Have you noticed collagen is popping up everywhere as a supplement, coffee creamer, and more? You have probably heard the term, but do you know what it actually is? If you’re afraid of collagen supplements, assuming any supplement is harmful to your body, think again. Collagen is a natural protein found in your body. Supplements have slowly found their way into food and beverages, usually seen in a powdered form. While many people choose to stay away from the supplement, others believe the supplement can be responsible for many health benefits. Is this actually true?

So, what exactly is collagen?

Collagen is the most abundant natural protein in the human body. It’s made up of amino acids, including glycine, proline, hydroxyproline, and arginine, and each of these provides an essential task in our body’s connective tissue. Collagen also provides structure to your hair, skin, nails, bones, ligaments, tendons, and improves your gut health. With the protein, we’re able to move, bend, and stretch, but it also helps make our hair shine, skin glow, and it keeps our nails strong as we age. According to Cynthia Sass, Health’s contributing nutrition editor, “Collagen is often referred to as the ‘glue’ that holds the body together.” That’s an important bodily function because as we age, we add more stress to our body. Stress impacts our collagen production, leading to more wrinkles and weakened joint cartilage. But luckily, there are plenty of safe ways to get collagen into a balanced diet.

All about collagen supplements

Collagen supplements aren’t anything new. People have been consuming collagen for centuries. For example, gelatin is a cooked form of collagen and it’s found in puddings, Jell-O, cakes, yogurt, marshmallows, ice cream, and even in some vitamins. So, in reference to collagen, yes, sweets are good for you… in a way. You have probably seen powdered collagen supplements added to beverages and foods. Commonly added to teas, smoothies, coffee, yogurt, and soups, the supplements are derived from animal sources, such as skins and bones of cows, pigs, and fish scales. You have probably been consuming collagen supplements your whole life and you didn’t even know about it. But, here’s the big question: Is it really as good for you as people tell you?

The health benefits

The simple answer is yes, but here’s why: Collagen supplements do more than removing wrinkles. The supplements give you a youthful glow and improve your joint health, which is necessary as you age. Collagen drinks and powders contain antioxidant properties, which protect the skin by limiting the production of damaging free radicals in skin cells. “Collagen consumption can increase skin elasticity and help your body’s skin repair process, thus encouraging your body to form new collagen,” said dermatologist Debra Jaliman. The powdered drinks essentially repair damaged skin, improving the skin’s texture and reduce joint pain.

What about nutrition?

While collagen supplements improve your skin and joint muscles, could they also serve as a dietary supplement? Yes, there are several nutritional benefits, as well. One serving of collagen powder provides protein (up to 18 grams per two scoops). If you need more protein in your diet, simply consume more collagen supplements. It’ll do the trick. According to dermatologist Rachel Nazarian, your body absorbs and digests collagen into the basic building blocks of protein found in amino acids. This protein supports your skin, bones, and muscles. Collagen supplements perform more necessary actions than you first think.

But it’s not alone

While collagen supplements are great for your health, you need to consume more than just collagen for a healthy lifestyle. According to sports nutritionist Ryan Turner, collagen is only part of the muscle-building process. “Muscle-building is a process that will require resistance being put on the muscle, a calorie surplus to maximize gains, and adequate protein,” Turner said. “Because collagen is a protein, it’s part of the process, but by itself, it won’t do more than support maintenance of the muscle.” So, while collagen is important to your body, like many things in life, it can’t act alone. It needs a support system.