Unveiling the Collagen Health Contradiction: The Dark Side of some Australian Collagen Powders

woman checking collagen label

In the pursuit of wellness, we all turn to so-called "healthy" food brands, hoping to nourish our bodies with wholesome ingredients. One such trend that has gained popularity is the incorporation of hydrolyzed collagen into various products, from protein bars to supplements, promising numerous health benefits.

Hydrolyzed collagen, known for its potential to support joint health, skin elasticity, and overall vitality, has become a staple in the wellness industry. Yet, the health contradiction arises when we delve deeper into the ingredient list of some of these brand's products, only to discover the presence of dietary emulsifiers.

The irony lies in the fact that many of these seemingly health-conscious brands include commonly used dietary emulsifiers, casting a shadow over their nutritional claims and raising concerns about their impact on the delicate balance of the human gut microbiota.

A recent study (link in the body of the text below), has shed light on their potential adverse effects on our gut microbiota, the complex community of microorganisms residing in our digestive tract that play a crucial role in overall health.

Disturbing this delicate balance can have far-reaching consequences.

The study highlights how common food additives and emulsifiers disrupt the harmony of the gut microbiota, leading to a cascade of detrimental effects.

Emulsifiers, such as Xanthan gum, guar gum, acacia gum (also known as gum Arabic), polysorbate 80 (P80), carrageenan, carboxymethylcellulose (CMC) and lecithin, are commonly found in processed foods contributing to their creamy texture and the stability of various packaged products, including many Australian brands of hydrolysed collagen powder (even formulations that claim to heal the gut!).

In fact, there are numerous studies indicating that emulsifiers can disrupt the balance of the gut microbiota, leading to an imbalance known as dysbiosis. This disturbance in the microbial ecosystem has been linked to various health issues, including inflammation, metabolic disorders, and even a compromised immune system.

One of the things that makes these emulsifiers so concerning is their ability to act as detergents, disrupting the protective mucus layer that lines the gut and serves as a barrier between the microbiota and the intestinal wall. This breach can lead to increased permeability, often referred to as "leaky gut," allowing harmful substances to enter the bloodstream and triggering inflammatory responses.

Furthermore, the altered composition of the gut microbiota caused by emulsifiers may impact the production of short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs), essential compounds with anti-inflammatory properties. Reduced SCFA levels have been associated with inflammatory bowel diseases and other chronic conditions, highlighting the potential far-reaching consequences of regular emulsifier consumption.

The impact of emulsifiers on Gut Health – Study findings

In summary, the study revealed:

  1. Inflammation and Gut Barrier Integrity: One of the significant findings from the study is the link between food additives and increased inflammation in the gut. Emulsifiers, such as Xanthan gum, polysorbate 80 and carboxymethylcellulose, were shown to compromise the integrity of the gut barrier. This breach allows harmful substances to leak into the bloodstream, triggering inflammation that has been associated with various chronic diseases.
  2. Altered Microbial Composition: The balance of bacteria in the gut is crucial for optimal health. The study reveals that certain food additives can lead to a significant alteration in the composition of the gut microbiota. This imbalance is associated with conditions like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD).
  3. Metabolic Disturbances: The intricate relationship between the gut microbiota and metabolism is disrupted by the presence of food additives. Emulsifiers, in particular, were found to induce metabolic disturbances, contributing to conditions like obesity and metabolic syndrome.
  4. Increased Susceptibility to Infections: A weakened gut barrier and altered microbial composition create an environment ripe for the proliferation of harmful bacteria. The study suggests that exposure to common food additives may increase susceptibility to infections by compromising the body's natural defences.

Our gut microbiota

Our gut is home to trillions of microorganisms collectively known as the gut microbiota. These microorganisms play a crucial role in maintaining our overall health, aiding in digestion, and even influencing our immune system.

The gut microbiota plays a pivotal role in nutrient absorption, immune system regulation, and the synthesis of essential compounds, making its well-being paramount to our overall health.

While gut microbiota provides important benefits to its host, especially in metabolism and immune development, disturbance of the microbiota-host relationship is associated with numerous chronic inflammatory diseases, including inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and the group of obesity-associated diseases collectively referred to as metabolic syndrome.

Consequently, it has been thought that emulsifiers might be promoting the post-mid-20th century epidemic in IBD (1)


Emulsifiers – Agents for inflammation

This recent study, published in the scientific journal, 'Microbiome', has further exposed the detrimental health effects of these seemingly harmless substances.

The study found detrimental impacts associated with these compound’s by increasing levels of bioactive lipopolysaccharide (otherwise known as Endotoxin) and flagellin, (bacterial filament that triggers our immune response), thus suggesting a potential means by which impacting microbiota can promote inflammation and adding to the already substantial weight of evidence. (2) (3)

Scientists discovered that microbiotas exposed to xantham gum, sorbitain monostearate, and glyceryl stearate displayed a tendency of increased endotoxin levels during the treatment phase, which became significant in the post-treatment phase, suggesting that these dietary emulsifiers induce slow but persistent increase in the microbiota’s expression of these pro-inflammatory molecules. Moreover, carrageenan, as well as xantham gum, guar gum, and locust bean gum, significantly induced bioactive levels of flagellin in a reversible manner.

These functional microbiota readouts suggest that numerous emulsifiers significantly enhance the ability of the microbiota to activate innate immune signaling pathways thought to contribute to inflammation in the intestinal tract and confirms the findings of previous studies (4).

Locust bean gum, HPMC, guar gum, and carrageenan impacted various parameters in a reversible manner, while xantham gum, sorbitan monostearate, glyceryl stearate, maltodextrin, and P80 impacted various microbiota parameters, both compositionally and/or functionally, in a non-reversible manner.

Authors of the study suggest that particular caution should be employed for these latter compounds, and suggest priorities for further testing of these emulsifiers broadly used by the food industry.

 List of common Emulsifiers and their E number 

Emulsifier E Number
Sodium carboxymethylcellulose (CMC)


Polysorbate 80 (P80)


Soy lecithin


Sunflower lecithin




Propylene glycol alginate




Xantham gum


Gum arabic


Guar gum


Locust bean gum


Agar agar


Diacetyl tartaric acid ester of mono- and diglycerides (DATEM)


Hydroxypropyl methyl cellulose (HPMC)


Sorbitan monostearate


Mono- and diglycerides


Glyceryl Stearate


Glyceryl Oleate



Chronic inflammatory diseases, such as metabolic syndrome and IBD, are associated with disturbance of the composition and the function of the human gut microbiota, with accumulating evidence demonstrating the role played by emulsifiers in disease establishment and chronicity.

That the prevalence of these disorders has markedly increased amidst relatively constant human genetics indicates a role for non-genetic (i.e., environmental) factors including those that might impact gut microbiota and/or the intestine’s ability to manage this microbial ecosystem.

Dietary emulsifiers, specifically the synthetic compounds CMC and P80, directly detrimentally impact the intestinal microbiota in ways suggested to promote various inflammatory diseases (5). There is no doubt that greater consideration needs to be paid to the potential health hazards of this class of food additive.

Gum compounds are derived from different sources including microbial origin (xantham gum is derived from a bacteria), or vegetal origin such as gum arabic, guar gum, and locust bean gum which are derived from plants. These compounds are characterized by different chemical structures and compositions, and their impacts on gut microbiota composition and function are consequently diverse, with guar gum and xantham gum harboring striking detrimental effect, with alterations in bacterial density, composition, as well as an increased expression of pro-inflammatory molecules.

    So why are Collagen Brands using these dangerous substances?

    Well, I can only think of two reasons.

    1. They are not doing the research. They are ignorant of the dangerous substances they are placing in their products and promoting to their unsuspecting customers. It is quite likely that they pay a ‘3rd party’ business to ‘formulate’ their products for them. They might say they have quality processes, but their words are hollow. So, let’s just call it what it is…..dangerously lazy.

    2. They just don’t care. They’re happy to rest in the fact that their customers are none the wiser. You know the ol’ saying…. “What you don’t know won’t hurt you”. How callus can they be? Purely profits before people. And what makes it so insidious is that they promote themselves as ‘healthy’. Ha, now that really is a (sick) joke!

    If you are taking a collagen product (or any other product for that matter) that contains any of the listed emulsifiers, you need to consider whether it wise to continue using it.

    CollagenX customers can rest assured. CollagenX collagen products DO NOT contain any of the listed dangerous emulsifiers..... and never will!

    In conclusion, the health contradiction within some so-called "healthy" food brands, including those incorporating hydrolyzed collagen, lies in the inclusion of commonly used dietary emulsifiers.

    It's crucial for consumers to be discerning when selecting products from seemingly health-focused brands. Reading ingredient labels, understanding the potential impact of additives like emulsifiers on gut health, and seeking alternatives that prioritize both nutrition and microbiota harmony are steps toward making informed choices.

    While the health benefits of hydrolyzed collagen are not disputed, it's essential to consider the holistic impact of a product's entire ingredient profile. Opting for products from brands like CollagenX, who are committed to transparency, quality sourcing, and a knowledgeable approach to additives can help strike a balance between achieving health goals and supporting the well-being of the gut microbiota.

    As we navigate the landscape of wellness products, it's essential to be vigilant about the ingredients that make their way into our daily meals, and recognize the symbiotic relationship between what we consume and the intricate microbial community that resides within us. Making informed choices empowers us to support our well-being comprehensively, embracing true health rather than succumbing to the paradox of purportedly healthy products with hidden drawbacks.

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