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Supplements to increase collagen are sweeping the global health market. Collagen, the most abundant type of protein in our biology, boasts help with major areas of health. With its anti-aging effects on your skin, many use collagen to reduce fine lines and pesky wrinkles.
However, collagen has several health benefits (going beyond just glowing skin):
- Skin rejuvenation
- Joint health
- Muscle growth
- Bone strength
- Heart health
- Hair loss therapy
- Reduced signs of aging
With more collagen supplements on the market than ever, it is critical to understand what collagen is, where to get it, what benefits it can provide, and what side effects it can cause.
What is collagen?
Collagen is the most abundant protein in the Animal Kingdom, and a boon to modern functional dermatology.
Collagen is a complete protein, structured in a long triple helix — more than 1,400 amino acids long. This, along with another protein called elastin, are the building blocks of your bones, skin, connective tissue, and much more.
Because collagen is what makes cartilage tissue function properly, it’s present in basically all animals who can move.
Around the age of 25, your body’s collagen production begins to slow down, as it will do for the rest of your life. That’s just one reason it’s critical to boost your collagen production through diet and supplements.
The collagen that humans and animals produce is too complex for us to digest. However, collagen can be broken down into smaller proteins, called peptides. This broken-down collagen is easily digested and is sold as a reliable dietary supplement.
There are different collagen types, in the body and in supplements. Though there are 16 types of collagen found in the human body, we will only talk about half of them — the ones of most importance to your health.
Type I Collagen
The most common type of collagen found in your dermis (skin), bones, and connective tissue is type I collagen. Supplementing with type I collagen promotes healthy skin cells and may reduce cellulite.
Found mainly in fish and bovine sources, though also present in egg whites and bone broth, type I collagen is one of the two most common forms of collagen found in dietary supplements (along with type III).
Type II Collagen
Chicken and bone broth are the two most common, whole food sources of type II collagen.
Type III Collagen
The second most prevalent collagen found in your body is type III collagen. It is vital to the blood clotting process.
Supplementing type III collagen may aid in exercise performance. Its main dietary sources are beef, egg whites, and bone broth.
Type IV Collagen
Type IV collagen forms in sheets instead of the typical helix. These sheets make up a deep layer of your dermis. Type IV collagen also aids in kidney filtration.
Type IV is very uncommon to find in a dietary supplement, though egg whites contain this form of collagen.
Type V Collagen
Most prevalent in the skin, hair, eyes, and placenta, type V collagen is not often found in supplement form. However, some multi-collagen powders may contain a small amount of type V collagen.
Type VI Collagen
Preliminary research has linked type VI collagen to hair loss therapy. This form of collagen is particularly difficult to find in supplement form.
Type VII Collagen
Almost never found in dietary supplements, type VII collagen is vital in the human body for binding together other types of structural collagen.
Type X Collagen
Type X is a network-forming collagen. This type of collagen aids in calcification, which is the process by which calcium forms in tissues and organs.
Peptide simply means a broken-down protein. By breaking down protein molecules into peptide form, amino acids are easier to digest.
Since the collagen your body contains in almost impossible to digest as is, collagen is partially hydrolyzed to be sold as collagen peptides. Hydrolysis is a chemical process often involving extreme heat and water.
When collagen is fully hydrolyzed, it is the easiest to digest — therefore, more effectively absorbed into your bloodstream. Hydrolyzed collagen is also called collagen hydrolysate.
Fully hydrolyzed collagen is more expensive, though.
Consult a nutritionist or health care provider before starting any dietary supplement plan.
8 Benefits of Collagen Supplements
Collagen supplements, whether peptides or hydrolyzed collagen, are chock full of health benefits.
Whether you currently use collagen for skin, for muscles, or not yet at all, continue reading to discover why collagen is such a powerful anti-aging tool.
1. Collagen for Skin
Waking up to fine lines on your face can be a jarring moment — there’s nothing quite like it to make you feel like you’re getting “old”.
But there’s good news! People everywhere use collagen for skin health. This makes sense, since any dermatologist would tell you that collagen is a critical component in the structure of your skin.
As you age, your body naturally produces less collagen. This leads to undesirable effects, such as your skin wrinkling, loosening, and drying out. There’s no way to halt the aging process, but a lack of collagen can make it go faster, while boosting your production may help achieve the opposite.
Type I collagen has even been linked with a reduction in cellulite, the unsightly dimples that show up frequently on people’s thighs and hips.
Using collagen for skin health has been extensively studied. A 2019 systematic review of 11 high-quality studies showed that collagen has several time-tested health benefits for your skin:
- Increasing skin elasticity
- Improving skin hydration
- Wound healing
What’s more, the reviewers confirmed collagen caused no adverse side effects they could find.
Collagen is also an anti-inflammatory antioxidant. While not as powerful as the most potent antioxidants, collagen still fights free radicals that cause inflammation and damage to your body, including your skin.
Though you won’t see the results overnight, supplementing collagen for skin’s natural aging process is a surefire way to improve your overall skin health.
2. Collagen for Joints
The health benefit with the most scientific backing is collagen’s effect on healthy joints.
Clinical trials have shown type II collagen may effectively treat rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis of the knee, even at low doses. More recent studies suggest that type I collagen may also help arthritic patients.
Collagen is a big building block of your cartilage, the elastic tissue which protects your joints.
Athletes reported a significant reduction in joint pain when walking and when at rest, after supplementing just 10 grams of collagen during the course of one 24-week study.
However, collagen isn’t just for athletes. Another study showed a reduction of joint pain in non-athletes with arthritis after supplementing type II collagen.
Researchers believe collagen is able to reduce inflammation. This would lead to reduced joint pain, yes. However, inflammation is also a precursor to many immune system and heart diseases.
Collagen has been shown to work more effectively than other joint supplements, such as chondroitin and glucosamine.
Collagen, especially type II collagen, is a superb dietary supplement to relieve joint pain and treat arthritis.
3. Collagen for Bones
There is a clear connection between supplementing collagen and bone health.
One amino acid found in collagen is hydroxyproline. Hydroxyproline levels are used as a marker for bone health. Since collagen molecules are a natural part of your bones, it stands to reason that taking a collagen supplement would enhance your bone health and possibly even prevent bone-related diseases.
As collagen production decreases with age, so does bone mass. This can lead to osteoporosis. Boosting your collagen production, therefore, may be a great bone disease preventer.
Researchers have found supplementing collagen can decrease blood levels of proteins that are harmful to bone. In fact, the research behind collagen’s link to bone health is extensive. Another study showed supplementing collagen for a year increased women’s bone density seven percent.
Especially in women older than 35, collagen may stave off osteoporosis and low bone density, which makes efforts to boost production of supreme importance to those at risk.
4. Collagen for Hair
There is some early but convincing evidence on the ways collagen supplements can promote hair health:
- Hair growth
- Reduced hair loss
- Reduced hair greying
- Stronger hair follicles
Early studies have linked type VI collagen with hair recovery. However, this type of collagen can be difficult to find in dietary supplement form.
Collagen contains proline, the main amino acid that makes up the protein keratin. Keratin is the primary component in your hair. It stands to reason that consuming collagen would provide your body with plenty of proline to form hair. However, research for this mechanism is very limited.
One study suggests that, if a less common type of collagen (type XVII collagen) is kept at healthy levels, hair follicles will not shrink as quickly. This shows collagen’s anti-aging effects might carry over to your scalp. Basically, if the skin on your scalp is healthier, your hair will also be healthier.
Marine collagen (found in fish) is an antioxidant. This means marine collagen fights free radicals, like the ones that damage your hair follicles. Collagen’s antioxidant properties may also fight the free radicals that lead to hair greying.
Unfortunately, research on the use of collagen fighting free radicals has only been performed in test tubes so far, making it difficult to determine benefits for humans.
5. Collagen for Muscles
Protein powders such as collagen peptides are often used to enhance workout results. Here’s why people use collagen to increase muscle mass.
Up to 10 percent of your muscles are made up of collagen at your body’s peak health. But after a quarter century, your body produces less and less collagen. Therefore, bumping up your collagen production as you age may help with exercise and muscle-building.
Studies have shown exercise with collagen supplements increases muscle mass significantly more than exercise alone.
This may have to do with the synthesis of creatine, a muscle protein your body makes. But some researchers propose that collagen boosts your creatine production specifically when combining collagen with exercise.
Overall, collagen is most effective at enhancing muscle mass in people who are older and frailer. But collagen powders provide a good exercise boost for younger, stronger exercisers as well.
6. Collagen for Heart Health
Collagen is a structural protein, meaning it’s vital in providing your arteries with structure. This leads to stronger blood vessels and a lowered risk of cardiovascular disease.
Without enough collagen, blood vessels weaken. This may eventually lead to the circulatory system disease called atherosclerosis.
Atherosclerosis means hardening or narrowing of the arteries, usually when plaque builds up and slows the flow of blood. This is a precursor to many dangerous conditions, like heart attack and stroke.
A 2017 study showed that healthy adults could supplement collagen and significantly reduce their risk of atherosclerosis.
Beyond that, type III collagen is vital to blood clotting — a necessary process to avoid internal and external bleeding. A deficiency in type III collagen, like the others, occurs naturally with age. It’s wise to look for collagen supplements that include type III collagen, particularly if you’re over the age of 35 or have a family history of clotting disorders.
7. Collagen for Nails
Preliminary research has brought up interesting results concerning collagen and the health of your fingernails and toenails.
A 2017 study showed ingesting certain collagen peptides improved nail growth. What’s more, supplementing collagen reduced the brittleness and breakage of nails.
8. Collagen for Prenatal Health
Type V collagen is found in the placenta. It is necessary to the health of the mother and baby.
If you plan to become pregnant (or already are, make sure you don’t have a collagen deficiency. If you are pregnant above the age of 30, a supplement that includes type V collagen may support healthy placenta during pregnancy.
This type of collagen is seldom found isolated, but can be found in multi-collagen powders.
Side Effects of Collagen
There are few to no side effects associated with supplementing collagen.
Many manufacturers claim their collagen is flavorless. A few subjects reported an unpleasant taste left in their mouths in one 2000 review. Many companies counteract the unusual taste of their collagen supplements with flavorings like chocolate or vanilla.
Collagen is typically taken from animal sources — if you practice a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle, collagen is likely not the right choice for you.
But a few companies are coming out with vegan versions of collagen. These are made from tofu or tempeh proteins, which are soy products. Unfortunately, as most soy products in the US are made from GMO soy and are associated with hormonal disruption, these options aren’t preferred.
As far as side effects go, collagen is probably the safest dietary supplement you can find.
Best Collagen Sources
There are several great methods to increase the collagen in your body.
Increasing Dietary Collagen
Protein-rich foods are your best friend, especially fish and beef.
Bone broth is an easy and effective source of dietary collagen. You can make your own bone broth by boiling down the collagen-rich bones of chickens, cows, and other animals.
Treats like gummies and Jell-O contains traces of collagen in the form of gelatin. However, the downsides to that much sugar greatly outweigh the advantages of this type of gelatin.
There is some controversy over whether consuming collagen actually increases your collagen levels. Your digestive system typically breaks down the proteins and reassembles them. In layman’s terms, even if collagen itself isn’t all absorbed from the food you eat, it still tells your body to make more collagen.
Look for unflavored hydrolyzed collagen that includes booster nutrients like hyaluronic acid, vitamin C, copper, proline, glycine, or vitamin A (also called retinol).
Collagen powders are the building blocks of collagen supplements. They blend well in smoothies, since their taste is minimal. If you’re looking to regulate your muscle mass, consider using artificial sweeteners to avoid the sugar.
However, topical collagen ointments afford you the same skincare benefits that powders will.
For hair health, collagen supplements may be more effective when paired with the vitamin biotin.
The FDA (Food and Drug Administration) regulates dietary supplements as food. Always seek medical advice to determine if a dietary supplement is the right choice for you before starting a new habit.
Nutrients to Increase Natural Collagen Production
Vitamin C is important to your body’s natural collagen production. Some may find the Mediterranean Diet increases their natural collagen levels by increasing vitamin C intake.
Eating lentils, cashews, cocoa powder, cabbage, and mushrooms are great vegan ways to stimulate new collagen synthesis within your body, even if you’re not taking supplements.
Lifestyle Changes to Increase Collagen Production
You can add routines to your daily life to boost collagen levels or collagen production. Sometimes, though, it’s not just about adding in new things — it’s about stopping the habits working against you.
Besides getting older, there are some controllable factors that reduce collagen production. Phase these out of your daily lifestyle to optimize your body’s natural collagen production:
- Collagen is the most abundant protein in the human body. It is essential to bones, skin, and connective tissues, like cartilage.
- There are different types of collagen; type I collagen is the most prevalent found in your body, followed by type III.
- Supplementing collagen leads to several health benefits:
- Skin rejuvenation
- Bone and joint health
- Muscle growth in conjunction with exercise
- Heart health
- Possibly hair loss therapy, stronger nails, and prenatal health (data on these is more limited)
- Collagen has virtually no side effects.
- You can get dietary collagen from bone broth or protein-rich foods. The most quickfire way, though, is to purchase a high quality collagen powder.