Updated: Jun 3, 2018
Studies show collagen supplementation can be beneficial for joint, skin, gut and bone health.
However choosing the right supplement for your needs can be highly confusing. Especially if you are concerned about the purity and how the collagen is sourced. This guide will cover it all and make it easier to select the right support for you.
If you haven't already, I'd recommend checking out "What is collagen & can it really help my joint pain, skin & joint health?" prior to reading on. This will help clarify why type and source are important when selecting a collagen supplement, and give you links to the research that support its benefits.
The products listed in the table below all come from www.iherb.com as it has a large range of natural health products and at very reasonable prices. (Follow this link to a list of the selected products).
I found that the cheaper options weren't clear on how the collagen was sourced or what fillers it contained, so I avoided most of those. The prices may also vary depending on the exchange rate and any specials. Orders over $40 USD receive free shipping to NZ.
Since collagen comes from animal sources, if you are looking for a vegan or vegetarian protein source, high in a great range of amino acids, you will find some in the N2F shop or scroll to the bottom of the page for more info on my favourites.
So what should I look for when choosing a collagen supplement?
The type of collagen. Type II is found in cartilage (think the discs of the spine and articulating joints such as knees, hips and shoulders). So if knee pain or osteoarthritis is an issue for you, choose a type II collagen source (or a multi source). Type I and III are found in the skin, but also tendons, ligaments, hair and nails. Ultimately either type should provide an overall benefit to the body through the amino acids present, but each type may provide a more targeted support.
How is it sourced? If a marine source, is it wild caught? If from beef, is it grass fed? If from chicken, is it free range, hormone and antibiotic free?
Is it a whole food made from bone broth or in a hydrolyzed form? If you are concerned about absorption, choose a hydrolyzed form where it has been broken down into smaller molecules.
Is it organic? (I found very few organic options unfortunately - Ancient Nutrition & Vital Proteins do some).
Protein content? This will help you feel full longer and can be used to increase protein intake for muscle recovery and growth.
Are there any fillers or artificial ingredients?
Has it been heavy metal tested?
Is it allergy or intolerance friendly? Does it contain egg, gluten, dairy, nut or soy? Or could it possibly be contaminated with them?
You also need to consider how you are likely to consume it. Do you want the flexibility of an unflavoured powder that can be added to smoothies, soups, sauces, baking and more? Or do you want a flavoured option to add to water or an unsweetened milk, for a quick pick me up and hunger suppressant? Or if texture is a concern, are capsules a better option? However as you will see from the table, a 6 capsule serving doesn't provide anywhere as much protein as powdered forms.
Check out my iherb list of collagen supplements here. My favourite brands (after lots of research) appear to be Zint, Ancient Nutrition (a Dr Axe brand), Great Lakes & Sports Nutrition. (I wasn't a fan of Neocell Collagen II joint capsules due to it containing stearic acid which apparently comes from hydrogenated palm oil). Vital proteins is another option with many flavours & types. It is not included in the comparison table however, due to its similarity to other products.
Dr Axe / Ancient Nutrition had a great range of options. Two with 3 or more types of collagen. The Ancient Nutrition Bone Broth Collagen (Types I, II & III) & Dr Axe Multi Collagen Protein (Types I, II, III, V & X). Although the Multi Collagen Protein has 5 types, the amount of Type II is apparently less than the Ancient Nutrition. So for joint health, as well as skin and overall well-being he recommends The Ancient Nutrition Bone Broth Collagen.
After only a few weeks on The Ancient Nutrition Bone Broth Collagen (Vanilla) I noticed quite an improvement in my skin and nails. So I'm probably going to keep it up. I also grabbed a sample of the Zint Collagen powder and found it had a lovely texture, was pretty much tasteless and easily drinkable in water or unsweetened almond milk.
What supports collagen production & joint health?
Adequate water intake - hydrates the joints.
Healthy eating habits - a balanced diet provides all the nutrients need to synthesize collagen.
Regular exercise - movement reduces the breakdown of cartilage.
Vitamin C - needed for collagen synthesis and maintenance.
Alpha Lipoic acid - an antioxidant that helps to digest and eliminate aged collagen.
Vitamin A and E - help replenish collagen.
Co-enzyme Q10 - acts as an antioxidant that protects cells from the oxidative stress & the effects of aging. Used predominately for heart and skin health. Its active form, ubiquinone or ubiquinol, is more readily utilized in the body.
Lysine - an essential amino acid that helps build collagen.
Glucosamine, chondroitin and MSM can also be helpful for joint pain and mobility, even though they don't directly impact collagen production, it helps with lubrication & water retention. It is naturally found in connective tissues and cartilage.
Hyaluronic acid - supports hydration and lubrication of joints by helping retain water and collagen - present naturally in connective tissues.
Curcumin (from Turmeric) - may reduce inflammation, pain & slow osteoarthritis progression (see study).
The sun, free radicals and smoke aid in the disintegration of collagen.
When should you be careful taking a collagen or protein supplement?
If you are pregnant, have poor kidney function or gout you may want to take care with protein supplementation. Although rare, those with gout may experience flare ups. Occasionally those with high histamine levels may find increased protein intake aggravates their condition. Plus those with kidney disease may find it provides additional stress to the kidneys.
Increasing your water intake is highly recommended when consuming a high protein diet.
When is the best time to take a collagen supplement?
It is suggested that you take it on a empty stomach, away from meals with other protein. It may even be prudent to switch the form and type you take every so often.
Please remember collagen (and many other protein) supplements should not be used as a meal replacement, although those with a high protein content will help suppress your appetite and help support muscle recovery and growth.
Are there any non-animal protein supplements that can also support skin & joint health?
Pea protein (such as that in NuZest Clean Lean Protein) is gaining in popularity recently as a vegan / vegetarian option that still has a high amino acid profile. The amino acids can provide the building blocks for collagen synthesis and numerous other body functions. It is also easily digested & allergen friendly. One of my favourite protein supplements is a product by Amazonia called RAW - Paleo Fermented Protein. It contains a blend of sprouted, fermented proteins from golden peas, seeds, millet, quinoa and a number of other super foods. The fermentation makes it super easy to digest and the multiple organic protein sources provide an amazing amino acid profile.
Popular with athletes is whey protein, as it contains all 9 essential amino acids, and is high in leucine which promotes muscle growth. However because it is derived from milk, it is not a vegan option. Plus sensitivities and abdominal upset are common. Some may also have added gums and thickeners that can impact digestion.
Collagen supplement comparison of selected products from iHerb.com
For a list of recommended collagen supplements and to purchase click here.
For a printable, easy to view pdf version of the chart / image below click here.