Sounds crazy, but adding powdered connective tissue from cows and fish to your morning coffee, smoothies, oatmeal, or juice is suddenly supertrendy among the clean eating crowd. What gives? We’re talking about collagen powder—the hot new “it” supplement that proponents say not only delivers a wallop of protein, but also soothes achy joints, improves gut health, and reduces the appearance of wrinkles.
So what’s the deal with this tasteless powder? As someone paranoid about premature aging (was that wrinkle there last week?), plagued by sporadic bouts of gastrointestinal distress, and with a set of knees that snap, crackle, and pop like an octogenarian, I needed to find out if this stuff was legit. First step: Do the research. Second step: Give it a whirl.
Initial impression: The science is promising. In one recent study, women who took a collagen supplement daily experienced a 20% reduction in wrinkle depth around their eyes after 8 weeks. Other research finds that daily supplementation can ease osteoarthritis-related knee pain (score!), which makes sense, as collagen provides high levels of the amino acids used to build bone and joint tissue.
And although there aren’t studies on collagen’s effect on gut health yet, there’s probably something to it, says Laura Schoenfeld, RD, holistic nutritionist at Ancestralize Me, noting that collagen’s amino acids may also help prevent intestinal permeability (i.e., leaky gut)—a condition linked to a host of and autoimmune diseases like MS and celiac disease. (Here are 4 surprising foods that may be messing with you gut.)
Alright, that’s all good, but now it’s time to try it for myself. Here’s what happened after I started adding 2 tablespoons of collagen powder to my morning coffee or smoothie for a month.
1) I stayed full until lunch.
This is kind of a no-brainer, since two scoops of collagen adds around 20 g of filling protein to whatever you’re eating or drinking. What makes collagen cool compared to other protein powders, though, is its versatility. It’s taste free and completely dissolves in liquids, so my coffee still tasted like coffee, not some weird sludge. And no, heat won’t mess with collagen’s benefits, says Schoenfeld.
2) My joints became way less crunchy.
For the past year and a half, I’ve suffered from a progressively achy and creaky right knee for no apparent reason—I can actually hear a disturbingly loud crunching every time I walk up the stairs. During week 3 of my experiment, however, I noticed that the crunching had become far subtler and my overall level of soreness had decreased. For that reason alone, I will take this stuff for life.
3) I stopped bolting to the bathroom.
Not to overshare, but I probably end up running to the bathroom more than the average person (hey, if you’d been on antibiotics for 2 years to treat chronic Lyme disease, you would, too). So I know healing my gut from the antibiotic-induced damage is going to be the key to alleviating those issues. Toward the end of this experiment, I noticed less cramping and I downgraded from bolt to brisk walk—so either this stuff is helping my gut heal, or it’s a very happy coincidence.
4) My skin felt softer, but fine lines remained.
Normally during winter, sporadic dry patches of skin will pop up on my face even if I moisturize. But those were greatly diminished and my skin felt more supple and squishy—in a good way. Unfortunately, I didn’t notice any improvement in the increasingly obvious (and depressing) fine lines around my eyes. Want to try it? Schoenfeld recommends taking 1 to 2 tablespoons of a sustainably sourced brand daily. Some good picks: Vital Proteins Collagen Peptides, Great Lakes Collagen Hydrolysate, Reserveage Collagen Replenish.
Bottom line: The research is promising, it’s safe, and the real-life results—while not miraculous—were a pleasant surprise.