Megan Fahey, MS, RD, 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.
Collagen is everywhere. This protein has found its way into our morning coffee, our afternoon smoothies, and even our longtime favorite peanut butter cups. This explosion is both good and bad; on one hand it means more people are able to take advantage of the gut-healing, skin-supporting, joint pain–relieving health benefits of collagen, and on the other, there are exponentially more collagen supplements—in the form of powders, capsules, and gummies—to choose from. It's hard to swim through all the information out there, good and bad. How do you find a supplement that's right for you?
One of the places this gets particularly confusing is hydrolyzed collagen. Not all collagen supplements have the specific term "hydrolyzed" on the label. Is it important to purchase a collagen supplement in this specific form? Here's what you need to know about hydrolyzed collagen.
What are hydrolyzed collagen supplements?
First, the basics. Collagen is a family of fibrous proteins that are actually the most abundant proteins in our body. There are at least 16 different types, and each helps make up the structure of our skin, bone, cartilage, and muscle. All proteins, including collagen proteins, are made up of building blocks called amino acids. Some popular amino acids found in collagen include glycine, proline, and arginine.
As Nour Zibdeh, M.S., RDN, CLT, explains: "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 peptides, that are made of a few amino acids."
So why does collagen need to be hydrolyzed? Basically, collagen in its original state isn't very useful—or palatable—to humans, so we have to break it down first. You create hydrolyzed collagen via a process called hydrolysis, which is a chemical process involving water. When collagen is completely hydrolyzed, it's easy to use because it dissolves completely in liquids—even water. It's also essentially tasteless and odorless, which is why it's so convenient and fun to add to a ton of different recipes (Superfood Chia Pudding, anyone?) You might also see hydrolyzed collagen peptides referred to as “collagen hydrolysate.” Rest assured that's just another way of saying the collagen in that supplement has been broken down into convenient and easy-to-digest peptides by way of hydrolysis.
Is all collagen hydrolyzed collagen?
At this point you might be wondering: Does that mean all collagen is hydrolyzed? Essentially, yes. "To be 100 percent accurate, all commercial collagen powders are hydrolyzed to some degree because we can't really chew or eat ligaments or tendons," explains Zibdeh.
That said, it's not just a fancy marketing ploy as much as it is an accurate way of describing the contents of a product.. For example, you might see an herbal tincture with "ethanol extracted" on the label or a glutathione supplement bottle that contains liposomal glutathione. In all these cases, the company is just being extra-specific about what, exactly, is inside the bottle and how it came to be.
What are the benefits of hydrolyzed collagen peptides?
Studies have suggested that taking collagen peptides internally might help promote skin elasticity and a youthful texture. Research also suggests that collagen can help to heal your gut. As Vincent Pedre, M.D., medical director of Pedre Integrative Health, told mbg, "For the same reasons collagen helps repair and grow muscle tissue, it serves as an excellent nutrient source for rebuilding the rapidly dividing cells that line the interior of the gut."
If you suffer from digestive woes like leaky gut, hydrolyzed collagen might be for you. Based on growing research, collagen has also been found to ease chronic joint pain in osteoarthritis.
But many people wonder if collagen protein has the same muscle-building benefits of protein from sources like whey, peas, or soy. The answer is yes—and then some! One study showed that hydrolyzed collagen supplementation increased muscle strength and improved body composition. In fact, according to Zibdeh, "Collagen can also increase lean muscle and help improve body composition better than other proteins."
What's the difference between hydrolyzed collagen and gelatin?
Here's where things get a bit more complicated: not all collagen is completely hydrolyzed. The good news is you don't really need to worry about buying this type of collagen by mistake, because if collagen is only partially hydrolyzed, it's called gelatin. As Steph Eckelcamp, mbg's wellness editor wrote, "Hydrolyzed collagen is simply gelatin that's been broken down into smaller units of protein (or peptides) through a process called hydrolysis."
Because it's not completely broken down, gelatin is more likely to cause upset stomach and bloating because of the larger units of proteins. It's also doesn't dissolve as easily in liquids, but it does cause them to gel, which makes gelatin the perfect ingredient to make healthy gummies and custards, or to thicken up soups and sauces.
Collagen in bone broth
If you're not into supplementing with collagen, you can also get collagen from whole food forms, such as bone broth. "Bone broth that is cooked for 12+ hours is a source of collagen. If you're going to make it at home, start with grass-fed or organic bones, add some raw apple cider vinegar to help draw the minerals and amino acids out, and cook for 12 hours or more." If you're buying premade bone broth, make sure it's also been cooked for 12 hours, since many products labeled stock or bone broth haven't been cooked long enough for you to get the full benefits.
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