Straight Talk About Supplements | Part 6

Protein & Collagen

A Doctor’s Guide

Dr. Aaron Hartman

November 28, 2023

Protein Powder
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    Throughout this series, I’ve focused on supplement safety. In this article, I want to delve specifically into protein and collagen supplements.

    Protein is, of course, one of the three critical macronutrients required for our body to function properly. Protein allows your body to grow, build and repair tissues, and protect lean muscle mass. 

    Protein Powder

    Collagen is the most abundant specific protein in your body, accounting for about 30% of your body’s total protein. Collagen is the primary building block of your body’s skin, muscles, bones, and connective tissues.

    Protein-rich foods include meat, poultry, fish, egg, milk, cheese, or other types of animal by-product foods. You can also get protein from beans, lentils, nuts, seeds, and soy as well as lower amounts in grains, vegetables, and fruits.

    Sometimes, to support your health goals, it’s valuable to supplement your diet with additional sources of protein and collagen. For my patients on the hypermobility spectrum, for example, I often recommend additional sources of protein and collagen to support connective tissue health.

    As I have noted throughout this series, however, not all supplements are created equal. Not all are equally safe. Some supplements are even harmful. When you purchase protein powder or collagen, you expect it to support your health. But you have to be wise.

    Whey-Based Protein

    Whey Protein Powder with Gym Equipments

    Whey-based protein powders are the #1 selling source of protein for bodybuilders and high-performance athletes.

    What is whey, anyway? Whey is the liquid remaining after milk has been curdled and strained. Remember, Little Miss Muffet? She sat on her tuffet, eating her curds and whey… Whey is a natural by-product of milk.

    Beware of MSG Sensitivity

    When most whey is heated, however, the glutamine is converted to monosodium glutamate (MSG). This means that people with MSG sensitivities will likely react to whey protein. To avoid this, you want to purchase whey protein produced using a cold filtering process. As with milk, you should also look for a whey protein from cows fed primarily grass as a source for their milk.

    Recommended Products

    I used Tera’s Whey product I used for a bit because of their cold filtering processes, but it’s quite expensive. Designs for Health whey comes in a bigger container and I can also get their certificate of analysis pretty easily.


    Collagen Powder

    Contamination Risks

    Unfortunately, a lot of collagen proteins are tainted with mold or lead. When making beef collagen, sometimes the hides are allowed to sit and get moldy before the extraction process. Chicken-based collagen can be contaminated with lead because of the feed that the chickens eat. The lead builds up in their bones and ends up in the collagen you consume.

    Vetting Your Collagen

    To avoid the risk of contamination, I require a certificate of analysis from companies, so I can see what’s in the testing for the products and evaluate from there. For example, I contacted the protein powder company, Vital Proteins. Vital Proteins would not give me their certificate of analysis, claiming it was “proprietary.” For the pharmaceutical-grade supplements I recommend, I can call and get a certificate of analysis for any of their products. It’s part of their open-door policy about full disclosure. When a company says, “My collagen is proprietary” … that makes me question the quality of their product.

    Collagen powder and supplement

    Recommended Products

    I tend to use and recommend Whole Body Collagen by Designs for Health. This product has some beef and actual skin collagen in it. These are all hydrolyzed, so they’re super hypoallergenic. You can certainly buy cheaper collagen powders, but you’re more likely to have mold and lead contamination issues.

    Marine collagen is great for the skin and nails, but you need to be mindful of arsenic in seafood. If I’m looking to purchase marine collagen, I trust Marine Collagen by Vital Nutrients. Unfortunately, Vital Nutrients is not available through our online store, but our members can purchase through Fullscript.

    Plant-Based Protein Supplements

    Rice & Peasrice protein powder

    Common plant-based products include rice and pea-based protein powders. Often, plant-based protein powders are a mixture of rice and peas, since rice and beans are a mostly complete protein together. The tricky thing with rice is that arsenic can accumulate in the rice from the soil. So the question is whether or not the company that makes these rice-based products is testing for arsenic.


    Hemp proteins are an even more complete protein. Currently, I cannot confidently speak to hemp proteins because few pharmaceutical-grade products actually have hemp proteins. To find a hemp-based protein powder, you can look into nutritional-grade products that have the same process of checking the raw materials before they enter the factory, during the process, and after they’ve been packaged to make sure you’re actually getting what the ingredients label states. Some factors that can affect product quality, and are often missed, are processing with heating and cooling, adding chemicals, etc. These can change the actual constituents within the product or make new constituents.

    Recommended Products

    Like so many supplements, just because the bottle says “Vitamin D” doesn’t mean you’re getting the right kind of vitamin D that your body needs. In this video, I break down the different kinds of vitamin D you may be

    To make matters worse, some supplements lie about their ingredients. I wrote an article about this recently, as well as providing guidance on how to safely source supplements.

    • Metagenics offers a good medical-grade product line that is mostly rice, pea, and plant-based.
    • Vital Clear is another product by Vital Nutrients, which is also rice, pea, and plant-based. 
    • Physician’s Formula has a really good elemental formula for people with small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) and gut issues. It tastes terrible, but it’s a good source for people with SIBO when you’re trying to do a nutritional fast.

    Admittedly, all of these are going to be more expensive than standard, nutritional-grade powders because of the higher quality.

    If you’re chemically sensitive or have another sensitivity, be careful with some of the combination products. Because there are more ingredients, it’s also more likely to cause reactions.


    Throughout this series, I’ve noted that supplement sales are like the Wild West. It’s unregulated and hazardous to navigate. Staring at the supplement section in your local organic market is overwhelming, and an internet search is worse. I hope these observations point you in a few healthy directions.


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