Collagen has swept the wellness world by storm. With influencers and supplement manufacturers saying it can do everything from fix your joints to shed fat from your waistline, you have to wonder, is it all hype?
The good news: There is strong research that consistent collagen supplementation has significant benefits for hair, skin, and joints. It may also improve digestive health, enhance sleep, and benefit body composition, improving weight loss and muscle growth in conjunction with a training program.
The unfortunate thing about collagen is that it is not a one-off supplement. You have to keep taking it consistently to get the benefits. Many of the realities of daily life degrade collagen, having an aging effect on tissue. Stress, sunlight, bacteria, and sugar all lead to collagen breakdown. Additionally, an enzyme called collagenase is constantly produced by the body and it eats away at our natural collagen, which means that to benefit from collagen, it’s a long-term thing. The best approach is to eat a collagen boosting diet:
Supplement with a high-quality bovine collagen powder.
Include gelatin in soups, gravies, or smoothies.
Drink bone both.
Get extra vitamin C from fruits and vegetables and possibly a supplement (Vitamin C is necessary to prevent collagen breakdown)
Eat a high-protein diet so that the body has abundant amino acids for tissue repair
Eat plenty of phytonutrients to boost blood antioxidant status and reduce the inflammatory impact of aging on the body.
Now that you’ve got a plan for getting your collagen in, let’s look at what exactly collagen is and identify the benefits that have research backing them up.
What Is Collagen?
Collagen is the main structural protein in connective tissue, making up 35 percent of protein in the human body and notably, 80 percent of skin. It acts as a scaffold in tissue regeneration that allows the body to deposit cells to build new tissue—in the case of bone, these new cells are called osteoblasts.
Structurally, collagen consists of amino acids bound together to form a collagen helix. It has an unusual amino acid composition containing large amounts of glycine and proline. This is important because glycine is consumed in low quantities in the average diet.
Benefit #1: Support Skin
Collagen is what gives skin its elasticity—a primary factor in youthful looking skin. As you age, a reduction in collagen is the primary reason you get wrinkles and skin begins to sag. Supplementing with 2.5 grams of collagen a day for 8 weeks was found to increase skin's elasticity in older women for healthier, younger looking skin (1). A second placebo-controlled study showed similar benefits along with fewer visible wrinkles and better hydrated skin (2).
Benefit #2: Relieve Joint Pain
Collagen strengthens connective tissue that surrounds the joints and allows them to function optimally. With aging or injury, this connective tissue can become compromised, leading to pain and degenerative joint disorders such as osteoarthritis. Studies show that collagen supplementation in the range of 10 grams a day can reduce joint pain and allow people to be more physically active (3, 4, 5). This may pay off in both performance and body composition benefits: By exerting more force during training, you can stimulate increases in muscle mass and strength.
Benefit #3: Improve Bone Strength
Collagen comprises the majority of bone and it is what makes bone flexible and able to withstand impact. Collagen fibers also serve as the binding sites for calcium and other bone-building minerals. Supplementation with collagen has been shown to strengthen bone mineral density in older women at risk of osteoporosis (6).
Benefit #4: Improve Muscle Mass
Collagen isn’t a muscle-builder in the way that whey or pea protein are, but it does play a critical role in connective tissue repair and can preserve muscle mass against aging, making it beneficial for the elderly who are at risk of muscle loss (sarcopenia) and frailty.
Collagen is necessary for the body to build the scaffolding to repair tendons, ligaments, and cartilage. As joint integrity improves, you are able to exert more force when training, thereby stimulating muscle growth and strength. For example, one study of physically active young men showed that 12 weeks of 15 grams a day of collagen supplementation in conjunction with a training program produced a 1.9 kg greater increase in lean mass as well as greater increase in strength tests compared to a placebo (7). A second study of frail elderly men who took 15 grams of collagen along with an exercise program also showed improved muscle and strength gains compared to a placebo group (8).
Benefit #5: Support Cardiovascular Health
Collagen is an important component of blood vessels and loss of collagen is associated with stiffening of the arteries, increased blood pressure, and greater risk of heart attack (9). Supplementing collagen may counteract this, with several studies showing that collagen improves cholesterol markers and reduces inflammation affecting the cardiovascular system (10, 11).
Benefit #6: Strengthen Hair & Nails
By providing the building blocks for the body to make the extracellular matrix, collagen strengthens skin and nails in individuals with brittle nails or thinning hair. One study found that 2.5 grams of collagen taken for 24 weeks led to a 12 percent increase in nail growth and a 42 percent decrease in broken nails. More than three-quarters of participants agreed that the use of collagen improved their nails’ appearance (12). A second study found that women with thinning hair who supplemented with a blend that stimulates the body’s production of collagen increased hair thickness and strength (13).
Benefit #7: Reduce Body Fat
With all the hype about collagen right now it’s surprising that its ability to reduce body fat isn’t more widely heralded. The benefit is greatest when combined with a strength training program (one study of elderly men who were involved in a training program while taking 15 grams of collagen a day showed they lost 2 kg more than a placebo group that solely trained) but collagen can also improve fat loss in sedentary individuals. Overweight middle aged men who took 2 grams of collagen for 12 weeks lost 1.2 kg of fat while a placebo group gained 0.3 kg of fat (14). There was no change in calorie intake, diet composition, or energy expenditure.
Scientists theorize that collagen has anti-obesity effects, impairing fat storage and improving blood sugar tolerance. It also counters inflammatory markers that impair insulin sensitivity. When combined with exercise, collagen could allow you to train harder and it may lead people to be more active due to less joint discomfort.
Improving your intake of collagen and collagen boosting foods (such as fruits and veggies that are rich in vitamin C) is a no-brainer if you want to stay young, active, and fit.
Collagen’s biggest impact is on connective tissue, improving health of skin, nails, hair, and joints. It also aids vasculature function and may protect the heart.
Supplemental doses showing benefits of collagen range from 2 to 15 grams daily. Considering that collagen isn’t cheap, a reasonable starting dose is 10 grams a day.
There is no evidence of harm or toxicity with collagen so it’s a great supplement to try, especially if you are suffering from joint issues or poor quality hair, skin, and nails.
Studies show benefits of collagen take time to appear: When supplementing, give it 12 to 24 weeks before you expect to notice a positive effect.
If you’re looking for a high-quality, affordable collagen, try our Collagen Care that is made from hydrolyzed beef collagen.