Many people hoping to support the health of their skin, joints, and hair pop collagen supplements daily or add collagen powder to their morning coffee, tea, or smoothie.
Even though the use of collagen supplements and other collagen products is on the rise, most people don’t know what collagen actually is or what it does in the body.
This article tells you everything you need to know about collagen, including what it is, what it does in your body, and whether collagen supplements are worth it.
What is collagen and why is it important?
Collagen is a type of protein. In fact, it’s the most abundant structural protein in animals. A structural protein is one that makes up the structure or framework of your cells and tissues (1Trusted Source).
There are 28 known types of collagen, with type I collagen accounting for 90% of the collagen in the human body (2Trusted Source).
Collagen is composed mainly of the amino acids glycine, proline, and hydroxyproline. These amino acids form three strands, which make up the triple-helix structure characteristic of collagen (3Trusted Source).
Collagen is found in connective tissue, skin, tendons, bones, and cartilage. It provides structural support to tissues and plays important roles in cellular processes, including (3Trusted Source, 4Trusted Source, 5Trusted Source, 6Trusted Source):
- tissue repair
- immune response
- cellular communication
- cellular migration, a process necessary for tissue maintenance
Connective tissue cells called fibroblasts produce and maintain collagen. As people grow older, their collagen becomes fragmented, fibroblast function becomes impaired, and collagen production slows (3Trusted Source, 7Trusted Source).
These changes, along with the loss of another key structural protein called elastin, lead to signs of aging such as sagging skin and wrinkles.
Your body naturally produces collagen, and you can consume it through dietary sources such as chicken skin and fish skin as well as collagen supplements.
Oral and topical collagen products like supplements and face creams are popular for treating signs of aging such as wrinkles, loss of skin hydration, and joint pain.
You can buy collagen in powder, capsule, and liquid form.
You can take it as a supplement or add it to beverages — both hot and cold — and foods such as oatmeal, yogurt, and energy balls.
Healthcare professionals also use collagen and collagen-based materials in the medical field, including in treating wounds, burns, and diabetic ulcers (8Trusted Source).
Additionally, cosmetics companies use collagen in products like moisturizers and serums because of its moisturizing and humectant properties (9Trusted Source).
What causes collagen loss?
As you age, your collagen production naturally declines. Additionally, collagen becomes fragmented and more loosely distributed (10Trusted Source).
These changes lead to the characteristic signs of aging, such as wrinkles and dry, sagging skin. The integrity of the collagen found in the skeletal system decreases with age as well, leading to reductions in bone strength (11Trusted Source).
While collagen loss and damage as you age are inevitable, certain dietary and lifestyle factors can accelerate this process.
Additionally, following a diet high in added sugar and ultra-processed foods can lead to premature aging by contributing to a process called glycation, which reduces collagen turnover and interferes with collagen’s ability to interact with surrounding cells and proteins (14Trusted Source).
Excessive sun exposure degrades collagen production as well, so wearing sunscreen and avoiding excessive sun exposure can help prevent signs of premature skin aging (15Trusted Source).
SUMMARYAge-related collagen loss is unavoidable but dietary and lifestyle factors such as smoking and excessive alcohol intake can speed up this process.
Best food sources of collagen
Collagen is found in all animals, and it’s concentrated in some parts of an animal, such as skin and joints.
Here are few examples of collagen-rich foods (16Trusted Source):
- bones, skin, and ligaments of animals, such as chicken skin and pig knuckle
- certain types of seafood, such as fish skin and jellyfish
- products made from animal parts such as bones and ligaments, including bone broth
Because your body naturally produces collagen from amino acids, you can support collagen production by ensuring that you’re eating adequate amounts of protein from foods like poultry, fish, beans, and eggs.
In addition to amino acids, your body needs other dietary components for collagen production and maintenance.
For example, vitamin C is necessary for collagen synthesis, so having low or deficient levels of vitamin C can lead to impaired collagen production (17Trusted Source).
Therefore, consuming plenty of vitamin C-rich foods can help support healthy collagen production. For example, try citrus fruits, peppers, greens, and berries.
What’s more, consuming a diet high in beneficial plant compounds could also help improve skin health by reducing inflammation and protecting against collagen degradation (18Trusted Source).
Studies have shown that taking collagen supplements may offer a few benefits.
Potential skin benefits
One of the most popular uses of collagen supplements is to support skin health. Research suggests that taking collagen supplements may improve certain aspects of skin health and appearance.
A review of 19 studies that included 1,125 participants (95% women) between the ages of 20 and 70 found that taking hydrolyzed collagen improved skin hydration, elasticity, and wrinkles compared with placebo treatments (19Trusted Source).
Hydrolyzed collagen is a common type of collagen used in supplements that is created using a process called hydrolysis. This process breaks down the protein into smaller pieces, making it easier for the body to absorb (20Trusted Source).
A number of studies have shown that taking collagen supplements may improve skin hydration and elasticity and reduce the appearance of wrinkles.
The doses of collagen shown to be effective for improving skin health in research studies vary, though most studies have used 2.5–15 grams per day for 8 weeks or longer (23Trusted Source, 24Trusted Source).
Potential benefits for bones
In addition to improving some aspects of skin health and appearance, collagen supplements may offer a few other benefits.
One study looked at the effects of taking collagen supplements in 102 women in postmenopause who had reduced bone mineral density (BMD).
Those who took 5 grams of collagen peptides per day for 1 year had significant increases in BMD in their spine and femur (a bone in the lower leg) compared with participants who took a placebo (25Trusted Source).
A follow-up study in 31 of these women found that taking 5 grams of collagen daily for a total of 4 years was associated with a progressive increase in BMD.
The researchers found that participants’ BMD increased by 5.79–8.16% in the spine and by 1.23–4.21% in the femur during the follow-up period (26Trusted Source).
These findings suggest that taking collagen supplements long-term may help increase bone mineral density in people in postmenopause, who are at a greater risk of developing osteopenia and osteoporosis.
What’s more, one review article concluded that taking oral collagen supplements reduced participants’ symptoms related to osteoarthritis, including stiffness (27Trusted Source).
It’s important to note that studies observed these beneficial effects of taking collagen mainly in older women with low bone mineral density.
Therefore, collagen supplements may not have the same effects in other populations, such as men, those who are younger, or those who don’t have low bone mineral density.
Do collagen supplements have side effects?
Collagen supplements have a good safety profile and are not associated with adverse side effects.
However, manufacturers often combine collagen with other ingredients in supplements. Certain ingredients could pose health risks, such as herbs and high levels of vitamins in supplements formulated to support the health of the skin, nails, and hair (29Trusted Source).
For example, dietary supplement ingredients such as herbal extracts may interact with commonly prescribed medications, and some aren’t safe for people who are pregnant or breastfeeding.
What’s more, some supplements that contain collagen may also contain megadoses of nutrients like biotin, which could interfere with laboratory tests for heart and thyroid function.
This and other vitamins and minerals could cause health issues if you take them in high doses for a long time (29Trusted Source).
So, while supplements that contain only collagen are unlikely to cause any side effects, it’s important to read labels and understand the potential risks of supplements containing collagen combined with other ingredients.
If you’re taking other medications or you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, make sure to speak with a healthcare professional before you start taking supplements.
Collagen supplements vs. protein
It’s important to note that you don’t need to eat collagen or take collagen supplements to support your body’s collagen levels or bone health.
In fact, you can help your body make collagen and maintain healthy collagen levels and bone tissue by simply including enough high-quality protein, vitamin D, calcium, vitamin C, and zinc in your diet (30, 31Trusted Source, 32Trusted Source).
Eating a balanced diet with a bit more protein is especially helpful for maintaining muscle tissue and bone as you get older. Experts recommend consuming more than 0.36 grams of protein per pound (0.8 grams per kg) of your body weight for this purpose (30).
To support this, combine this protein-rich diet with physical activity, especially resistance training and weight-bearing exercise (30).
SUMMARYCollagen supplements may help promote the health of the skin and skeletal system and may help improve symptoms related to osteoarthritis. They’re considered safe on their own but may contain other ingredients that aren’t appropriate for everyone.
It’s impossible to prevent all age-related collagen loss, but it is possible to slow down the process.
As mentioned above, diet and other lifestyle factors can significantly affect your body’s collagen production.
Smoking cigarettes and drinking excessive amounts of alcohol negatively affect collagen production, as does following a diet high in ultra-processed foods and added sugar (12Trusted Source, 13Trusted Source, 14Trusted Source).
On the other hand, leading a healthy lifestyle by following a nutrient-dense diet and avoiding smoking and heavy alcohol use may help delay age-associated changes in collagen and reduce signs of aging such as wrinkles.
Avoiding or reducing your intake of certain foods and beverages while increasing your consumption of others may help support collagen maintenance and overall skin health.
For example, a diet low in compounds called advanced glycation end products (AGEs) may help promote skin health. AGEs are toxins that accumulate in the skin. They can cause collagen to stiffen and can inactivate proteins responsible for collagen repair (33Trusted Source).
Foods highest in AGEs include processed meat products like hot dogs and bacon, fried foods like french fries and fried chicken, and roasted and grilled meats, according to newer and older research (33Trusted Source, 34Trusted Source).
Additionally, following a diet high in high-quality protein and plant foods such as fruits and vegetables, which contain collagen-supportive and protective nutrients, may also help protect collagen stores and prevent collagen damage and loss (33Trusted Source).
Maintaining a healthy lifestyle by avoiding cigarette smoking and excessive alcohol consumption and following a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and other nutritious foods can help protect against collagen loss and damage.
The bottom line
Collagen is a protein found in connective tissue, skin, tendon, bone, and cartilage.
It provides structural support to tissues and is also involved in essential bodily processes, including tissue repair and signaling between cells.
Your body makes collagen naturally, but you can also consume it through collagen supplements and certain foods, which may benefit the health of your skin, your bones, and more.
Studies show that taking collagen seems to be particularly helpful for certain purposes and populations, including for increasing bone mineral density (BMD) in people in postmenopause who have low BMD.
Consuming enough protein, vitamin C, vitamin D, and zinc in a balanced diet is a healthy and less expensive alternative to supplements. By combining this with regular exercise, you can help minimize collagen and bone loss as you age.
Even though age-related collagen loss is unavoidable, leading a healthy lifestyle can help protect against collagen loss, delay signs of aging, and promote overall health.
Source: healthline.com ~ Image: Isagenix