What Exactly Is Hydrolyzed Collagen? We Explain + 4 Benefits
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 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.
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"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.
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.*
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.