What is collagen used for
Collagen is the most abundant protein in your body.
It is the major component of connective tissues that make up several body parts, including tendons, ligaments, skin, and muscles.
Collagen has many important functions, including providing your skin with structure and strengthening your bones.
In recent years, collagen supplements have become popular. Most are hydrolyzed, which means the collagen has been broken down, making it easier for you to absorb.
There are also several foods you can eat to increase your collagen intake, including pork skin and bone broth.
Consuming collagen may have a variety of health benefits, from relieving joint pain to improving skin health.
This article will discuss 6 science-backed health benefits of taking collagen.
Can improve skin health
Collagen is a major component of your skin.
It plays a role in strengthening skin, plus may benefit elasticity and hydration. As you age, your body produces less collagen, leading to dry skin and the formation of wrinkles.
However, several studies have shown that collagen peptides or supplements containing collagen may help slow the aging of your skin by reducing wrinkles and dryness.
In one study, women who took a supplement containing 2.5–5 grams of collagen for 8 weeks experienced less skin dryness and a significant increase in skin elasticity compared with those who did not take the supplement.
Another study found that women who drank a beverage mixed with a collagen supplement daily for 12 weeks experienced increased skin hydration and a significant reduction in wrinkle depth compared with a control group.
The wrinkle-reducing effects of collagen supplements have been attributed to their ability to stimulate your body to produce collagen on its own.
Additionally, taking collagen supplements may promote the production of other proteins that help structure your skin, including elastin and fibrillin.
There are also many anecdotal claims that collagen supplements help prevent acne and other skin conditions, but these are not supported by scientific evidence.
Helps relieve joint pain
Collagen helps maintain the integrity of your cartilage, which is the rubber-like tissue that protects your joints.
As the amount of collagen in your body decreases as you get older, your risk of developing degenerative joint disorders such as osteoarthritis increases.
Some studies have shown that taking collagen supplements may help improve symptoms of osteoarthritis and reduce joint pain overall.
In one study, 73 athletes who consumed 10 grams of collagen daily for 24 weeks experienced a significant decrease in joint pain while walking and at rest, compared with a group that did not take it.
In another study, adults took 2 grams of collagen daily for 70 days. Those who took collagen had a significant reduction in joint pain and were better able to engage in physical activity than those who did not take it.
Researchers have theorized that supplemental collagen may accumulate in cartilage and stimulate your tissues to make collagen.
They have suggested this may lead to lower inflammation, better support of your joints, and reduced pain.
If you want to try taking a collagen supplement for its potential pain-relieving effects, studies suggest you should start with a daily dosage of 8–12 grams.
Could prevent bone loss
Your bones are made mostly of collagen, which gives them structure and helps keep them strong.
Just as the collagen in your body deteriorates as you age, so does bone mass. This may lead to conditions like osteoporosis, which is characterized by low bone density and linked to a higher risk of bone fractures.
Studies have shown that taking collagen supplements may have certain effects in the body that help inhibit the bone breakdown that leads to osteoporosis.
In one study, women took either a calcium supplement combined with 5 grams of collagen or a calcium supplement and no collagen daily for 12 months.
By the end of the study, the women taking the calcium and collagen supplement had significantly lower blood levels of proteins that promote bone breakdown than those taking only the calcium.
Another study found similar results in 66 women who took 5 grams of collagen daily for 12 months.
The women who took the collagen showed an increase of up to 7% in their bone mineral density (BMD), compared with women who did not consume collagen.
BMD is a measure of the density of minerals, such as calcium, in your bones. Low BMD is associated with weak bones and the development of osteoporosis.
These results are promising, but more human studies are needed before the role of collagen supplements in bone health can be confirmed.
Could boost muscle mass
Between 1–10% of muscle tissue is composed of collagen. This protein is necessary to keep your muscles strong and functioning properly.
Studies suggest that collagen supplements help boost muscle mass in people with sarcopenia, the loss of muscle mass that happens with age.
In one study, 27 frail men took 15 grams of collagen while participating in an exercise program daily for 12 weeks. Compared with men who exercised but did not take collagen, they gained significantly more muscle mass and strength.
Researchers have suggested that taking collagen may promote the synthesis of muscle proteins like creatine, as well as stimulate muscle growth after exercise.
More research is necessary to investigate collagen’s potential to boost muscle mass.
Promotes heart health
Researchers have theorized that taking collagen supplements may help reduce the risk of heart-related conditions.
Collagen provides structure to your arteries, which are the blood vessels that carry blood from your heart to the rest of your body. Without enough collagen, arteries may become weak and fragile.
This may lead to atherosclerosis, a disease characterized by the narrowing of the arteries. Atherosclerosis has the potential to lead to heart attack and stroke.
In one study, 31 healthy adults took 16 grams of collagen daily for 6 months. By the end, they had experienced a significant reduction in measures of artery stiffness, compared with before they started taking the supplement.
Additionally, they increased their levels of HDL “good” cholesterol by an average of 6%. HDL is an important factor in the risk of heart conditions, including atherosclerosis.
Nevertheless, more studies on the role of collagen supplements in heart health are needed.
Other health benefits
Collagen supplements may have other health benefits, but these have not been studied extensively.
Hair and nails. Taking collagen may increase the strength of your nails by preventing brittleness. Additionally, it may stimulate your hair and nails to grow longer.
Gut health. Although there is no scientific evidence to support this claim, some health practitioners promote the use of collagen supplements to treat intestinal permeability, or leaky gut syndrome.
Brain health. No studies have examined the role of collagen supplements in brain health. However, some people claim they improve mood and reduce symptoms of anxiety.
Weight loss. Some believe that taking collagen supplements may promote weight loss and a faster metabolism. There have not been any studies to support these claims.
Although these potential effects are promising, more research is needed before formal conclusions can be made.
Foods that contain collagen
Collagen is found in the connective tissues of animals. Thus, foods like chicken skin, pork skin, beef, and fish are sources of collagen.
Foods that contain gelatin, such as bone broth, also provide collagen. Gelatin is a protein substance derived from collagen after it has been cooked.
More research is needed to determine whether eating collagen-rich foods helps increase collagen in your body. There have not been any human studies on whether collagen-rich foods have the same benefits as supplements.
Digestive enzymes break down the collagen in food into individual amino acids and peptides.
However, the collagen in supplements has already been broken down, or hydrolyzed, which is why it’s thought to be absorbed more efficiently than the collagen in foods.
Collagen side effects
Currently, there are not many known risks associated with taking collagen supplements.
However, some supplements are made from common food allergens, such as fish, shellfish, and eggs. People with allergies to these foods should avoid collagen supplements made with these ingredients to prevent allergic reactions.
Some people have also reported that collagen supplements leave a lingering bad taste in their mouth.
Additionally, collagen supplements have the potential to cause digestive side effects, such as feelings of fullness and heartburn.
Regardless, these supplements appear to be safe for most people.
The bottom line
Taking collagen is associated with a number of health benefits and very few known risks.
To start, supplements may improve skin health by reducing wrinkles and dryness. They may also help increase muscle mass, prevent bone loss, and relieve joint pain.
People have reported many other benefits of collagen supplements, but these claims haven’t been studied much.
Although several foods contain collagen, it’s unknown whether the collagen in food offers the same benefits as supplements.
Collagen supplements are generally safe, quite easy to use, and definitely worth trying for their potential benefits.