Table of Contents
Everyone is buzzing about the health benefits of collagen. There are claims that collagen helps with a myriad of conditions from eczema and acne to joints and leaky gut.
Are these real benefits backed by science and the FDA (Food and Drug Administration), or is the hype anecdotal? And with a crazy amount of collagen supplements hitting the market every day, what’s important and what’s just fluff?
We decided to do all the heavy lifting and put together this comprehensive guide to everything collagen.
What Is Collagen?
Collagen is a structural protein in your body that is responsible for producing connective tissues.
Not only does it form the “glue” that holds your body together, but collagen is critical to:
- Skin elasticity
- Skin hydration
- Strong hair follicles
- Building blocks of bones, muscles, and connective tissues
Because of this, collagen is a very important protein. A collagen deficiency can lead to a variety of chronic and acute diseases, injuries, and other painful conditions that can impair normal living and reduce quality of life.
And unfortunately, our bodies naturally slow down collagen production around age 25.
Types of Collagen
There are around 16 collagen types found in the human body. But the three most abundant types of collagen make up most of the collagen in your body.
All three main collagen types share the same overall goal: to produce and maintain your body’s main connective tissues. They each have their own unique beneficial effects.
- Found in tendons, bone, skin cells and other organs
- Gram for gram stronger than steel
- Helps heal wounds
- Bolsters bone formation
- 90% of human collagen
- Primarily in cartilage
- Protects the immune system
- Provides digestive support
- Helps repair leaky gut
- Most common collagen supplement
- Connects intestines, lungs, and uterus
- Gives skin elasticity and firmness
- Building blocks of blood vessels and cardiovascular tissue
- Second most common collagen in the body
Benefits of Collagen for Skin, Gut, and Joint Health
Collagen supplements can sound too good to be true. All these benefits, and no side effects?
Does collagen really work? But you’ll find that many of the benefits of collagen are backed by strong science.
1. Skin Health and Hair Loss Therapy
Want beautiful, glowing skin? Collagen is a very important factor in making it happen. Collagen benefits for skin are backed by science and make common sense.
Collagen makes up about 80 percent of the skin and works in conjunction with another protein called elastin to help skin hydration and strength.
Collagen production declines from age 25 onward — individuals start losing approximately one percent of collagen each year. Under the microscope, you can notice fine lines of collagen network fragmentation. This is the most prominent sign of skin aging.
Because one of the benefits of collagen is skincare, collagen has been suggested as a possible treatment for eczema, also called atopic dermatitis.
Additionally, other factors are working against your skin health, like ultraviolet light (sun exposure). Smoking also activates enzymes responsible for breaking down collagen fibers. Even with a healthy lifestyle, there’s no way to completely avoid the aging of your skin.
Healthy skin is one of the top benefits of collagen supplements.
Hair loss is an issue that affects both women and men. Women actually make up about 40 percent of total hair loss sufferers. Losing some or a large part of your hair can hurt anyone’s self-esteem.
Thankfully, collagen supplements work to combat hair loss and achieve glowing, thicker, and fuller hair.
A 2016 study from Japan showed that animal subjects with lower collagen levels near hair follicle stem cells lost the most hair. They demonstrated that hair loss was less noticeable in older mice that continued to produce collagen or produced more than their younger counterparts.
Now, researchers believe that the same mechanism is true for human hair follicles in relation to collagen production.
Hair is mostly built from a protein called keratin, which is made when there is a sufficient amount of the proper amino acids. This supply of amino acids can be achieved by taking high-quality collagen peptides.
Together, collagen and keratin make for an interesting duo that improves the thickness, look, and volume of the hair, all the while preventing free radicals from causing more damage.
As we’ve seen, collagen can be described as a necessary component in wound healing. Because of this, the production of collagen may also be a very effective agent in treating acne wounds.
Acne inflames the skin, and each clogged pore increases the chances of bacteria overgrowth. It is this bacteria that cause redness, irritation, swelling and urge you to scratch. When you suffer from chronic acne, it’s not just an inconvenience — it can be a painful, frustrating way to live.
When skin gets damaged by an acne breakout, collagen can play a major role in closing up scars and forming new skin in affected areas.
What about inflammation? It turns out glycine (an amino acid in collagen) is a very powerful anti-inflammatory agent as well.
2. Joint and Arthritis Pain
Hydrolyzed collagen is a science-backed method to promote joint health and alleviate arthritis. That’s a relief, as five percent of Americans suffer from severe joint pain.
In a 2008 study, researchers examined the effects of collagen hydrolysate on athletes who had trouble with activity-related joint pain. Participants took 25 milliliters of a liquid mix that contained 10 grams of CH-Alpha (collagen hydrolysate).
The subjects in the collagen group saw significant improvements in all monitored parameters compared to the placebo group. Scientists concluded that collagen hydrolysate is very effective in treating joint health and could possibly reduce the risks of joint-deterioration in high-risk subjects.
Type II collagen showed notable improvements in relation to pain and stiffness relief, as well as demonstrated better joint function over the course of 180 days.
Some studies reported mixed results as to the effectiveness of UC-II in treating rheumatoid arthritis.
But a 2009 double-blind study included more than 500 subjects suffering from rheumatoid arthritis who supplemented collagen. The majority of subjects experienced significant improvements in all areas.
Alleviating and preventing joint pain is perhaps one of the most obvious benefits of collagen supplementation.
3. Gut Health [Immune System]
Gelatin and bone broth have long been used to aid with digestive ailments. In fact, the unique chemical structure of collagen, with its powerful amino acid profile, allows collagen to aid gut health in several ways:
- Easier digestion
- Decreased gut inflammation
- Less frequent stomach ulcers
- Regulates abnormal acid secretion
- Less acid reflux
This is mainly owed to the fact that collagen is an essential ingredient that the intestinal lining cannot do without. The lining in your intestines determines the efficacy of your immune system.
Studies have identified glycine as an effective agent in combating harmful gastric secretions in the lining of the stomach.
There is a clear link between inflammatory bowel disease and lower collagen levels. Supplementing with hydrolyzed collagen may help to solve this problem in a matter of months.
Collagen’s role in the gut is undeniable. In turn, this positively influences your immune system.
Collagen is considered a hydrophilic molecule, meaning that it attracts acidic molecules and water, both of which aid the digestive process when found in proper amounts.
Upon ingestion, collagen “collects” water and stomach acid as it passes through the digestive tract. This process helps in the breakdown of carbohydrates and other proteins found in the intestines.
Plus, the extra water in the intestine creates an environment where food can move more smoothly, therefore decreasing the risk of acid reflux.
Glutamine is one of the key amino acids for healing and decreasing the risks of leaky gut syndrome. It has been linked to preventing inflammation and oxidative stress in the intestinal lining.
In fact, an animal study determined that L-glutamate supplementation may help improve the structure of the intestinal walls.
Unhealthy life choices — including poor nutrition, excessive alcohol consumption, smoking, and lack of exercise — will decrease collagen production. Conversely, by eating the right foods, you can naturally stimulate the body to produce more collagen.
These foods do not contain collagen; they are ingredients that help stimulate collagen production by allowing collagen synthesis to occur.
Vitamin C Foods
Found throughout popular diets like the Mediterranean Diet, vitamin C helps with your body’s pre-collagen production.
Vitamin C also works with the amino acids proline and glycine to make hydroxyproline, another amino acid responsible for the triple helix structure of the collagen protein.
Here are some of the most nutritious vitamin C foods that will unlock the benefits of collagen:
- Bell peppers
- Brussels sprouts
- Dark leafy vegetables
Vitamin E Foods
Vitamin E is a powerful micronutrient with antioxidant abilities. This vitamin plays a major role in neutralizing free radicals in order to prevent any potential damage to healthy collagen cells.
Plus, vitamin E works together with vitamin C to stimulate collagen formation in the body.
Interestingly, the way vitamin E protects collagen and helps kick start its production may be one reason many skin health products contain this nutrient.
Try vitamin E foods like these:
- Sunflower seeds
- Wheat germ oil
- Green leafy vegetables
Copper — our bodies need it to finalize collagen synthesis in a healthy manner.
Copper-rich foods include:
- Dark chocolate
Sulfur — is known to improve collagen synthesis. In addition, sulfur also prevents collagen fiber breakdown, making it a great choice for preserving healthy bones, skin, and joints.
You can get dietary sulfur from:
- Green leafy vegetables
Zinc — another essential trace mineral required for bone formation and collagen production. In fact, zinc has been shown to slow down the rate of collagen cell breakdown in granulation tissue. This process enables wounds to heal faster.
Add zinc-rich foods to your diet, such as:
- Pumpkin seeds
Vitamin A Foods
Vitamin A is a micronutrient essential for restoring, repairing, and rejuvenating the collagen in the skin. You can get more vitamin A in your diet with:
- Sweet potatoes
- Goat cheese
Dark Green Vegetables
If you haven’t heard by now, eat dark green veggies. They are some of the most nutrient-dense and rich sources of vitamins A, C, and E on the planet. They promote heart health and boost your body’s natural collagen production.
Dark green leafy vegetables contain chlorophyll. Besides being the main reason for the green color of plants, chlorophyll has been shown to increase procollagen in the skin. Procollagen is the precursor to collagen.
Tomatoes contain lycopene, an amino acid that protects the skin from sunlight exposure. Excessive exposure to sunlight leads to collagen fiber damage in the skin, which triggers the aging process prematurely.
Eating ample amounts of tomatoes can help preserve the skin, protect against wrinkles, and even act as a preventative solution against skin cancer.\
5 Best Collagen Supplements [and Why You Should Take Collagen]
Several dietary supplements are shown to improve your body’s natural collagen production. Each has its own beneficial effects.
Seek medical advice before starting any dietary supplements. Collagen, however, has essentially no side effects.
Check out the most popular forms of collagen supplements.
How Collagen Supplements Work
Collagen supplements come with a plethora of health benefits. But how do they work?
Fibroblast cells in our body produce collagen naturally. In order to make these vital proteins, fibroblast cells need full access to several amino acids.
Collagen supplements work primarily by supplying your fibroblasts with enough amino acids to continue collagen production, regardless of internal amino acid reserves. This way, your joints work efficiently and your skin looks great!
Do I need to take collagen?
The truth is that collagen production in the body peaks at 25 and then slowly declines with age. If you’re older than 25, supplementing with collagen can help temper this slowdown.
Collagen benefits your skin, bones, joints, gut, and even your heart. It is essential to the quality and longevity of life.
Adding a collagen supplement to your diet is easy. You can add collagen powder to smoothies or put collagen in coffee. Gym goers can combine collagen with other protein powders to protect joints and build more muscle tissue in the process.
As a note, collagen is non-vegan, as it is extracted from animal products. If you live a vegan lifestyle, collagen supplements are unlikely to be a great fit.
There are some brands of collagen that fare better than others. Thoroughly inspect the labels and discard any supplements with obvious fillers (like sugars or unhealthy artificial sweeteners, if you’re looking to cut those sugar cravings).
Hydrolyzed Collagen vs. Collagen Peptides
The most effective way for your body to absorb collagen is through hydrolyzed collagen supplements (also known as collagen hydrolysate).
You may also see the term collagen peptides. Collagen peptides are another way of saying, “This collagen isn’t as broken down as the more expensive stuff.” It’s more difficult for your body to digest.
These supplements are made by breaking down collagen in a reaction with water. This increases bioavailability, making it easier to digest, absorb, and distribute the amino acids throughout your body.
1. Bone Broth
Bone broth is made by simmering animal bones and connective tissue. The collagen from the bones, ligaments, and other connective tissue is then slowly dissolved into the broth.
But, is bone broth a great way to increase collagen intake?
Well, collagen is made of three long chains of over 1,000 different amino acids twisted into a triple helix. However, this strength that makes collagen so vital to life also makes it almost completely indigestible.
2. Collagen Powders
Collagen peptides and hydrolyzed collagen are found in very fine collagen powders. Can collagen make you gain weight?
Protein powders like collagen powder are used after a workout to build muscle mass. Collagen is not the most effective protein powder at increasing muscle strength, however. That distinction goes to whey protein.
What are the benefits of collagen peptides, as opposed to hydrolyzed collagen? Well, hydrolyzed collagen digests better. However, it is often more expensive.
3. Collagen Tablets
What are the benefits of collagen tablets?
Collagen pills, tablets, or capsules are an easy method to get your daily dose of collagen. Generally speaking, one capsule can provide up to 1,000 milligrams of collagen.
4. Collagen Cream
What does collagen do to your face? Topical creams are applied to the skin — usually on your face — to improve:
- Overall skin health
Some creams and lotions are only meant to be applied to the face. Check the label thoroughly to see if these are the right choice for your skin care needs.
5. Face Masks
Even with the best collagen peptide supplements, results will usually take time. Collagen face masks may offer a faster alternative for your skin care goals:
- Deliver collagen straight to the dermis layer
- Hydrate skin
- Improve dry, dull, and cracked skin
- Help smooth, tone, and firm wrinkles
- Promote healing
Collagen Side Effects
Known side effects of taking collagen supplements are few. If you have an allergy-related to a food or ingredient, then you should avoid collagen supplements from those sources.
There are some reports that collagen supplementation can have an unpleasant taste and possibly cause mild feelings of fullness, heartburn, and digestive irritability.
Collagen seems to be well-tolerated and safe for most people to consume.