The Ultimate Guide to Hydrolyzed Collagen: Everything You Need to Know
These days, collagen supplements are everywhere. If you read the labels on these supplements, you’ve probably seen the term “hydrolyzed collagen.”
Depending on the product, you may also have noticed “collagen peptides” or “collagen hydrolysate” listed somewhere on the packaging.
Guess what? They’re all the same thing.
In this guide, you’ll learn everything you need to know about hydrolyzed collagen, including its health benefits, proper dosage, and how to choose a high-quality supplement.
Hydrolyzed collagen is connective tissue — usually from cows, chickens, or fish — that’s broken down with enzymes and water. The process of converting collagen-rich connective tissue to hydrolyzed collagen is called hydrolysis.
Collagen itself is a protein, the most abundant protein in your body. Collagen helps form the structure of your skin, hair, nails, bones, ligaments, and eyes[*].
Name a body part. Collagen is probably in there.
Think of collagen as the glue that holds your bones, muscles, skin, and internal organs together. Without collagen, you’d fall apart.
Fortunately, you can make your own collagen. Yes, you have an internal collagen factory, churning away night and day.
Unfortunately, this production declines over time. The older you get, the less collagen you make.
You create collagen from amino acids — tiny building blocks needed to form larger tissues. Collagen protein is especially rich in the amino acids glycine, proline, and hydroxyproline.
These molecules are “non-essential amino acids,” but that doesn’t mean they aren’t necessary. They help you make more collagen.
Take glycine, for instance. Your body synthesizes about 3 grams of glycine per day, but — according to some researchers — you need 10 grams of glycine to fuel collagen synthesis[*].
Doing the math, that’s 7 grams of glycine you must get through your diet. So, if you aren’t eating collagen-rich foods, you might benefit from other sources of glycine, such as hydrolyzed collagen supplements.
What Does “Hydrolyzed” Mean?
The term “hydrolyzed” means broken down by water. In the context of collagen, it refers to how collagen-rich connective tissue breaks down into smaller molecules for better absorption.
To unpack the term, hydro means “water” and lysis means “breaking down of cell membranes.”
Here’s the industrial process for making hydrolyzed collagen[*]:
- Gather connective tissue from cows, chickens, or fish.
- Break down connective tissue with water, enzymes, and acids (this is hydrolysis).
- Extract and filter resulting liquid.
- Turn liquid into powder using a process called precipitation.
You need a lot of connective tissue to make a little hydrolyzed collagen. To make 12 grams of collagen powder, you need about 1 kilogram of connective tissue[*].
That’s a mere 1.2% yield — and it’s why collagen peptides aren’t cheap.
Collagen vs. Gelatin
When it comes to collagen supplements, chances are it’s hydrolyzed collagen, which is the standard form of collagen powder.
It’s good to remember that hydrolyzed collagen, collagen peptides, and collagen hydrolysate are all the same. However, the collagen in your body (or an animal’s body), is not hydrolyzed collagen. It’s collagen in its whole form.
But what about gelatin? Gelatin and hydrolyzed collagen are often lumped together because they’re proteins with the same amino acid profile, but they’re made differently.
Gelatin forms a gel instead of dissolving in water, which makes it great for thickening soups, stews, and puddings. However, it won’t mix well in your morning cup of coffee.
In terms of health benefits, gelatin is less researched than collagen.
Collagen is considered a dietary supplement, which means the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t regulate collagen for safety or efficacy[*].
Nonetheless, hydrolyzed collagen is often marketed as a miracle cure for a wide range of conditions. The claims about collagen for skin health, for instance, could stretch from here to the moon.
You should be skeptical when sorting through these health claims. Some have science behind them, and others do not. Many are somewhere in between.
Here are some of the potential benefits of collagen, backed by science.
#1: Skin Health
Collagen is the main protein that structures your skin — keeping it firm, elastic, and supple.
With time, however, the collagen matrix in your skin starts to break down. When this happens, wrinkles, fine lines, and other signs of age appear[*].
Heavy sun exposure also negatively impacts your skin collagen matrix. To repair UV-related damage and maintain healthy skin, you need your internal collagen factory running at full capacity.
That’s where hydrolyzed collagen comes in. It provides raw materials for internal collagen production, which — in theory — improves skin health.
But what does the science say?
In one study, 69 women aged 35-55 were given either placebo or collagen hydrolysate for eight weeks[*]. When the eight weeks were up, the collagen groups showed significant improvements in skin elasticity.
Another double-blind placebo-controlled study found that collagen supplementation improved skin appearance in women with moderate cellulite[*].
Longer-term studies are needed, but the bottom line is that collagen is promising for skin health.
#2: Joint Health
Joint pain affects both young and old. In particular, people over 50 often suffer from chronic joint pain[*].
The standard treatment is painkillers such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). These drugs, unfortunately, come with undesirable side effects[*].
Because of this, researchers have been searching for alternative methods to treat joint pain. Collagen hydrolysate is one such treatment.
Here’s what the research says:
- Collagen hydrolysate (12 grams a day for six months) improved back pain scores vs. placebo in a sample of 200 people over age 50[*].
- Six months of collagen supplementation reduced activity-related joint pain over placebo in a sample of 97 college athletes from Pennsylvania State University[*].
- A 2019 meta-analysis found that collagen supplements are effective in reducing symptoms — as measured by symptom scores — of osteoarthritis[*].
Although these results are encouraging, be sure to consult your doctor for medical advice before using collagen to treat joint pain.
Along with helping skin and joints, collagen hydrolysate may help you live a long and healthy life.
Unfortunately, there aren’t human studies to support this claim. But human studies on longevity take decades to unfold, so that’s to be expected.
There are some animal studies that suggest glycine — an amino acid abundant in collagen peptides — may support healthy aging.
In one study, mice fed diets containing 8% or 12% glycine lived about 30% longer than mice fed 2.3% glycine[*]. Researchers believe this longevity effect may stem from glycine’s role in clearing the amino acid methionine — a major component of meat — from the body.
Here’s the big picture. Taking hydrolyzed collagen won’t stop the aging process, but it may:
- Mitigate the downside of eating lots of methionine-rich meat
- Support internal collagen production, which declines with age[*]
It’s a pretty good one-two punch.
#4: Gut Health
If you have leaky gut, it means your intestines have — in a manner of speaking — sprung leaks. Food and toxins flow through these leaks, creating inflammation that drives symptoms.
Just 10 years ago, the medical community largely ignored the role of leaky gut in chronic disease. This is changing.
Researchers have now linked leaky gut to a number of gut disorders, such as celiac disease, and a spectrum of other autoimmune conditions[*].
To be clear, collagen protein has not been shown in clinical trials to heal leaky gut. But consider the following:
- Collagen plays an important role in maintaining the gut barrier[*].
- Those with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) have lower levels of collagen in their blood[*].
- Many report that eating collagen protein or collagen-rich bone broth helps heal their gut.
While it’s too early to claim that collagen hydrolysate “heals your gut,” the evidence is encouraging.
Research suggests that 10 grams of hydrolyzed collagen per day is a good starting point[*], although going over that is probably fine. After all, there are more than 10 grams of collagen in certain cuts of sinewy, tendon-rich meat. Experiment and see what dosage works best for you.
Remember: collagen should be an addition to — not a replacement for — the protein in your diet. Although collagen is a great source of glycine, it’s not high in branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) such as leucine, which are crucial for muscle growth.
You can find collagen in these sources:
- Collagen protein powder (collagen peptides, hydrolyzed collagen, and collagen hydrolysate)
- Collagen pills, capsules, and gummies
- Protein bars
- Bone broth
- Cuts of meat with lots of connective tissue, like tendon or ligament
The simplest thing to do is scoop 10 grams (or more) of collagen powder into your daily smoothie, coffee, tea, eggs, or water. That’s it.
With so many collagen supplements on the market, it can be hard to pick the best one. It helps to have criteria, especially when you’re looking for a supplement that’s keto-friendly.
Here’s what to look for on the label of a high-quality collagen powder:
- “Hydrolyzed collagen,”“collagen peptides,” “hydrolyzed collagen peptides, “or “collagen hydrolysate”
- “Bovine collagen, ”which is rich in type 1, type 3, and type 4 collagen
- “Grass-fed” or “pasture-raised” to support ethical farming
- About 10 grams collagen per serving
- No artificial ingredients, although natural sweeteners, including vanilla, monk fruit, and stevia are fine
The Bottom Line on Hydrolyzed Collagen
Hydrolyzed collagen is a supplemental form of protein that’s already broken down, so your body can absorb it better. It’s rich in amino acids that are hard to find in other food sources.
The amino acids in collagen help keep your skin, joints, and gut healthy. They can also support healthy aging.
Hydrolyzed collagen, collagen peptides, and collagen hydrolysate are all the same thing. An easy way to add this vital protein to your daily diet is to mix 10 grams of high-quality collagen powder into your tea, coffee, or water. You won’t even taste it, yet you’ll reap its many health benefits.
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