Focus On: Collagen

Learn about collagen, what it is, what it does, and why you need it.

WHAT IT IS: Collagen is a collective group of proteins found in mammals and makes up a major portion (25- to 30-percent) of connective tissue within the body. With over 28 different types of collagen identified, usually type 1 (hydrolyzed collagen) or type 2 are used in supplements.

Benefits: Collagen is used in nearly every aspect of the human body; from skin to joints, eyes to cartilage, fingernails to internal organs, collagen is essential to life, and thankfully occurs naturally within the body. As the body ages, collagen production deteriorates, thus contributing to problems such as arthritis, easy bone fracture, poor muscle tone, and loss of hearing. Hydrolyzed collagen can be used for joint pain; bone and muscle support; and hair, skin, and nail improvement.

Natural Sources: Foods rich in lysine and proline convert into collagen when ingested. Foods high in lysine include meat, fish, egg whites, legumes, peanuts, and soybeans. Proline is found in gelatin-based foods and dairy products.

Warnings: Most hydrolyzed collagen supplements are derived from chicken or cow products, so vegetarians and vegans should be wary. As with all supplements, hydrolyzed collagen is not regulated by the FDA, so do your research before you commit to purchasing any supplements.

Recommended dosage: Hydrolyzed collagen is Generally Regarded As Safe by the FDA, but does not have a Recommended Daily Allowance. Based on several studies, an appropriate dose for adults (age 21+) is 5 to 15 grams per day. However, vitamin C is necessary to synthesize lysine and proline, so taking an ascorbic acid supplement with collagen is recommended.

Collagen picks: Jarrow Formulas Type II Bioavailable Collagen ($21, 60 capsules; jarrow.com)// Resverage Organics ($40, 60 capsules; resverage.com) // NOW Foods Joint Health ($37, 60 capsules; nowfoods.com)