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Is Collagen Good for Gut Health?

Smiling parents talking to their daughter about "Is collagen good for gut health?"

Is collagen good for gut health? For years, no one has even thought to ask this question, but in the last two decades, the connection between collagen and gut health has stepped into the spotlight. 

Searches for “gut health” have increased by 263% in the last five years alone. And collagen’s popularity has been growing neck-and-neck alongside it. This growth is especially strong as collagen moves out of the beauty space to stand firmly where it belongs – in the conversation around health.

Treating gut problems is a puzzle that plagues patients and doctors alike. How can you address the complexity of what happens in the digestive system? 

Whether collagen is good for gut health is still being explored, but early research is overwhelmingly positive. And that leads into other questions: What is collagen exactly? How does it impact gut health? What’s a “healthy gut” and how can you tell whether you have one?

Thorough studies have helped modern medicine grow in its understanding of health, especially in the light of how it interacts with what we put in our bodies. But is collagen good for gut health? 

To understand, let’s take a look at what collagen is, and what constitutes a healthy gut. Then we will answer the question once and for all: Is collagen good for gut health?

What is collagen?

Without understanding collagen, you can’t understand gut health. Collagen is literally the glue that holds your body together. This protein is found everywhere in the human body, taking different shapes to serve different functions – lubricating, cushioning, stretching, and strengthening, to name a few. 

This is why the benefits of collagen supplementation are measurable in everything from hair to joints to gut health.

When it comes to collagen and gut health, collagen serves several different functions. Most importantly, collagen is primarily responsible for forming the lining of your intestines. This lining has to be strong enough to withstand stomach acid, but still allow nutrients to be absorbed into your bloodstream. 

Without the strength that collagen provides, the lining of the gut can weaken, allowing more than just the nutrients to infiltrate your bloodstream.

What makes for a healthy gut?

The next part of understanding if collagen is good for gut health is what a “healthy gut” looks like. So what makes your gut healthy? And what organs fall under the blanket of “gut”?

Typically, when people refer to the “gut”, they’re talking about the gastrointestinal tract. This is a system of organs that includes the stomach, small intestine, and large intestine. For this system to be doing its job well, each part needs to be healthy. 

Your stomach and the acid inside it turn food from a solid into a liquid that can be easily digested. 

Your small intestine then absorbs the nutrients from your food, leaving behind the solid waste it can’t absorb. 

The large intestine is then responsible for removing excess water – and changes the waste from mostly liquid into a more solid stool.

The stomach’s lining has to be flexible enough to grow when it’s full and shrink when it’s empty, without allowing the acid through to the muscles responsible for digestion. 

The small intestine’s lining is even more complex, chemically breaking down and allowing microscopic nutrients through. 

Finally, the large intestine’s ability to absorb water and retain waste is critical in a healthy gastrointestinal system.

Incorporating collagen for gut health into your diet supports all three – primarily due to collagen’s role in forming these hyper-specific linings, but also in the way the collagen itself moves through the digestive system. 

So we see that collagen plays a role in your gut…but is collagen good for gut health?

Is collagen good for gut health?

Yes. Collagen is good for gut health. Collagen is great for gut health, even! Topical collagen won’t do the trick, though. 

Collagen creams and serums have been shown to have little to no effect, even on skin. The collagen molecule is too large to pass through the skin, and even when it does, the amount of collagen present in these products is tiny.

So is collagen good for gut health as a supplement, then?

Yes, but that supplement has to be ingested. The best collagen for gut health will come from a combination of supplementation and consuming it through foods.

Your body interacts with supplements and food differently. Supplements are often easier for your body to digest, but food is what prompts the digestive process. 

Consuming collagen supplements alongside food that contains collagen ensures that your body absorbs all the readily available nutrition available.

How does collagen improve gut health?

So collagen is good for gut health, even as a supplement, but that doesn’t mean all the questions surrounding collagen and gut health are answered. 

How, exactly, does collagen improve gut health? How long does it take collagen supplements to work once you start? 

Collagen improves gut health in two ways: how it moves through your gut, and how your body uses it to heal your gut. 

As collagen moves through your gut, it provides distinct benefits for each section of your GI tract. 

In your stomach, collagen’s high protein content can make the body’s satiety signals more powerful. This means you feel full with less food. It also reduces gastric emptying, meaning food stays in your stomach for longer, allowing it to fully break down before it moves forward.

Once it reaches your small intestine, collagen peptides make amino acids easier for the body to absorb. This means nutrients cross over into the bloodstream more effectively than through food alone. 

Finally, in the large intestine, the portions of collagen left in your system absorb excess water. Collagen is a hydrophobic molecule, pushing away excess water molecules around it. This means as it moves through your large intestine, collagen aids in removing excess water from waste. 

Is collagen good for gut health after it’s absorbed by your body? Of course! It helps to heal, strengthen, and replenish the lining of your gut. 

Who can benefit from taking collagen for gut health?

Due to collagen’s unique strengths in the GI tract and the body at large, collagen is good for gut health under a number of different circumstances. One study even found that otherwise healthy participants noted a positive change in gut health in as little as two days. 

A shocking number of people struggle with their gut health, with varying frequency. Some people are diagnosed with digestive disorders, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or Crohn's Disease. Even more struggle with having a “leaky gut” in general.

A leaky gut is caused when the walls of the intestine weaken, allowing waste to leech through into the bloodstream. While the specific causes of a leaky gut are still being investigated, the symptoms include: 

  • Bloating
  • Gas
  • Cramping
  • Diarrhea
  • Food sensitivities 

Leaky gut does have some links to other digestive disorders, but the two can also exist independently. People with leaky gut may also experience brain fog, fatigue, and other symptoms that don’t immediately relate to the gut.

Since leaky gut is still being understood, specific studies on collagen and leaky gut haven’t been conducted. So is collagen good for gut health when you’re healing from a leaky gut? So far, it’s promising. 

Collagen and gut health in medicine

The best collagen for gut health is medical-grade collagen. This collagen is good for gut health because it has been approved for use in hospital settings. 

For patients who have protein needs, such as gastric surgery patients, collagen supplements are an easy source of protein that has fewer calories than whey. And collagen’s rich amino acid profile can help the 1 in 3 patients who are malnourished when they’re admitted to the hospital. 

So is collagen good for gut health? Of course, but more importantly, it can help the body as a whole to heal. And using food to heal is getting more and more commonplace as we foster a greater understanding of how our bodies use the food we eat.

Food is medicine

The food is medicine movement (also sometimes called the “food as medicine” movement) posits that a large number of the chronic conditions people struggle with can be healed through their diet. 

Using food – including dietary supplements – to help the body naturally heal can limit the amount of medical intervention needed. This allows people to take charge of their health without excess pharmaceutical treatment. 

Medical nutrition therapy has been proven to improve patient outcomes, particularly in patients with chronic health conditions. 

What is medical nutrition therapy? Medical nutrition therapy combines conventional medical treatments with the guidance of a registered nutritionist to help patients navigate using food to heal. 

Is collagen good for gut health when it’s in food? Absolutely! Foods high in collagen such as eggs, bone broth, and fish also contain a host of other macro- and micro-nutrients that your body needs. 

Using food as medicine can combine whole foods with supplements to give your body the best of both worlds – the nutrients of food with the hyper-availability of predigested collagen proteins.

Collagen supplements and gut health

Collagen and gut health have been largely studied through supplements. Hydrolyzed collagen peptides, in particular, have been used in a variety of studies with highly promising results. 

The best collagen for gut health will be bioavailable, meaning your body has no trouble digesting it. Collagen peptides are broken down into a size that’s more easily digestible. This means none of the molecules pass through your system undigested, as might be the case in whole foods like meat.

OP2 Labs has pioneered nano-hydrolyzed collagen, which is a collagen supplement broken down to be smaller than the average size of a stomach pore. This makes it the most highly-bioavailable collagen supplement on the market, fully digestible in less than 15 minutes

Collagen supplements are the most measurable way to get more collagen in your diet. This means nearly all of the studies showing collagen’s effectiveness in treating gut health have used a high-quality supplement instead of food sources.

Creating the best collagen for gut health

OP2 Labs is dedicated to creating the best collagen for gut health. The evidence supporting that collagen is good for gut health is overwhelming. There’s no such thing as a “cure-all”, but collagen can aid the overall digestive system as it passes through and after it's been absorbed. 

Supplementing with medical-grade collagen allows patients to receive the highest nutritional care possible while we continue to uncover the complexities of the human body.