The world of supplements is vast, and if you’re like most people, a bit confusing and intimidating to sort through all of the information. With approximately 29,000 supplements on the market today (just in the US) and around 1,000 more added to the mix annually (also just in the US), you’d hardly be to blame. [According to the FDA]
Whether you’ve been taking supplements for years “just because” or are asking yourself whether you should be, follow our Supplement Series for an overview of the whats, whys, and whos of individual supplements. (And please read our disclaimer at the end of this post.)
What Is Collagen?
In simple terms, collagen is a type of protein. It has a fiber-like structure, and it is a component of our bones, skin, tissue, cartilage, muscles, and tendons.
Collagen is the most abundant protein in the human body, and it has an essential role in connective tissue.
Our bodies produce collagen naturally, though the production tends to decline as we age. We can also get collagen from foods, specifically animal products that contain connective tissue.
Plant-based foods don’t contain collagen. Instead, they may help our bodies produce more of it.
There are 28 types of collagen, but 3 are more common.
- Type 1 is found in all connective tissue;
- Type 2 is located in joints;
- Type 3 is the main component of reticular fibers which are found in skin and blood vessels.
In the past 5-10 years, collagen “awareness” has increased. A quick glance at Google Trends will show you searches for “collagen” have risen since 2014. And how couldn’t they? A supplement with little known side effects that promises to slow down the signs of aging? That’s bound to spark people’s interest.
But is it really the miracle supplement advertisers claim it to be? What are the actual health benefits of collagen? When should you supplement, and what supplements should you choose? We’ll talk about this and more.
Collagen vs. collagen peptides — What’s the difference?
Before jumping into the health benefits of collagen, we need to talk about some terms you’ll often see when researching these supplements. Specifically, collagen peptides (also known as hydrolyzed collagen). Often, these terms are used interchangeably even though they’re not the same thing.
Collagen peptides are a short chain of amino acids derived from collagen. They are made by breaking down full-length collagen molecules.
Why is this the most common form of supplement? Shouldn’t you want to get the whole collagen?
You might want it, but you don’t need it. Collagen peptides are more bioavailable. They’re also easier to digest. Once you take them, they travel throughout the body into the different tissues, repairing skin, joints, muscles, and more.
In its natural form, collagen can’t be absorbed by the body. It simply ends up being destroyed in the gut. Collagen peptides, on the other hand, can and will be used. They'll not only help repair tissue but also boost natural collagen production.
What are the health benefits of collagen?
1. It supports skin health
Maybe one of the most advertised benefits of collagen is skin health. This fantastic protein can help with skin elasticity and even support wound healing.
In 2014 a study was conducted on skin elasticity. The participants were women between the ages of 35 and 55. They took either a collagen supplement or a placebo every day for 8 weeks. At the end of the study, those who had taken the supplement had better skin elasticity.
Another study conducted in 2015 showed a correlation between skin hydration and collagen supplementation. The trials were controlled. One group took a placebo, while the other took a collagen peptide supplement. The positive effects were visible in those using the supplement after only 4 weeks.
A meta-analysis conducted in 2021 looked at 19 different studies with participants aged 19 to 70. The conclusion was that collagen peptides improve skin elasticity, hydration, and wrinkles.
2. It may help with bone density
While the benefits for the skin are the most known, collagen may have a positive effect on the bones as well.
Unlike skin benefits, which can be seen in a matter of weeks, improving bone density takes a lot longer.
A randomized, controlled trial started in 2018 looked at the effects of collagen supplementation on 102 women. All were postmenopausal and suffered from decreased bone mineral density. The women took 5 grams of collagen peptides every day for a year. The control group was given a placebo.
After one year, the group that used collagen had an increase in bone mineral density in both the spine and the femur.
A follow-up study was conducted, with some of the women supplementing with 5 grams of collagen each day until 2021. They all continued to observe an increase in bone mineral density. The peak improvement was around 8% in the spine and 4% in the femur after 4 years of using collagen supplements.
This incredible benefit means collagen could ease arthritis symptoms, such as pain, and reduce the risk of fractures.
3. It supports heart health
Many things can improve heart health. A balanced lifestyle with a healthy diet, moderate exercise, and rest can all help. But some studies show collagen may also provide a much-needed boost for your heart.
If you have atherosclerosis – a buildup in the artery walls – collagen peptides could be the way to go.
A 2017 study looked at people who were suffering from artery stiffness. Participants in the study took 16 grams of collagen per day for 6 months. At the end of the study, they all showed considerable improvement in their atherosclerosis. And there was another benefit. Their HDL (the “good” cholesterol) had increased by about 6%.
A low HDL level, especially when the LDL (“bad” cholesterol) level is high, is a risk factor for atherosclerosis. In other words, collagen helps improve heart health both directly and indirectly.
Does collagen have any side effects?
Collagen has few known side effects, especially when taken in the recommended doses.
Sometimes though, these supplements contain other ingredients that may pose a slight risk. For instance, they may interact with other medications.
There is also a risk of an allergic reaction. To be safe, always read the label of your supplement and, if in doubt, talk to your doctor.
Finally, if you're pregnant or breastfeeding, you should consult with your doctor before taking any supplements.
When should you consider collagen supplementation?
Natural collagen production slowly begins to decline after the age of 25. The decline is not something to worry about and won’t come with any bothering symptoms. Another more significant point of decline starts when you’re around 40.
This doesn’t mean you need to start supplementing right away, though. For instance, if you eat animal products such as chicken, pork, fish, or beef, chances are you’re already getting a lot of collagen.
Vitamin C is also helpful in boosting natural collagen synthesis and production. Eating things like citrus fruit, broccoli, and other plant-based foods will increase vitamin C levels and collagen.
Eggs, dairy, legumes, and even soy may also play a role in natural collagen production.
That being said, if you decide to help your body with a boost of collagen, supplements are your friends. Remember that being consistent is key, and it usually takes weeks or even months to see any real improvements.
If you’re trying to address a particular issue, such as a loss of bone mineral density or atherosclerosis, talking to a doctor about dosage may be helpful.
Remember that supplementation is a quick and easy way to boost collagen, but it shouldn’t replace a healthy, balanced diet.
A quick note for vegans: collagen supplements are sadly not an option if you’re trying to avoid all animal products. There are currently no vegan collagen supplements on the market. In this case, eating a healthy diet and ensuring you get all your vitamins and minerals is the best way to support your body in making collagen.
The bottom line
Collagen is a type of protein involved in many processes in the body. It helps keep connective tissue healthy and may even improve the look of your skin and your bone and heart health.
You can’t out-supplement an unhealthy diet. But even the healthiest of lifestyles could use a boost sometimes. Unless mixed with other ingredients, Collagen supplements are safe for most people.
We recommend this non-GMO collagen peptide complex made from type 1 and 3 hydrolyzed collagen if you're looking for a high-quality supplement.
What are your thoughts on collagen? Have you already tried supplementing, or is it something you’re considering? Join us on Facebook and let us know.
This blog post does not provide health or medical advice. This blog post is for informational and educational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional health or medical advice. Before taking any actions based upon such information, we encourage you to consult with the appropriate medical and healthcare professionals. We do not provide any kind of health or medical advice. The use or reliance of any information contained on this blog is solely at your own risk.