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What Exactly Is Hydrolyzed Collagen? We Explain + 4 Benefits

Gretchen Lidicker, M.S.
mbg Health Contributor
By Gretchen Lidicker, M.S.
mbg Health Contributor
Gretchen Lidicker earned her master’s degree in physiology with a focus on alternative medicine from Georgetown University. She is the author of “CBD Oil Everyday Secrets” and “Magnesium Everyday Secrets.”
Megan Fahey, M.S., R.D., CDN
Expert review by
Megan Fahey, M.S., R.D., CDN
Registered Dietitian
Megan Fahey, M.S., R.D., CDN is a Registered Dietitian, Functional Medicine Nutritionist and Registered Yoga Teacher. She holds her Masters of Science in Nutrition and Dietetics from Bastyr University, where she was trained to artfully blend eastern and western healing modalities.
Graphic by mbg creative
Last updated on June 28, 2020
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Collagen supplements are so popular because of how well they support overall well-being; from glowing skin and glossy hair to stronger muscles and flexible joints. But if you've started researching the popular powders, you've likely seen a few confusing terms pop up: "hydrolyzed collagen," "hydrolysis," and "collagen hydrolysate." What exactly do these mean? Here's everything you need to know. 

What is hydrolyzed collagen?

Collagen is a family of fibrous proteins that are the most abundant proteins in our body. However, when we supplement with collagen, sourced from cow hides and fish scales, that collagen needs to be broken down first so our bodies can use it. This version is called hydrolyzed collagen (also know as collagen hydrolysate) and is created through a process called hydrolysis, where water molecules rupture the chemical bonds.

"Collagen is a complex protein made of three chains of amino acids, whereas hydrolyzed collagen is collagen that is broken down into small protein chains, called collagen peptides, that are made of a few amino acids," explains Nour Zibdeh, M.S., RDN, CLT.

Technically, this means that all collagen supplements are hydrolyzed, but they are just broken down to varying degrees. When collagen is completely hydrolyzed, it's easy to use because it dissolves in liquids—even water. It's also essentially tasteless and odorless, which is why it's so convenient to add to a ton of different recipes.

Summary

When we supplement with collagen, sourced from cow hides and fish scales, that collagen needs to be broken down first so our bodies can use it. This version is called hydrolyzed collagen (also know as collagen hydrolysate) and is created through a process called hydrolysis, where water molecules rupture the chemical bonds.
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Why should you choose hydrolyzed collagen over gelatin?

If collagen has not been broken down all the way, it's partially hydrolyzed and commonly called gelatin, which you can find as a supplement, but it's not as common. Gelatin supplements contain larger peptides and don't dissolve as easily in liquids. Gelatin is often used to make gummies or as a thickener, as it gels when mixed with liquids. Because it's not completely broken down, gelatin is more likely to cause upset stomach and bloating because of the larger units of peptides.

What are the benefits of hydrolyzed collagen supplements?

  • Skin and hair: Studies have shown that taking collagen peptides will support skin elasticity, hydration levels, and promote youthful texture.* Collagen supplements also provide many of the amino acids and nutrients needed for hair growth. *
  • Gut: Research shows that collagen can help support your gut health.* As gut health specialist Vincent Pedre, M.D. told mbg, "For the same reasons collagen helps repair and grow muscle tissue, it serves as an excellent nutrient source for supporting the rapidly dividing cells that line the interior of the gut."*
  • Joints: Based on growing research, collagen has also been found to manage chronic joint pain.* Collagen is found in all ligaments, and supplements provide essential amino acids to support natural levels throughout the body—so the theory is that if you have stronger ligaments, it will help manage pain levels.
  • Muscles: One study showed that hydrolyzed collagen supplementation supported muscle strength and body composition.* In fact, according to Zibdeh, "Collagen can also support lean muscle and help improve body composition better than other proteins."* While we don't entirely know why this is the case, research has shown that collagen supplements can better support skeletal muscle, which could be a contributing factor.*
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Bottom line:

Hydrolyzed collagen is simply collagen that's been broken down into easily digestible peptides and in this format it's better able to be absorbed by the body. If you're picking up a collagen supplement powder, it's been hydrolyzed, regardless of whether that's on the label or not.

If you are pregnant, breastfeeding, or taking medications, consult with your doctor before starting a supplement routine. It is always optimal to consult with a health care provider when considering what supplements are right for you. 
Gretchen Lidicker, M.S.
Gretchen Lidicker, M.S.
mbg Health Contributor

Gretchen Lidicker has a B.S. in biology and earned her master’s degree in physiology with a concentration in complementary and alternative medicine from Georgetown University. She's the author of CBD Oil Everyday Secrets: A Lifestyle Guide to Hemp-Derived Health and Wellness and Magnesium Everyday Secrets: A Lifestyle Guide to Epsom Salts, Magnesium Oil, and Nature's Relaxation Mineral. A Kripalu Center for Yoga and Ayurveda-trained yoga instructor, expert bread baker, and farmers market fanatic, she believes that no day is complete without a good dance party.