Benefits of Collagen Supplements: Collagen plays a crucial role in various parts of the body, including bones, skin, muscles, and more. Its benefits extend to improving skin health, alleviating joint pain, and preventing bone loss, among other positive effects on overall health. Collagen is the most abundant protein in your body. It’s the main component of connective tissues that make up several body parts, including tendons, ligaments, skin, and muscles. It has many important functions, including providing your skin with structure and strengthening your bones.
Types of Collagen
There are 28 types of collagen, but here are the four most common:
- Type I: the most common type, found in all connective tissue
- Type ll: found in joints and intervertebral discs (the cushions that serve as your spine’s shock absorbers)
- Type lll: the main component of reticular fibers, which are found in your skin and blood vessels
- Type lV: a component of your kidneys, inner ear, and eye lens
These supplements come primarily in powder form but are also available in capsules. The types of collagen found in supplements vary — some contain one or two types, while others contain up to five. Several foods may naturally increase your collagen intake, including pork skin and bone broth.
How Does Collagen Help?
You can gain collagen from foods that contain gelatin, such as bone broth. Foods like chicken skin, pork skin, beef, and fish, which have connective tissues, are also sources of collagen. Additionally, consuming vitamin C-rich foods like citrus fruits, broccoli, and bell peppers is important for collagen synthesis.
While collagen-rich foods provide nutrients, it’s not yet clear if they have the same benefits as collagen supplements. The collagen in food is broken down by digestive enzymes into amino acids and peptides, while collagen supplements are typically hydrolyzed, making them more readily absorbed by the body. Research is ongoing to determine the effectiveness of collagen consumption from different sources.
Health Benefits of Collagen Supplements
Collagen supplementation offers various health benefits, and one notable area is skin health.
- May improve skin health: Collagen is a crucial component of the skin, contributing to its strength, elasticity, and hydration. Aging leads to reduced collagen production, resulting in dry skin and the development of wrinkles. Studies have indicated that collagen peptides or supplements containing collagen can potentially slow down skin aging by diminishing wrinkles and dryness. These supplements might stimulate the body to produce collagen independently and also encourage the production of other skin-structuring proteins like elastin and fibrillin.
- May relieve joint pain: Collagen plays a crucial role in maintaining the integrity of cartilage, the protective tissue for joints. As collagen production decreases with age, the risk of degenerative joint disorders like osteoarthritis increases. Studies suggest that collagen supplements may help alleviate symptoms of osteoarthritis and reduce overall joint pain. A review of studies focusing on people with osteoarthritis revealed significant improvements in joint stiffness and overall symptoms with collagen supplementation. The theory is that supplemental collagen may accumulate in cartilage, stimulating tissue to produce more collagen, leading to reduced inflammation, better joint support, and decreased pain.
- May prevent bone loss: Collagen is a major component of bones, contributing to their structure and strength. Aging leads to decreased collagen, resulting in bone mass loss and conditions like osteoporosis. Studies suggest that collagen supplements may help prevent bone breakdown associated with osteoporosis. In a 12-month study involving post-menopausal women, those taking calcium, vitamin D, and collagen exhibited lower blood levels of bone breakdown proteins and lower loss of bone mineral density compared to those taking only calcium and vitamin D. Another study in post-menopausal women showed an increase in bone mineral density in those taking collagen. While these results are promising, more human studies are required.
- May boost muscle mass: Collagen is a vital component of skeletal muscle, and studies indicate that collagen supplements may enhance muscle mass in individuals with sarcopenia (age-related muscle loss). In a 12-week study with older men, collagen supplementation, combined with exercise, led to significantly increased muscle mass and strength compared to those who exercised without collagen. It’s suggested that collagen may stimulate muscle protein synthesis and muscle growth after exercise. However, collagen protein is not more effective than whey protein for muscle building and strength, as whey protein is richer in branched-chain amino acids. Further research is needed to explore collagen’s potential for boosting muscle mass.
- May promote heart health: Collagen provides structure to arteries, and insufficient collagen may lead to less flexible and elastic arteries, contributing to atherosclerosis. A study showed that healthy adults taking collagen experienced a significant reduction in artery stiffness and increased levels of HDL (good) cholesterol, which is crucial for heart health. While promising, more studies on collagen supplements and heart health are necessary.
- Other health benefits: Collagen supplements may have additional health benefits, although these areas require further study:
- Hair and nails: Collagen may increase nail strength and promote hair and nail growth.
- Gut health: Some practitioners claim collagen supplements can treat leaky gut syndrome, but scientific evidence is lacking.
- Brain health: No studies have explored collagen supplements’ role in brain health, but some people suggest improved mood and reduced anxiety.
- Weight loss: Proponents believe collagen supplements may aid weight loss and metabolism, but no studies support these claims. More research is needed to draw conclusive findings in these areas.