Are Collagen Supplements Good or Bad for You?

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Question:

Is collagen powder good or bad for kidneys? Also, does it cause stomach and bowel issues? -Vacpatty

Answer: These are excellent questions if you are considering taking any type of dietary supplement.  The word “collagen” comes from the Greek word meaning “glue.” Collagen is a protein found in our bodies that helps to bind cells and tissues together. It is found throughout our bones, teeth, muscles, tendons, and skin.  Our bodies produce less collagen as we age, which is why there is a huge market for collagen supplements (which are made from animal bones, skin, or cartilage). The theory for collagen supplementation, whether through powdered supplements or from foods such as bone broth, is that it’s necessary to replenish our body’s diminishing collagen as we age.

Research seems to support some benefits of collagen supplementation, such as diminished joint pain and joint deterioration with age. Some people who use collagen supplements have reported improvement in skin elasticity and moisture, as well. Most research studies, however, have been conducted with very small groups of people, so more research is needed to determine the long-term effects of collagen use. It is also unclear what type of collagen supplement and at what dose is most effective for joint health.

As with any dietary supplement, there are risks and side effects to be considered before consumption. Collagen powder is made from ground animal bones, skin, and/or cartilage, which could be contaminated with heavy metals such as copper and arsenic. Supplements may also contain creatinine, which is a toxic breakdown product from muscle tissue, and could affect kidney function.

Are there side effects of using collagen supplements?

A variety of gastrointestinal symptoms such as nausea, diarrhea, and abdominal cramping have been reported from collagen supplementation, so it’s important to discuss this with your health care provider if you are having any side effects from taking a supplement.

The bottom line

If you are considering adding a collagen supplement to your diet, discuss the benefits and risks with your health care provider. A short-term trial of a supplement is likely safe to evaluate if you see any improvement in joint pain or increased mobility, but stop any supplementation immediately if you have any adverse side effects.  It is also important to evaluate other aspects of your health that may contribute to an improvement in your symptoms, such as weight loss (if needed), anti-inflammatory eating, smoking cessation, and exercise.  Lifestyle changes such as these can also help to improve joint pain and mobility.

You should know: The answers above provide general health information that is not intended to replace medical advice or treatment recommendations from a qualified healthcare professional.

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Supplements: What to Take, and What to Avoid

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Answered by Carmen Roberts, MS, RD, LDN