Improve Bone & Joint Health?
There have been a number of studies performed in the past years to help determine if collagen can help those of us who have joint damage, bone damage, osteoarthritis, osteoporosis, as collagen hydrate has fewer side effects. The results? They’re a mixed bag:
In a 24-week study done by Penn State University, 97 athletes who were physically active who didn’t show clinical problems with their joints were studied. Of these, a random half of participants were given collagen hydrolysate while the other half took a placebo pill. After 24 weeks, researchers learned that those who took collagen supplementation showed reduced joint pain throughout daily life, at rest, as well during heavy activity such as exercise, weightlifting, and playing sport.
In this study, the effective dose was 10g of collagen per day which works out to be about one standard serving of bone broth, or a collagen and/or gelatin supplement. The implications are vast but due to the extremely small sample size (97 athletes – 72 male, 75 female), the usage of collagen hydrolysate needs further research.
In a 2012 review of the (then) current studies being done on using collagen as a treatment for osteoarthritis, researchers found that a collagen supplement helped more than a placebo at relieving pain. However, these same researchers reviewed the literature and concluded that still insufficient evidence that collagen would function as a treatment for osteoarthritis.
In 2017, new recent research found that collagen taken with vitamin C can assist in tendon repair and injury prevention. Here’s what researchers suggest as a protocol: take 15 grams of gelatin with vitamin C about an hour before you exercise, perform rehab. or however you’re getting your body moving.
There is a growing body of evidence that collagen may indeed help with joint pain and bone problems, it may be effective as a supplement to those who are struggling with bone and joint problems – notably because collagen supplementation has very few side effects (provided it’s not loaded with lead). Collagen combine with vitamin C may help prevent injuries. However: make sure to speak to your doctor(s) before trying anything new.
Can Collagen & Gelatin Help with Weight Loss?
Gelatin is almost fat and sugar-free (depending upon the way we make it, of course) which makes it full of protein and low in calories. Protein is responsible for helping us satiate our appetites – when we eat carbohydrates, we get hungrier than if we’d eaten protein. This is the basis of the emerging market of protein powders. However, a good number of protein powders are filled with useless fillers and additives that can hinder our weight loss.
One study showed that 22 people who are 20 grams of hydrolyzed gelatin both made them feel fuller as well as creating a spike in the hormones known to help us feel full. Now, of course, that is a tiny study that requires more research to determine the longer-term effects of eating gelatin.
In another study, a very small sample size (23 healthy individuals) was given either gelatin protein or casein – the milk protein – only, for 36 hours. The researchers found that eating the gelatin reduced hunger by 44%. More research is clearly required.
Adding collagen and gelatin protein to our diet has shown to increase our feelings of fullness, for longer periods of time. This means that we’re less likely to snack or overeat. If you’re on a diet, using collagen supplements – without the pesky fillers and additives – may help you lose weight.
Can Gelatin Help Those with Type II Diabetes Improve Blood Sugar?
One of the first reasons that gelatin, notably the glycine in gelatin – may help people who have -or are at risk for – type II diabetes is because it has been linked to weight loss, which is one of the major risk factors for the development of this disease (Type I appears at birth).
Current research is suggesting that people who have type II diabetes who take 5 grams of gelatin per day for three month may show a marked decrease in their HbA1C levels. HbA1C levels measure a person’s blood sugar over time which is an indicator of how well the diabetes is being controlled. Lower HbA1C levels are associated with better blood sugar control, while higher levels are indicative of uncontrolled diabetes.
People who have type II diabetes may benefit from not only the weight loss likely caused by gelatin ingestion at a range of 3 to 5 grams orally, but the same amount of gelatin has been used to effectively manage blood sugar level in scientific studies.
Can Collagen & Gelatin Improve Sleep?
Glycine – as referenced above – is an amino acid and a neurotransmitter found in collagen. When it functions as a neurotransmitter, glycine works to both inhibit and stimulate cells in our brains and central nervous systems . This means that glycine affects our mood, our desire to eat, our perception of pain, and our ability to sleep well.
Studies are showing that three grams of glycine (found in one collagen serving) taken before bed may improve the quality of your sleep.
Okay, so this is how it works: part of going into REM sleep is a drop in your body temperature which continues throughout the night. Glycine works to help sleep by dropping your body temperature, making you drowsy. During REM sleep, your muscles get weak. Glycine has been understood to be probably responsible for loss of postural muscle tone while you sleep.
Glycine increases serotonin levels without increasing dopamine levels which helps maintain healthy circadian rhythms leading to better sleep.
According to current studies, taking a range of one and a half servings of collagen taken by mouth before bed has been seen to effectively help some people sleep. As always, talk to your doctor about any supplements you’d like to take.
Can Collagen & Gelatin Improve Mood And Brain Functions?
Glycine, a major component of collagen and gelatin has been associated with better moods, increased cognition, and increased in memory function.
Now this effect may actually be the body’s response to having a good night’s sleep.
Even so, the mood-boosting effects of collagen may extend further to brain health.
The psychiatric benefits of collagen are in the infancy of studies, but some have showed that it can be helpful in treating the negative symptoms of schizophrenia: primarily depression and loss of mental fluency; it may even help with the cessation of psychotic symptoms for some people who have schizophrenia.
We’re learning that the benefits of glycine on the brain may extend to other disorders. There is promising research that may suggest that glycine may actually alleviate some of symptoms of depressive disorders as well as people who have neurodegenerative diseases like Huntington’s disease and Alzheimer’s dementia.
The cognitive-enhancing effects apply to people tho don’t have schizophrenia or other illnesses as well. Some people have claimed to have an increase in attention, visual, and verbal memory recall when taking glycine.
Anything that helps us feel better and obtain a good night’s sleep is worth its weight in gold. Anything that allows people who have schizophrenia and/or other to feel better disorders should be explored.
Can Collagen & Gelatin Help With Heart Health?
It’s been thought by researchers looking into ways to boost your heart health that taking collagen supplements may help reduce the risk heart-related health problems. Here’s why:
Collagen is extremely important in when it comes to providing structure and shape for your arteries – which carry blood around your body. Evidence in some studies show that without enough collagen, your arteries may become weaker and fragile, which may lead to the development of atherosclerosis.
Atherosclerosis is a nasty disease that’s may be linked to both heart attacks (myocardial infarctions – MI) and strokes, caused by the narrowing of the arteries.
In a very small study, 31 healthy adults were given 16 grams of collagen to be taken twice daily (8 grams in the morning, eight grams in the evening) for six months, at which time researchers noted that there had been an important reduction in artery stiffness among some of the study participants.
Another study into a similar collagen regime was noted to have increased the levels of the good kind of cholesterol (HDL) by about 6%. Having high HDL cholesterol is an important protective factor in heart conditions – including atherosclerosis.
The glycine in gelatin helps support immune health and keep inflammation at bay, which may protect the cardiovascular system from antioxidants and trap and dispose of the damaged disease-causing cells.
Research suggests that higher levels of glycine are associated with a lower risk of a heart attack, but scientists are still struggling to determine why.
Collagen supplementation may drastically reduce the risk for the development of – or lessening in symptoms of those who already have – heart conditions. Talk to your doctor about the advantages of using collagen.
Can Collagen & Gelatin Improve Skin & Hair Health?
One of the more evident things we see as we age are the wrinkles thought to be caused by an ever-decreasing amount of collagen in our skin, hair, and nails.
One of the first times that we’d heard of collagen was a nonsurgical remedy used to combat wrinkles – the science behind it thought that it would form special cells in your skin that would increase the growth of new cells, thereby leaving the user with more youthful, less wrinkled skin.
Whelp, that’s an awesome thought.
Unfortunately, the topical (lotion or gel) form of collagen has no research to support the beneficial effects of using collagen in that form.
Collagen particles are actually too big for our skin to absorb them, which likely makes skin-based collagen products ineffective.
However, there is hope for collagen to help your skin – through a collagen-rich diet. In fact, there’s a mounting pile of research that a collagen-rich diet and/or supplementation can help increase skin elasticity after about 8 weeks.
See, skin elasticity is increased when we ingest collagen because this repairs damaged collagen fibers, which thereby increases your collagen levels, fixing older-aged skin. This also restores the hydration of our skin – this abundance of connective tissue helps your skin to look and feel less wrinkled and more supple.
Research into the benefits of gelatin on your hair is in its infancy, but some studies are showing a correlation between collagen ingestion and hair growth and thickness.
One (admittedly small) study involved 24 women with alopecia (hair loss). Half the group was given a gelatin supplement while the other half got a placebo. The results showed that hair numbers increased by 29% in the group with the supplements while only 10% of the placebo group showed an increase. Hair mass/thickness increased by 40% for those taking the supplement while the placebo group experienced a decrease of 10% in their hair thickness.
Ditch and avoid topical collagen creams for your skin – they’re not worth the money. If you’re trying to look more youthful and/or increase your hair’s growth and thickness, try oral gelatin or put collagen in your coffee.
Can Gelatin & Collagen Improve Gut Health?
So you’re probably getting annoyed from hearing about glycine – but you’re just going to have to cope because you’ll be hearing more and more about this amino acid in the years to follow. Your gut health is highly important to your overall wellbeing, so it’s not a surprise that glycine is being studied to determine its role in gut health.
Glycine is the master at regulating inflammation in your stomach, small intestine and GI tract as it is an anti-inflammatory agent, can modulate the gut flora and protect against pathogens and protects your gut from freezing. In studies on rats, gelatin was determined to help protect the gut wall from damage, although researchers don’t fully understand this mechanism. How it does this isn’t fully understood.
Another amino acids is glutamic acid which is converted to glutamine in the body. Glutamate and glycine are thought to improve the integrity of the gut wall, which can help to prevent developing a “leaky gut.”
Having a leaky gut means that the walls to your guts don’t properly filter bacteria and pathogens and other possibly harmful substances to pass into your bloodstream. This is not normal and is thought to contribute to common gut problems, like IBS.
Currently, glycine is being used more often to try to manage ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, and inflammatory bowel disease.
Those of us who struggle with problems in our gut often find that their quality of life is impaired. Glycine is now being used to (potentially) manage many of the more common gut issues, and should be considered as a complementary therapy option.
Can Gelatin & Collagen Reduce Liver Damage?
Think of the liver as a air filter: air passes through the filter which collects and removes the contaminants and toxins. It also plays a major role in digesting your food and converting that food into energy.
You can’t live without it. On average, 20 people die each day in the US waiting for a transplant. In fact, there are over 100,000 people currently waiting for a transplant due to a number of conditions: hepatitis (A,B,C) , fatty liver, cirrhosis, and other inherited conditions.
That’s a lot of people who need new livers which means that there is a large amount of research into the treatment and reversal of liver disease and scarring.
Glycine has been shown to help rats with alcohol-related liver damage. In one study, animals given glycine had a reduction in liver damage.
In a later study using rabbits with liver injuries found that giving glycine increased liver function and blood flow.
Most of the available research into the effects of collagen reducing and reversing liver damage is still in its infancy. With no reliable resources regarding human studies, it’s impossible to predict whether or not collagen and gelatin can reduce liver damage.
Can Collagen & Gelatin Slow Cancer Growth?
Cancer isn’t just a disease of tumor cells, but a disease of imbalance. Your cell’s structure (extracellular matrix) is comprised mostly of collagen which may be able to regulate the way some tumor cells behave. Collagen was often thought to be a passive barrier in by resisting the tumor cells; it has been determined that collagen is actually a double-edged sword: it both inhibits and promotes tumor progression during the different stages of cancer.
Cancer cells reshape collagen to form a reinforcing cell-collagen loop, which gradually increases cancer progression.
While there is clearly a lot more research to be performed on the role of gelatin and collagen and cancer, the evidence located was so murky that we cannot endorse using collagen to treat cancers.
Mamavation’s Investigation of Best & Worst Collagen & Gelatin Brands
Mamavation investigated over 40 different collagen and gelatin brands for quality. (We did not look at fish collagen because we are saving that for our upcoming seafood investigation.)
We looked closely at whether the animals were pasture or grass-fed or were given antibiotics. We also looked closely at levels of lead contamination and contacted some customer service platforms to get information that they would normally give customers directly. And finally, we looked into processing as best we could.
We were a bit concerned by the degree to which some of these brands went to evade questions about the amount of lead in their products. We also noticed that the most popular collagen brands were not the safest at all. We found the safest one and are recommending them to you below. You can also check out our entire collagen & gelatin investigation here.
MOST RECOMMENDED BRAND: Perfect Supplement’s Hydrolyzed Collagen
- No Prop. 65 warning required. Most collagen brands in the industry, especially the most popular ones, require a warning because they have high levels of lead. Perfect Supplements Collagen does not. (We checked their current labs!)
- Only collagen brand to have “Glyphosate Residue-Free” Certification from The Detox Project
- Pasture raised cows & Grassfed certified
- 97% bioavailable (we checked!)
- Disolves in hot or cold liquids (we tested it!)
- The only brand that offered all laboratory data openly (we saw it!)
Perfect Supplements offers Mamavation Readers a Special Discount. Click here to redeem 10% off Hydrolyzed Collagen and Free Shipping on orders over $99. Use “Mamavation” at checkout.