Collagen Peptides & Heavy Metals: What You Need to Know

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May 2, 2021

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A concentrated amount of heavy metals isn’t just a collagen problem, it’s a dietary supplement problem. Nevertheless, heavy metals in collagen such as arsenic, cadmium, chromium, lead, and mercury are dangerous and can cause an array of health problems when consumed. Data shows that many collagen supplements will test positive for measurable levels of heavy metals because of possible quality issues with sourcing and manufacturing. However, you can avoid these heavy metals by ignoring faulty claims, reading labels, and verifying the collagen has passed third-party heavy metal testing.

Let’s address the elephant in the room.

Yes, we get our multi collagen products third-party tested for heavy metals — and there are no unsafe levels. We’ll get into those specifics in a bit.

Heavy Metals isn’t just a Collagen problem. It’s a Supplement problem.

Heavy metals in collagen is a critical conversation to be had.

However, this is a much broader problem in dietary supplements in general. Collagen powders, whey protein powders, and plant-based protein powders to name a few are all subject to this scrutiny of heavy metals. And this scrutiny will continue because the FDA estimates 29,000 different dietary supplements are now available with ~1,000 new products introduced annually.

Seems like the problem will only get bigger, right?

Being strictly a collagen supplement company, we’ll obviously focus on collagen here in this article. And we’ll begin by sharing why heavy metals in collagen peptides supplements are dangerous.

Why Heavy Metals in Collagen (or any supplement) is Dangerous

Possible Heavy Metals found in Collagen Peptides Supplements

Heavy metals, even at low levels, can cause organ damage and considered probable carcinogens.

The most notable heavy metals as it relates to this conversation include:

  • Arsenic
  • Cadmium
  • Chromium
  • Lead
  • Mercury

What about other metals essential to body function, such as zinc, copper, iron, etc.? Per Rarediseases.org, it’s about the level of concentration of heavy metals:

Many of the heavy metals, such as zinc, copper, chromium, iron and manganese, are essential to body function in very small amounts. But, if these metals accumulate in the body in concentrations sufficient to cause poisoning, then serious damage may occur. The heavy metals most commonly associated with poisoning of humans are lead, mercury, arsenic and cadmium.

It’s also important to note that this conversation (supplement safety) extends further than just heavy metals. Pesticides, contaminants like BPA, and overall nutrition (aka label accuracy) are also part of these ongoing safety concerns.

What the Data shows

Organic Consumers Association (OCA) and Clean Label Project (CLP) tested 28 of the top-selling brands of collagen supplements and found that:

  • 64% tested positive for measurable levels of arsenic
  • 37% tested positive for measurable levels of lead
  • 34% tested positive for trace levels of mercury
  • 17% tested positive for measurable levels of cadmium

See their 10-page white paper here

Here are the collagen brands they studied.

Clean Label Project - Collagen Brand Heavy Metals
Many of the top collagen brands today will have no unsafe levels of heavy metals per serving (that’s the key).

Note: heavy metal data above in mcg/serving, see micrograms to milligrams calculator)

Let me summarize this, cause that’s a ton of data to digest! Nearly all the collagen brands above have no unsafe levels of heavy metals per NSF certification standards (0.01 mg/day). That’s the good news. However, where things start to get hairy is when multiple servings get consumed in a day.

The results showed a considerable range, but levels in several products were of particular concern because consuming three servings a day could result in daily exposure to arsenic, cadmium, or lead exceeding the limits proposed by USP.Consumer Reports

We’ll let you explore that some more. 🙂

In Defense of Supplements

Heavy Metals are in Veggies too

While it’s important to educate on the dangers of heavy metals within supplements such as collagen, let’s remember that humans can encounter heavy metals in the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the food we eat. It’s impossible to avoid completely.

Did you have salad for lunch today? Was there spinach? Guess what, there might have been 60 mcg of cadmium in that bowl of greens. The FDA continues to publish studies around heavy metals and food, including this one warning of children’s exposure to lead and cadmium. The study found lead exposures range from 1 to 3.4 µg/day, with major contributions from grains, fruit, dairy, and mixtures (e.g. hamburgers, pizza, lasagna, soups).

Clearly heavy metals impact more than just supplements. For example, here are 13 other common foods that could easily contain lead.

Now, let’s get back to collagen. How in the world do heavy metals like arsenic, cadmium, chromium, lead, and mercury find their way into a collagen peptide supplement? Let’s address.

How do Heavy Metals get into a Collagen Supplement?

Per ConsumerLab.com:

Lead is one of several toxic heavy metals that plants can absorb from the environment (the soil, water or air), while growing, and which can contaminate other minerals when they are mined. Sometimes lead is introduced into supplements by its use as a colorant (e.g. lead chromate, which has been added to turmeric powder to make it more yellow) or from other ingredients added to products.

In addition to environmental issues, you have to also look at the quality of the sourcing.

Collagen supplements are made through the processing of animal byproducts, including the skin or hide, bones, cartilage, and connective tissues. Collagen can even be extracted from the membrane of eggshells (all our multi collagen products contain eggshell membrane). If the collagen supplement is single-source, these animal sources will be either beef or fish. If the collagen supplement is MULTI sourced (like us!), it’ll be beef, chicken, and fish.

Here’s the cold hard fact. Many collagen supplements source their animals from factory farms, and these animals are exposed to heavy metals through their diet, drinking water, contaminated soil, and more. The toxins can accumulate in soft tissue and bones — the exact animal byproducts used in collagen peptide supplements.

To add insult to injury, neither the FDA nor any other federal or state agency routinely tests dietary supplements for contamination with lead or other toxic metals prior to sale.

These facts are alarming, no doubt. But, there’s a way to enjoy all the wonderful benefits of collagen and protect yourself from heavy metals.

How to Avoid Collagen Supplements with Heavy Metals (Hint: Don’t Assume!)

How can you tell if a collagen supplement is free of heavy metals? Start with assuming they’re NOT free of heavy metals, and then validate your assumption with these 3 tips:

  1. Beware of “claims”. Pure! All-Natural! Clean! Really though? Images can be misleading, too. Show a cow or chicken in a pasture eating some green grass — “Wa-lah!” — we immediately (and subconsciously) believe the supplement is free of heavy metals.
  2. Read Labels. Per Consumer Lab, “Supplements and foods such as whole turmeric root powder, ashwagandha root powder, Echinacea, cocoa powder, greens and “whole food” supplements, kelp, and green tea leaves all have the potential to be contaminated with lead as well as other toxic metals such as cadmium and arsenic.”
  3. Require third-party testing & certification. Specifically for heavy metals, more on testing below.

Again, don’t assume a collagen supplement has sourced clean ingredients and rigorously tested for heavy metals.

Do we test our collagen for Heavy Metals?

NSF Certification Explained
NSF Certified for Sport: The gold standard of supplement certification.

As I mentioned from the beginning, absolutely our collagen is tested for heavy metals.

Here’s how we, as a collagen company that’s made premium product a founding pillar, combat these cold hard facts:

  1. We source from the best ingredients (pasture raised grass-fed beef, cage-free chickens, wild-caught fish)
  2. We rely on third-party testing (ensures there’s no unsafe levels of heavy metals)

When I say “we”, what I really mean is we used the gold standard to supplement third-party testing: NSF (National Sanitation Foundation). Our unflavored multi collagen powder (and soon chocolate and vanilla) is the first and only Multi Collagen NSF Certified for Sport®.

How does the Heavy Metal testing work?

Per the NSF website, their testing involves 3 steps. Their 2nd step involves a thorough toxicology report and tests for an array of contaminants — including heavy metals.

In their NSF/ANSI 173 Dietary Supplement Product Certification Standard, they test the suppliers and ingredients for arsenic, cadmium, chromium, lead, and mercury.

NSF Heavy Metal Testing on Collagen Requirements
NSF ensures no unsafe levels of heavy metals is in our multi collagen

0.01 mg/day and 0.02 mg/day (chromium) or below is a rigid, but absolutely justified, standard. But, as good as that sounds, you still may be asking yourself why not ZERO mg/d? Completely fair question. Here’s how our NSF account manager answered, using lead as an example:

Lead is 0.01 mg/day which is a super low limit but allows for natural occurrence of lead within ingredients.

Remember, it’s the concentrated amount of heavy metals that are dangerous. NSF certification ensures our multi collagen is free of these amounts and safe for our customers.

In addition to heavy metal testing, NSF also tests and verifies that our collagen is:

  • Manufactured in a GMP facility (Good Manufacturing Practice)
  • Free of 280 banned substances (e.g. Masking agents, Hormone antagonists, Stimulants, and much more)
  • Free of pesticides/herbicides

Need more Assurances?

As I mentioned above, one of our founding pillars is premium product. We know we’re not the cheapest multi collagen on the market, and we’re OK with that.

If NSF certification wasn’t compelling enough to give us a try, how about this. We give our families (see CB team), even our young kids, CB Supplements multi collagen. We trust our product that much. We’ve also had our collagen tested for purity. And if that fact still doesn’t convince you that our collagen is clean and premium grade, maybe knowing that professional athletes and Olympians also consume it might be the linchpin. Just maybe.

Thanks for being here, wanting to know more about collagen and heavy metals, and taking your health seriously.

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Author

Eric Sharp

Eric Sharp

Eric discovered collagen back in 2019 (thanks to Charlie) and been a believer since. He brings 20+ years of digital marketing experience to the CB Supplements team. As CMO, he's directly responsible for crafting the CB Supplements positioning, content, branding, and overall marketing direction.

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Charlie Bailes

Charlie Bailes

If you've bought our multi collagen, there's a pretty darn good chance you've received an awesome personalized thank you note from Charlie. Aside from caring A LOT about customer appreciation, he's also our Founder and CEO and responsible for assembling our great team and vision.

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