It’s highly likely you’ve heard of collagen by now. It’s a supplement that is trending in the marketplace, and can be found just about everywhere these days. But what is collagen exactly, and is it a valuable supplement especially for women in midlife and menopause? We’ll break it down here.
Collagen is the most abundant protein in the body and it is found in the fibrous connective tissues that hold the body together (skin, tendons, ligaments and even bone). The body naturally produces collagen but this process greatly declines as we age. It typically slows down even more during and after menopause.
The Cleveland Clinic reported that while you can’t measure your collagen level, you can tell when it’s on the decline. Your skin may develop wrinkles, your joints and muscles may feel more stiff and less flexible, and you may even experience gastrointestinal problems due to the thinning of the lining of the digestive tract.
Collagen is naturally present in the muscle and connective tissue of animals, so when we consume any form of meat (or egg whites too), we are eating collagen in its most natural form. There is no such thing as vegan collagen because collagen is not naturally present or produced in plants. However, the amino acids needed to produce our body’s own natural collagen can come from any protein source (meat, cheese, quinoa or beans). When we consume collagen from food, our digestive system breaks it down into collagen peptides (groups of amino acids) so it’s easily absorbed and utilized where it’s needed in our bodies. However, today collagen is being added to food products, protein powders and even as capsules.
Supplementing collagen sounds like a simple solution, but it can get tricky. Our bodies need collagen broken down into collagen peptides to reap the benefits. You will find that most collagen supplements are hydrolyzed, meaning they are broken down into peptides, or small chains of amino acids. The collagen peptides are used as building blocks to make our own collagen and protect the collagen that is already there and naturally occurring.
Because our natural collagen production declines as we age, women may benefit from using a collagen protein powder supplement in addition to eating a protein-rich whole foods-based diet. For women in their 40’s, 50’s and beyond, it may be worth trying a collagen supplement consistently for a minimum of 6 months to see if they experience any positive effects related to joint pain improvements, changes in body composition, or noticeable changes in the appearance of their skin, hair or nails. Women with a higher risk of bone loss may want to try a collagen supplement (partnered with strength training) as a safe and potentially helpful aid in mitigating bone loss.
So you may be asking yourself if a collagen supplement is the magic ingredient to help you fight aging skin, build muscle mass or remedy aching joints. The truth is, it may help, but the jury is still out on its magic power.
If you struggle to consume adequate protein (most women need approximately 50 grams per day at a minimum, and more if highly active), using a protein powder with collagen may assist in reaching that daily protein goal. However, protein needs can vary greatly depending on body size and activity level, so it’s best to understand your individual needs. A Gennev Registered Dietitian can help you understand your personal protein goals.
Most of the studies on collagen thus far are small and limited. There is convincing research that shows collagen supplements, especially when taken consistently for 6 to 12 months and combined with strength training, may support natural collagen production, bone density and body composition. It’s also important to note that the improvements seen in several of these studies may simply be related to the participants consuming adequate protein and a whole foods-based diet for an extended period of time.
There is no doubt that consuming protein and benefitting from naturally occurring collagen in food is the most bioavailable for our bodies. We advocate getting the most nutritional “bang for your buck” by using real, whole foods. But if you choose to supplement with collagen, the best products to seek out will contain hydrolyzed collagen (and most will) and consist of only natural, non-synthetic ingredients.
There are three main types of collagen found in supplements that you will want to look for:
There is still limited research on the exact type and optimum amount of hydrolyzed collagen to take, but finding a supplement with multiple collagen types is thought to be most beneficial. You will want to steer clear of collagen protein powders with other additives such as artificial sweeteners, colors or flavors. If you are seeking a brand to explore, Gennev Health Coaches suggest Vital Proteins.* It is widely available both online and in retail outlets. *Gennev is in no way affiliated with or receives any compensation from Vital Proteins.
When it comes to the source of the collagen, there are two popular options: marine (from fish) and bovine (from cattle). The main difference between these two sources is the density of protein per scoop. Typically, the marine collagen will be lower protein per scoop as compared to bovine. However, both are absorbed the same and offer the same potential benefits. For those women who avoid eating beef, marine collagen may be a good option.
There is no such thing as true vegan collagen but rather collagen “builders” from plant sources.
The short answer is no. If individual protein needs can be met through food, a protein powder supplement in addition to collagen supplement is likely not necessary. However, if you are using a protein powder, it can’t hurt to find one that contains collagen as a part of the protein source.
Navigating your nutrition and supplement needs in menopause can be overwhelming. As part of Gennev’s integrated menopause care, a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist can help support your changing body from the inside out with a personalized wellness plan.
The information on the Gennev site is never meant to replace the care of a qualified medical professional. Hormonal shifts throughout menopause can prompt a lot of changes in your body, and simply assuming something is “just menopause” can leave you vulnerable to other possible causes. Always consult with your physician or schedule an appointment with one of Gennev's telemedicine doctors before beginning any new treatment or therapy.