Collagen is a key protein in the body found in skin, bone, muscle, tendons, and ligaments. Collagen formation changes as we age, which can have implications for your health. This protein occurs naturally in some foods and can also be taken as a supplement to support various aspects of health.
With collagen being such an important protein structure in the body, a big question is: do collagen supplements actually work? We’ll dig into the research on the impact of collagen intake on health and how you may be able to use collagen to support your health.
Collagen gives structure and strength to the connective tissue. Due to its ability to maintain rigidity while being flexible, it is the perfect protein to make up skin, tendons, bones, hair and nails.
As you age, collagen levels naturally decline, which can start happening as early as age 25. This decline occurs as the body begins to break down collagen as well as produce less of it.
Over time, this can lead to wrinkles, coarse hair, age related joint, and bone related changes.
Sugar can exacerbate this decline in collagen by causing the protein to become distorted through a process called glycation. The end products of glycation are actually called advanced glycation end products, or appropriately termed “AGEs” for how they age the skin and other connective tissues.
There is exciting evidence that it is possible to renew aging or damaged skin and connective tissue to support vitality, which we’ll cover further in this article.
Collagen is the most abundant protein in the body. There are 28 types of collagen. The four most common types are:
Gelatin is a form of collagen found in foods such as bone broth. Other good sources of collagen in foods include the connective tissues of animal foods such as fish, beef, and the skin of chicken and pork.
Vitamin C is essential for collagen synthesis, so be sure to eat foods rich in vitamin C, such as citrus fruits, peppers, and broccoli.
Collagen is not absorbed in its whole form but rather must be broken down through digestion into individual amino acids and peptides. Once absorbed into the bloodstream, the body can then use those amino acids for protein synthesis, including potentially collagen formation.
In supplement form, some collagen is already broken down through a process called hydrolysis. This hydrolyzed form of collagen (also referred to as peptides) is considered to be better absorbed than collagen from foods.
Getting a sufficient amount of collagen to mimic the therapeutic effects seen in research is likely easier to do through supplements than through food sources.
While most collagen supplements on the market use bovine sources of collagen, there are also both marine and egg-based sources available. Marine-derived collagen comes from the scales and bones of fish, making them pescatarian-friendly but are not vegetarian or vegan.
Care/of’s groundbreaking egg membrane-derived collagen is vegetarian friendly and is a natural source of collagen, elastin, keratin, and hyaluronic acid, all proteins found in hair, skin and nails.
Grass-fed bovine-derived collagen powder is also available from Care/of in several fun flavors.
Collagen supplementation provides numerous health benefits.
Collagen in skin is especially concentrated in the middle layer and plays a key role in keeping skin moisturized and supple.
UV radiation is one of the most common contributing issues to skin health and can cause accelerated breakdown of collagen compared to normal aging.
Numerous studies show the benefits of collagen supplementation for skin health. One study showed that 1g of collagen supplementation over 12 weeks showed improvement of human skin hydration, elasticity, and wrinkling associated with aging.
Collagen is a major component in hair, but there is not much research available on collagen supplementation and hair health in humans. However, one study in mice showed that collagen supplementation did support hair regrowth and hair loss prevention. More research on humans is needed.
Brittle nails are a common problem among women. One study found that 6 months of collagen supplementation resulted in significant increase in nail growth and decreased frequency of cracked nails.
Collagen plays an indispensable role in joint health and function. Lack of collagen has been shown to disrupt joint health.
A six month clinical trial in athletes showed improved joint health related to exercise-induced joint discomfort.
Research has shown that collagen supplemented orally accumulates in cartilage and promotes cartilage formation. A meta-analysis on collagen supplementation in people with age related joint changes showed significant improvement in joint comfort, indicating a promising role for collagen in those with joint issues.
The main functions of collagen in bone is providing mechanical support and a matrix on which bone cells can grow.
A multitude of research findings indicate the beneficial use of collagen supplementation for bone health in women. Much of this research revolves around the changes to bone after menopause when the risk for changes in bone mineral density increases in large part due to hormonal changes. We’ll discuss post-menopausal support in more detail below.
While often discussed in relation to hair, skin, and nail health, collagen is also a promising supplement for gut health.
One study found that a large majority of women who took collagen in 10g doses twice daily for 8 weeks experienced reduced digestive symptoms including bloating.
While research is still in progress, in vitro and animal studies show promising effects of collagen supplementation on gut lining. Collagen can also mimic prebiotic fibers by promoting bacteria that increase short chain fatty acid production, compounds that promote the health of cells in the gut.
Eating enough protein is critical for women as they age, since muscle building becomes less efficient in an aging body.
Research shows that around 41% of adult women do not eat enough protein. On top of that, experts agree that protein requirements increase by up to 50% by elderly age. Women should aim to get sufficient protein through their diet or through supplementation.
Collagen supplementation can contribute to overall daily protein intake. However, whey protein appears to be more effective than collagen for building lean muscle in a study of older women. All of the women in the study took 30 g of protein twice daily for six days, with half of the women taking whey protein and the other half collagen peptides. The collagen group did experience muscle growth but only with exercise and not as much as the whey group.
Collagen may support maintaining the healthy structure of the cardiovascular system. A study in women found that those who supplemented with 15 g collagen peptides daily during 12 weeks of physical training experienced significant increases in endurance compared to those who trained without supplementation. The evidence suggests that improved structure along with cardiometabolic adaptations from training may together promote cardiovascular health.
A common question is whether collagen affects female hormones. While collagen is not known to affect female hormones, the opposite may be true. Studies consistently show a correlation between decreased collagen in skin and lower estrogen levels.
Decreased estrogen levels with menopause can contribute to the aging process of skin. Experimental data show that estrogen may protect skin cells against oxidative damage. When estrogen levels plummet in menopause, the increase in oxidative stress can lead to less collagen in skin resulting in skin that is thinner, less elastic, dryer, and more wrinkled.
As described previously, collagen supplementation has been shown in numerous studies to promote collagen levels in skin and skin health outcomes.
Decreased estrogen in menopause also increases risk for decreased bone mass and bone mineral density. According to this study, intake of collagen peptides can promote healthy bone mineral density in postmenopausal women.
Aside from some studies reporting minor digestive symptoms, collagen supplementation does not appear to have negative side effects. In fact, one important study showed that intake of collagen peptides well above the effective therapeutic amounts used in research (typically 2-15 g per day) are safe to still ensure proper amino acid balance in the body.
The time it takes to see results with collagen varies. This depends on the dose you are taking and your goals. Most studies point to 8-12 weeks or more.
Of note, there is no published research on when is the right time for women to take collagen. You can take collagen with or without food at any time of the day.
Collagen is a crucial component in the structure and integrity of connective tissues all throughout the body. In addition to getting collagen in some animal foods, taking supplements providing collagen in the hydrolyzed and peptide form provides an excellent way to easily get the therapeutic benefits of collagen. Whether you are aiming to support the health of your skin, bones, gut or joints, collagen supplementation is well documented in research to provide benefit, especially in women as they age.