Wait, Should Men Be Taking Collagen?


Lusher hair, stronger nails and the supple, dewy skin of a 20-year-old. For years, these have been the main promises of collagen, which means the supplements have appealed primarily (though not entirely) to women. But fueled in part by people who say that collagen supplements can also help with traditionally “manly attributes” such as bigger muscles, the supplements have been showing up in the shopping carts of lots of guys, recently, too. In fact, thanks to the increased interest from all genders, collagen supplements are on track to become a $16.7 billion business by 2028 (this includes medical uses for collagen, in wound dressing and medical implants — but one of the largest-growing sectors is supplements).

The rise in interest from men may also be due to the ease of taking collagen, which comes in a variety of protein powders, coffee creamers and pre-mixed beverages, which don’t have the unpleasant taste of some other supplements, says Jeff Gladd, MD, an integrative medicine physician and the chief medical officer at Fullscript. “I think collagen is growing in popularity not only for its purported benefits for skin and joint health, but it’s also easy to mix into many different foods and beverages without altering the flavor or texture,” he says. Though Dr. Gladd points out that there aren’t any benefits that are specific to men, he says there are a few that are particularly appealing to those who are looking to create the body seen by many as the masculine ideal: “Being able to build muscle and decrease body fat is the holy grail of health goals,” he says.

“Although we often think of anti-aging and a desire to reduce wrinkles as a women’s issue, men desire to age better, too,” says Kellyann Petrucci, ND, a naturopathic physician and author of The Bone Broth Breakthrough. “Beyond aging, collagen is being studied for men as beneficial for maintaining muscle mass, reducing fat, as well as joint health and heart health.”

But the appeal may really just come down to this: “The internet has equated collagen to a youth elixir,” says Amy K. Fischer, RDN, a registered dietitian with the Good Housekeeping Institute. And who doesn’t want to shave a few years off their age, no matter what gender they identify as?

What does collagen actually do?

Collagen is basically the glue holds our body together — it’s the most abundant protein in the body, maintaining the normal strength and structure of connective tissue, such as bones, skin, cartilage and blood vessels. “As you age, the body produces less collagen— think saggy skin and wrinkles,” says Fischer. “At the same time, collagen breaks down more quickly. This breakdown can be accelerated by environmental factors such as sun exposure, smoking, lack of sleep, and a diet high in sugar and processed foods,” she says.

So replacing the collagen we’ve lost with supplements, which are made from the bones, skin and of animals such as cows, pigs and fish, seems to make sense. But what does the science say? It’s promising, but it’s important to remember as we sort through the data that much of the research touted by supplement companies has been funded by companies that have, ahem, skin in the game.

What are collagen supplements made from?

There are two different types of collagen, Fischer explain: “Our bodies consist of mostly type I, found in skin, and type II found in cartilage. In supplement forms, collagen type I and type III are reportedly meant to support skin, hair and nails while type II has been associated with joint health.”

It would be nice to think that we just pop some collagen, and it travels through our body to our bones, skin or joints, replacing what was once there, but the body can’t actually absorb collagen in its whole form, Dr. Petrucci explains. “For better absorption, the preferred form of collagen should be hydrolyzed. This means the collagen is made into shorter chains of amino acids, which are also referred to as peptides.”

The peptides are then formulated into pills or into powders that can be stirred into your water, coffee, smoothie, or oatmeal, says Fischer. “The good thing about them is you can’t taste them,” she says. However, keep in mind they don’t come cheap.

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What benefits can men get from collagen?

  • It may revive skin: So far, most of the research on the effect of collagen on skin has been in studies focusing exclusively on women. A Korean study found that after 12 weeks, women taking 1,000 mg of an oral collagen peptide supplement had better outcomes in skin hydration, elasticity, and appearance of wrinkles than those who used a placebo. A 2021 meta-analysis that analyzed 19 studies found favorable results from hydrolyzed collagen supplements in terms of skin hydration, elasticity and wrinkles. On a related note, collagen supplementation is used in hospital settings to improve wound healing.
  • It may help build muscle and reduce fat. In the holy grail for body-conscious men, the results of two small German studies show promise. In one, young active men who did resistance training combined with 15g of collagen peptide supplementation had a greater increase in fat-free mass after 12 weeks than those taking placebos. In a different study of elderly men with sarcopenia (age-related loss of muscle mass and strength, which can lead to increased risk of falls and fractures), researchers found that when they finished a 12-week resistance-training program combined with collage peptides, the men who took collagen supplements increased fat-free mass and muscle strength more than those doing the exercises and taking a placebo. Of course, it doesn’t work like Popeye chowing down spinach and all of a sudden his biceps go boing! — if you want to build muscle, you need to ramp up the weight-bearing exercises.
  • It may help muscles recover. Another potential benefit of taking collagen to supplement your iron-pumping sessions at the gym: You might feel a little less sore after your workout. A small British study of active men suggests that oral supplements can help reduce muscle soreness after exercise. Interestingly, the study found that supplementation had no effect on inflammation or on rebuilding bone collagen, so it’s unclear where the benefit came from.
  • It may help with joint disease. Some small studies have shown that oral collagen supplements may reduce pain in patients with pain in their hip or knee joints due to osteoarthritis, allowing them to be more active.
  • But can it cover that bald spot? While improving the thickness and growth of hair on your head is one of collagen’s biggest boasts, there is simply not enough research to prove it works, according to a review in the Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology. In fact, the few published studies on hair growth are sponsored by — you guessed it — supplement companies.

Are there any risks to taking collagen supplements?

While collagen itself doesn’t appear to pose any risks (one large meta-study concluded that “collagen supplementation is generally safe with no reported adverse events”), the experts all agree that it is crucial to buy your supplements from companies that do outside testing, since supplements are not regulated by the FDA, and may contain heavy metals such as arsenic and lead. And as always, speak to your doctor before adding any new supplement to your diet. “Look for brands that have been third-party tested by companies such as NSF, Informed Choice, and Consumer Labs,” recommends Fischer. “These companies work to ensure the safety and purity of supplements.”

How much collagen should men take?

The recommended dosage for men is between 15 and 20 grams of collagen peptides, says Dr. Petrucci. For most collagen peptide powders, that equals around two scoops.

Can you get collagen from food?

You don’t need to take a supplement to increase your collagen intake: “Eating a healthy diet full of vitamins, minerals and protein, getting adequate sleep and hydration and avoiding the sun can all help in the prevention of collagen breakdown and support collagen production,” says Fischer. If you eat meat, look to cuts that are full of connective tissue like pot roast, brisket and chuck steak, suggests Dr. Petrucci. And then, of course, there is the hot trend of drinking bone broth. “This can be made at home by simmering animal bones in water for several hours,” says Dr. Gladd.

As people who just don’t feel comfortable chugging down the various discarded parts of other creatures, Dr Petrucci recommends eating egg whites, which contain an amino acid that helps the body naturally produce collagen; garlic, which is high in sulfur, which can help prevent the breakdown of collagen; and citrus fruits high in vitamin C. “Vitamin C plays a role in the production of pro-collagen, the body’s precursor to collagen,” she explains.

So, should men take collagen?

While the science behind supplemental collagen is still new and fairly inconclusive, there is little risk to trying it if you buy from a reputable brand. But don’t look at that pill or powder as the magical fountain of youth: “Like most supplements, they should be considered supplemental and as an addition to core lifestyle efforts for health and not a replacement. Getting the most out of collagen supplementation requires a focus on whole foods nutrition and regular exercise,” says Dr. Gladd.

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