When it comes to important nutrients your body needs to function well, we all know that protein is a key contender. Protein is used by our body to make hair, nails, skin, bones, and muscles. Pretty dang important stuff!
While we can get protein as part of our daily diet in the form of meat, beans, and protein supplements such as bars and shakes, there’s another type of protein we may be missing out on: collagen.
Collagen is one of the most abundant proteins in our body and is incredibly important for our day-to-day health and wellness. Collagen is a type of protein and is used to build and support many of the connective tissues in our body, such as tendons, ligaments, cartilage, skin, muscles, and our digestive system. It helps to strengthen bones and provide structure to our skin.
Because collagen is so important to the functioning of so many different parts of our body, you might be wondering where it comes from. Luckily, our body can make its own collagen. By combining amino acids glycine and proline, our body can make its own collagen.
The essential building blocks for collagen come from high-protein foods and vitamins from fruits and vegetables, all part of a standard diet. But, as we age, our body naturally produces less collagen. And, some diet and environmental factors can limit collagen products, such as sun exposure, smoking, and eating excess sugar.
New scientific research shows that consuming collagen or taking a collagen supplement can increase the amount of collagen in the body and provide certain benefits, such as improving skin and lessening joint pain.
Collagen is naturally found in animal products such as bone broth, pork skin, and gelatin. You can also get collagen from a supplement. The benefit of taking a collagen supplement is that most are a hydrolyzed form of the collagen protein, meaning it’s broken down and is easier to absorb.
While you might be thinking that collagen sounds like the wonder supplement we’ve all been waiting for, it’s important to understand that more research is still needed. Some of the below benefits are proven, while others need more research.
Additionally, no studies have been done to determine whether eating collagen-rich foods or taking a supplement increases the available collagen in your body. While early research is pointing towards collagen benefits, many more studies are needed.
All that being said, here are 10 research-backed benefits of collagen.
1. Improve Fine Lines and Wrinkles
One of the best-researched benefits of taking collagen is skin health. As we age, our skin loses elasticity and flexibility, one potential reason why is from a loss of collagen. Ingesting collagen can improve the look of fine lines and wrinkles and improve overall skin health.
One study found that women who ingested 1 gram of collagen per day for 12 weeks had:
- 76% less dryness
- 12% fewer wrinkles
- 6% higher collagen content
- Better blood flow to the skin
A meta-analysis (or study of studies) looked at 11 placebo-controlled studies with over 800 total participants and found that taking 10 grams of collagen a day improved skin elasticity, its ability to hold moisture, and the density of collagen fibers in skins.
Other studies have found that collagen supplements can help slow aging in skin by reducing wrinkles and dryness and improving elasticity. Researchers believe that taking a collagen supplement helps the body to increase collagen production and can also stimulate the production of other healthy skin compounds, such as elastin.
As the most researched benefit of collagen, skin health and anti-aging are sure-fire reasons to consider taking a collagen supplement.
2. Lessen Joint Pain
For many people, joint pain is a part of their daily lives and can make moving around and exercising difficult. Collagen is a key ingredient for connective tissues and cartilage, which makes up the rubber-like substance that protects joints. As collagen decreases with age, there’s a risk of increased joint pain and degenerative joint diseases such as osteoarthritis.
A 2017 study followed athletes with knee pain who took 5 grams of collagen a day. After the 12 week study, they found that those athletes had less joint pain while exercising than the placebo group. It’s believed that collagen has anti-inflammatory properties and can encourage connective tissue and cartilage repair, which would reduce joint pain and improve joint health.
There are a number of different collagen peptides, some of which are found in chicken and others in beef. Research has found that Type I is beneficial for skin, while Type II is more beneficial for joints. When choosing a collagen supplement or adding more collagen sources to your diet, it’s important to have a variety of sources, such as beef and chicken, not just one or the other. And, if you choose to take a supplement, picking one that’s high quality.
Another study followed adults who took 2 grams of collagen a day for 70 days. Those not in the placebo group had a reduction in joint pain and were better able to exercise.
If you’re looking for joint pain relief, research suggests a dose between 8 to 12 grams of collagen per day.
3. Easy Way to Get Digestible, Healthy Protein
While collagen is often touted for its many benefits for skin and joints, people often forget, at its simplest, it’s a protein. If you’re looking for an easy-to-digest protein, this just might be what you’re looking for.
Because most collagen supplements are made up of hydrolyzed collagen peptides, the protein in the collagen has already been broken down, which makes it easier for the body to digest and metabolize. (It also makes it water-soluble, so it’s easy to mix into water or a smoothie.) Most proteins, such as those from chicken and beef, take a lot of work for the body to break down and digest, which can cause stomach pain or burping.
Protein from collagen also has one of the lowest protein per calorie ratio you can find on the market. Most collagen supplements are also low in sodium and sugar, making it a great, easy-to-digest, low-calorie protein source. The only drawback to taking collagen supplements to increase protein intake is the expense. Collagen supplements are generally more expensive than other protein shakes or bars.
4. Increase Your Body’s Available Collagen
A potentially obvious, but still worth pointing out benefit, of taking a collagen supplement is that it will increase your body’s available collagen resources. Your body’s available collagen starts to decline in your 30s and 40s. Replacing the lost collagen through diet or a supplement may help your body to retain and use the collagen it can no longer produce.
5. Quicken Wound Healing
Because collagen has a number of benefits for skin, it can also help promote wound healing. It helps to stop bleeding and stimulate the growth of new blood vessels.
A study on long-term care residents with pressure ulcers studied what happened when they were given 3 collagen supplements per day for 8 weeks. Researchers found that those given the collagen supplement had significantly better healed wounds than those in the placebo group.
Another study, a 2019 meta-analysis with a total of 805 participants, found that short and long-term use of an ingested collagen supplement improved wound healing.
6. Stimulate Bone Health and Prevent Bone Loss
Collagen is not only important for our skin and joints but also our bones. Our bones consist mostly of collagen, which provides the structure and keeps bones strong. As collagen in our body decreases with age, so does bone density, which can increase the risk for fractures, breaks, and osteoporosis. Bone density is a major concern for post-menopausal women.
A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled 2018 study of 108 post-menopausal women found that those who took a collagen peptide for one year increased their bone density when compared to the control group. Another study found that women who took collagen had an increase of up to 7% in their bone density after 12 months. The theory is that taking a collagen supplement stimulates bone formation and slows down bone loss.
Another study looked at the effects of taking a collagen supplement and a calcium supplement. The group who took both supplements had lower levels of protein in their blood, which can cause bone breakdown, compared to the group who took only calcium supplements.
7. May Promote Gut Health
One of the potential benefits of collagen supplements that needs more research but shows good potential is its effects on gut health. Research has found that some patients with irritable bowel syndrome have low levels of collagen. By taking collagen supplements, these people could correct a nutrient deficiency.
A 2017 study found a connection between the formation and breakdown of collagen fibers and inflammation, which can cause inflammatory bowel diseases such as IBS. Because collagen is an important building block of connective tissues, especially in the bowels, it’s believed that increasing collagen intake may have a beneficial effect on those suffering from IBS and similar inflammatory bowel diseases and allow for healing to occur.
This is a new idea and needs more research, but it’s an avenue to consider for those suffering from inflammatory bowel issues.
8. Could Support Heart Health
Another potential benefit of collagen that needs more research is how collagen can support heart health. What is known is that collagen is important for strong, flexible arteries, which are the vessels that carry blood to and from your heart. Unhealthy arteries can lead to heart disease, heart attack, and stroke.
A 2017 study of 32 participants that was uncontrolled and open-label found that after six months of taking collagen supplements twice a day, participants showed an improvement in heart health. They found that participants had less buildup on their artery walls, less arterial stiffness, and lower measures of cholesterol. Researchers theorized that collagen supplements help to strengthen the blood vessel walls, which reduces the risk of artery disease.
While initial findings are hopeful, more research is needed to fully make the connection between collagen supplements and improved heart health.
9. Might Boost Muscle Mass
Preliminary research also finds that taking a collagen supplement might boost muscle mass. What we do know is that muscle tissue is built through protein intake and between 1 and 10 percent of muscle tissue is made of collagen.
One research study of 27 men found that after 12 weeks of a daily intake of 15 grams of collagen, the men gained more muscle mass and strength than those who exercised but did not take collagen.
Researchers believe that collagen may promote muscle growth after exercise, but more research is needed to discover the potential effects of collagen on muscle mass.
10. Potentially Limits Nail Breakage
One small and not yet well-researched benefit of taking collagen supplements is its effects on nails and hair. Because collagen is one of the protein building blocks of nails and hair, it’s believed that taking collagen supplements may promote strong nail and hair growth.
How to Choose a Collagen Supplement
As with any supplement, it’s important to choose the right collagen supplement and to understand its effects before purchasing and starting to take it. Always talk to your doctor before taking a new supplement to understand any potential side effects and interactions with other supplements or medications.
When looking for a high-quality collagen supplement, there are a few things you should keep in mind. Choose a supplement that:
- Is made of collagen from cage-free, free-range, and antibiotic-free sources
- Has a third-party label like NSF or USP
- Doesn’t include heavy metals or other potential contaminants.
While some of the research on the benefits of collagen is new, other benefits are well-researched and just may give your skin, joints, or healing-ability the boost you’re looking for.