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What Are the Benefits of Taking Collagen?

Physical Health

April 22, 2024
Women holding a supplement and a glass of water

These days, it seems like there’s a supplement for nearly every health benefit out there. If you’re looking to boost your skin, bone, or muscle health, then a collagen supplement might be for you. Roughly 30% of your body’s protein is in the form of collagen, which supports healthy tissues.

While many companies tout the seemingly endless benefits of collagen, the jury is still out on the scientific research backing these claims. This article will cover some of the potential benefits of taking collagen and the evidence supporting them. We’ll also cover the different ways you can add collagen to your diet, both with supplements and with certain foods.

What Is Collagen?

Collagen is the most abundant protein in the human body. It’s the key building block for nearly every tissue, including:

  • Connective tissues (tendons and ligaments)
  • Muscles
  • Skin
  • Bones
  • Blood vessels
  • Organs
  • The lining of your intestines

Normally, your body builds collagen on its own using a combination of amino acids, vitamin C, copper, zinc, and manganese. Collagen has a distinct triple helix structure with 3 strands of protein woven together. This structure gives collagen molecules the strength to support your body’s tissues. According to the Cleveland Clinic, researchers have identified roughly 28 different types of collagens. The types are defined by the protein structure, what additional components are added, and where the collagen is found in the body.

The 5 most common types of collagens are referred to by Roman numerals I-V or 1-5:

  • Type I: A densely packed collagen that makes up 90% of your body’s collagen stores; it provides structure for your connective tissues, skin, and bones
  • Type II: Collagen found in your elastic cartilage that supports the joints
  • Type III: Collagen found in organs, muscles, and large blood vessels that carry oxygenated blood away from your heart to the rest of your body (arteries)
  • Type IV: Collagen found in your skin
  • Type V: Collage found in your hair, skin, the outermost layer of your eye (cornea), and tissues within the placenta

As you age, your body becomes less efficient at making collagen on its own. This tends to happen in people aged 60 and older. With less collagen, you’re more likely to lose your skin’s elasticity, causing sagging or wrinkly skin. Achey and weak muscles are also a sign your collagen levels are on the decline. You may also notice your joints are less flexible than they were before. Some people even go on to develop osteoarthritis, a type of degenerative joint disease that causes joint breakdown in the hips, knees, and hands.

Adding Collagen to Your Diet

To help avoid or combat joint, skin, and muscle problems, you may turn to collagen supplements. Collagen powders and pills can be found in abundance online or at your local vitamin store. These supplements often use hydrolyzed collagen or collagen peptides or broken-up collagen molecules that may be easier for your stomach to digest and absorb.

If you take a look at the supplement facts on the packaging, you’ll likely find a laundry list of amino acids used to make collagen proteins. Some supplement powders and pills also add the necessary nutrients your body needs to make its own collagen — like vitamin C, copper, zinc, and manganese.

On the topic of collagen supplements, it’s important to note that your body can’t absorb whole collagen proteins. Your stomach will break down the proteins and absorb the amino acids. Your body uses these building blocks to make its own collagen instead. With this, you want to be mindful of the collagen supplements you choose. Peptides are likely the most useful option for your body to absorb and use.

Another way to add collagen to your diet is to eat foods rich in it. The Nutrition Source from Harvard University’s School of Public Health suggests the following foods with collagen that can also be part of a healthy diet:

  • Bone broth or a broth made from simmering bones with vinegar to release the minerals and collagen inside
  • Certain cuts of meat with more connective tissue and collagen, like chuck steak, pot roast, or brisket
  • Foods made with gelatin, which contains collagen from boiling animal cartilage, skin, and bones

You can also make a point of eating foods containing the main amino acids in collagen — proline, glycine, and hydroxyproline. Foods rich in these protein building blocks include dairy, legumes, meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and soy.

4 Benefits of Collagen Supplements

Elderly women

Collagen supplements are a great way to boost your body’s levels of certain amino acids and nutrients needed to make collagen. It’s easy to get wrapped up in the idea that supplements are the answer to your hair, skin, nail, or joint problems. Remember — collagen and other supplements are only intended to support your body’s overall health. Supplements aren’t regulated by the United States Food & Drug Administration (FDA), meaning companies can’t claim their products treat or cure any problems.

Current research on collagen supplements usually isn’t in the form of randomized clinical trials. These studies are the gold standard of clinical research used to test how effective new treatments are. Supplement studies may be sponsored by the supplement company, or they may not use a placebo (“fake drug”) as a comparison. Be sure to do your research and ask your doctor or healthcare provider about which supplements they recommend for your health.

With this information in mind, here are 4 benefits of collagen supplements as noted by current studies.

1. Improves Your Skin’s Appearance

As you age, your body produces less collagen. According to dermatologists, women can lose up to 30% of their collagen within a few years of starting menopause. This is why many older adults have wrinkles or sagging skin. You may have also heard your dermatologist talk about your skin’s hydration (how well it holds onto moisture) and elasticity (how well it stretches and bounces back).

Collagen supplements have long been studied for supporting skin hydration and elasticity. By taking supplements, you may be able to support healthy skin with better hydration, elasticity, and collagen density. So, what do the studies say?

One review published in the Journal of Drugs in Dermatology looked at 11 studies with 805 patients taking various collagen supplements. A total of 2 studies investigated patients taking a collagen tripeptide for 4-12 weeks to learn about its effects on the skin. Another study followed patients taking collagen dipeptide to study its anti-aging effects. Overall, the authors reported that short- and long-term use of oral collagen supplements helped improve skin hydration, elasticity, and the effects of aging.

Another review published in the International Journal of Dermatology compiled the results of 19 studies with 1,125 patients. Overall, the authors found that taking hydrolyzed collagen supplements for 90 days may help improve skin wrinkles, elasticity, and hydration when compared to placebo.

Some research also suggests that collagen supplements can help your body make more elastin. As the name suggests, elastin is a protein that stretches and bounces back. It supports stretchy tissues that need to extend and recoil, like your skin, ligaments, lungs, and blood vessels. In theory, making more elastin may lead to tighter, plumper skin with better elasticity. One study from Germany investigated the drinkable collagen supplement Elasten® and its effects on the skin. The authors found that the supplement helped improve skin texture, elasticity, and hydration.

2. Supports Bone Health

Collagen also plays an important role in keeping your bones healthy. In fact, collagen accounts for the majority of the organic structure in bones. As with your skin, low collagen levels from aging can also negatively affect bone health. Less collagen can lead to low bone mineral density (BMD), making your bones weak and brittle. Low BMD ultimately raises the risk of osteoporosis and bone fractures.

It’s a well-known fact that women going through menopause and those who are post-menopause are more likely to develop osteoporosis. This is because low estrogen levels can lead to low BMD. Small studies have looked into collagen supplements for treating low BMD in post-menopausal women. A report published in the Journal of Medicinal Food followed 39 women who took either a combination of collagen, calcium, and vitamin D or only calcium and vitamin D. The study authors reported that women in the collagen supplement group had less BMD loss compared to those taking only calcium and vitamin D.

3. Aids in Joint Health and Repair

If you’re experiencing joint pain and stiffness with aging or wear and tear, collagen supplements may help. Collagen proteins are necessary for cartilage and joint function. It would make sense that taking extra collagen could help treat joint problems and osteoarthritis. Some studies have found that peptides from collagen supplements find their way into the cartilage that supports joints.

Current research also supports the idea that collagen can aid in joint health and repair. A clinical study published in Nutrition Research followed 120 patients taking a placebo or liquid nutraceutical every day for 3 months. The nutraceutical was formulated with fish collagen, antioxidants, and vitamins designed to support skin and joint health. In addition to the numerous skin benefits, the study authors reported that patients who took the nutraceutical experienced:

  • A 43% decrease in joint pain
  • A 39% increase in joint mobility

Researchers have also looked into how collagen supplements may help treat osteoarthritis. Most studies focus on the benefits of hydrolyzed collagen or native type II collagen. Both formulations are commonly found in supplements. It’s worth noting that the supplement doses and treatment lengths varied widely from study to study. Generally speaking, however, most studies found that collagen supplements help reduce joint pain and improve function in people with osteoarthritis. A handful of studies did report that there was no difference between groups taking supplements and those taking placebos.

4. Builds Muscle Mass

We know that collagen is important for maintaining muscle health and strength. However, aging leads to collagen loss and may eventually cause sarcopenia (loss of muscle mass). Every decade after turning 30, you lose 3-5% of your muscle mass. When you lose too much muscle mass, you’re at risk of developing a condition known as sarcopenia. Older adults are more likely to have sarcopenia because they’re less physically active.

To help combat muscle loss with aging, studies have looked into how collagen supplements can help. One report followed 27 elderly men with muscle loss for 3 months. They took either a collagen supplement or a placebo, and everyone participated in a strength training program. At the end of the study, the authors found that the men who took collagen gained more muscle mass than those who took the placebo.

Another study followed 57 young men who took 15 grams of collagen or a placebo daily and participated in a resistance training program. The authors noted that both the collagen and placebo groups had similar muscle strength at the end of the study. However, they also found that the men who took collagen had greater fat-free mass. The authors believe it may be due to improvements in their connective tissue.

Talk to Your Healthcare Provider About Collagen Supplements

Elderly man talking to his doctor

While the results of these studies are promising, more research is needed to determine exactly how effective collagen supplements are in supporting your overall health. Many of the studies we’ve discussed in this article didn’t study collagen supplements on their own. Instead, the collagen peptides were taken alongside other amino acids, vitamins, and nutrients. This makes it harder for doctors and researchers to figure out exactly how effective collagen supplements are on their own.

If you’re interested in trying a supplement for any of the discussed benefits, ask your healthcare provider for recommendations. Most providers will agree that the evidence may not always support the health benefits, but there’s no harm in trying. Collagen supplements are generally well-tolerated, and you shouldn’t experience any side effects. According to the Cleveland Clinic, it’s best to stick with 2.5-15 grams of collagen peptides per day.

Articles authored by Dr. Connor are intended to facilitate awareness about health and wellness matters generally and are not a substitute for professional medical attention or advice from your own healthcare practitioner, which is dependent on your detailed personal medical condition and history. You should always speak with your own qualified healthcare practitioner about any information in any articles you may read here before choosing to act or not act upon such information.
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