Detailed Guide: Health Benefits of Collagen You Should Know
Have you ever wondered why collagen products are everywhere right now – from your local grocery store to even your Instagram feed? Well, collagen is now a common buzzword in health, and that’s because it’s one of the best nutritional ingredients studied to help maintain a youthful glow. Collagen has also been shown to support hair and nail growth as well as many other bodily functions.
There’s now a strong consumer interest in taking collagen in different forms, like peptides for example, as this has been shown by several studies to offer huge health benefits.
In this article, we shall be discussing collagen in detail and its plethora of health benefits. Without further ado, let’s begin!
What is Collagen?
Collagen is the most abundant protein found in the human body. It is primarily found in skin, hair, nails, and intramuscular and connective tissues, like ligaments, bones, tendons, and cartilage.
This protein comprises three-quarters of your skin and it provides structural support. Think of it like a “glue” that holds your body together.
What is in Collagen?
Collagen protein is made up of three amino acids: glycine, hydroxyproline, and proline. The collagen molecules have a triple helix shape that binds with other collagen molecules in the skin to form a network in the dermis, which is the skin layer beneath the epidermis.
Collagen is produced in the body naturally by combining amino acids, which are the building blocks of proteins. To produce collagen, your body needs:
- Glycine: This amino acid can be found in dairy, egg whites, mushrooms, cabbage, and asparagus
- Proline: This amino acid can be found in chicken skin, pork skin, gelatin, and other protein-rich foods
- Zinc: Can be found in lamb, beef, shellfish, pork, lentils, chickpeas, milk, lentils, cheese, various seeds, and nuts
- Vitamin C: Can be vitamin is found in bell peppers and citrus fruits
- Copper: Can be found in cocoa powder, organ meats, sesame seeds, cashews, and lentils.
What Causes Loss of Collagen in the Skin?
Our bodies produce collagen naturally, but as we age, the production of this protein slows down. And that’s when the skin begins to lose its elasticity and ability to bounce back into shape. At this point, you begin to notice wrinkles on your face, such as around your eyes and lips.
That said, your genetics also have an influence on how fast your skin starts to show signs of aging.
Now, one major factor that can cause loss of collagen in the skin is free radicals (our skin’s enemy). This free radical formation is created by:
- Poor diet (e.g. one high in sugar)
- Bad lifestyle habits (smoking)
- Environmental factors (pollution or UV rays)
Although sugar is necessary for health, a high amount of it in your diet can weaken your collagen proteins. Usually, high sugar levels lead to hardening and fragmentation of collagen. This weakens the skin foundation and promotes premature skin aging.
High sugar intake causes an increased rate of glycation, forming molecules known as AGEs. This wreaks havoc on other proteins. And with time, high sugar levels can lead to the weakening and depletion of collagen.
If you want the best for your skin health, it is advisable to never smoke or quit smoking if you do.
Several studies have shown that smoking causes free radicals to attack collagen fibrils, making them weak and of poor quality. “It’s not surprising, therefore, that the skin of a smoker tends to look damaged and wrinkled, particularly around the mouth,” says Cyndi Yag Howard, President of Yag-Howard Dermatology Center in Naples, Florida.
Also, the chemicals in tobacco smoke damage collagen and elastin. These chemicals decrease the amount of oxygen that gets to tissues. Hence, it becomes hard for tissues to regenerate, which causes damages and death of these tissues.
If you are the type that loves enjoying some UV rays from time to time, it is advisable to wear a hat and sunblock. Overexposure to sunlight can cause rapid deterioration of collagen.
One study showed a significant change in collagen structure after constant exposure to UV light.
Why Do You Need Extra Collagen?
You may ask, “Since the body produces collagen naturally, why do we need to supplement it?” Well, like we mentioned earlier, collagen is a major part of your skin, hair, nails, connective tissues, etc. Hence, you need a high amount of collagen if you want to look and feel your best.
Unfortunately, from around age 25, our bodies naturally start slowing down in their rate of collagen production. With each passing year, we lose 1% of our collagen on average. And the factors listed above reduce collagen levels even further.
Worse still, the little amount that is produced ends up being of poor quality, and this is the main cause of wrinkled skin and loosened muscle, which affects the overall functionality and agility of your body.
Although some foods like bone broth are rich in collagen, many people who seek wrinkle-free skin often look for supplements to boost their collagen intake.
Collagen in supplement form has the same amino acid formation as the natural collagen produced by the body, which explains why the body absorbs it so fast. Collagen supplements are usually powders, but they are also available in capsule and liquid forms. The most popular forms are hydrolyzed collagen powders, as they are flavorless and easy to add to smoothies and other beverages.
How Collagen Intake Works
Knowing that collagen constitutes a third of our body’s proteins, it is important to continue consuming this to ensure you stay healthy. However, you should always try to stay within the same ratio as what is naturally produced.
You need to note that plant-based collagen does not boost your body’s natural collagen production. This is mainly because it does not contain natural collagen.
So taking a collagen supplement helps your body grow more collagen. That’s the real function; they do not take part in tissue and muscle building. Although these supplements are not a direct replacement, they create a building block that produces collagen.
Types of collagen supplements and how to use them
There are different types of collagen (28 types identified to date). Understanding the varieties will help you choose the best collagen supplement to support your goals.
The following are the most common types of collagen supplements found in stores or online:
- Type I: This is the most abundant type of collagen in the body and it supports healthy skin
- Type II: This is commonly found in cartilage and it helps promote joint health
- Type III: This collagen type promotes skin health and improves elasticity
- Type V: This supports the growth of the placenta in pregnant women
- Type X: This is present in cartilage and promotes the growth and development of bones
Most collagen supplements contain several of these types mentioned above, and sometimes other types of collagen. These collagen supplements are usually in hydrolyzed forms, which makes them easier for the body to absorb.
Beyond the different types of collagen above, there are two main terms used to classify it:
Endogenous collagen: This is collagen synthesized by the body, otherwise known as natural collagen. The depletion of this collagen is usually linked to a declining state of health.
Exogenous collagen: This is the synthetic form that comes from an external source. Basically, supplements are made of exogenous collagen.
Forms of Collagen Used in Supplements
Different forms of collagen are often used in making supplements for health. The most common types include:
- Hydrolyzed collagen (collagen peptide): This is derived from marine (seafood), bovine (cattle), poultry (chicken or eggshells), and other sources. And it is broken down into absorbable peptides.
- Gelatin: This is usually derived from animal sources, and it is cooked collagen.
- Undenatured collagen: This is the raw form of collagen derived from chicken.
The form of collagen used in a supplement usually influences the dosage instruction.
A Closer Look at Collagen Peptides
Collagen supplements are better in the hydrolyzed state known as collagen peptides. Multiple studies have shown the benefits of this supplement for skin, joint, and nail problems. That’s simply because collagen has been broken into smaller units that can be absorbed by the body.
Basically, collagen peptides are a soluble supplement derived from bovine (cows) or marine protein. This supplement is rich in type 1 and 3 collagen and is great for skin, joints, and bone health amongst other benefits.
Collagen peptides dissolve in cold or hot liquid and are flavorless, making them a good option for smoothies.
Here are some interesting features about collagen peptides:
- Collagen peptides contain similar reparative amino acids present in the gelatin of bone broth
- They are created through the enzymatic hydrolysis of collagen
- They are functional ingredients in dietary supplements targeting skin beauty as well as bone and joint health
- They contain eight of all the nine essential amino acids and they are high in glycine, proline, and hydroxyproline
- They are made from marine, porcine, and bovine sources and contain higher than 90 percent protein
- Collagen peptides are easily absorbed into the digestive tract due to their lower molecular weight. This way, they deliver amino acids and high concentrations of hydroxyproline-glycine and hydroxyproline-proline to enhance skin, bone, and joint health
- Collagen peptides cannot form a gel, hence, formulators can use them in a wide variety of applications, including powders, ready-to-drink (RTD) beverages, and protein bars
- Collagen peptides are quite versatile in food, supplement formulations, and beverages. You can use them to enhance your smoothie or coffee
Health Benefits of Collagen
As collagen is a major component of connective tissues, which is found in almost all parts of our bodies, including the skin, bone, arterial walls, tendons and other parts, there are lots of benefits to derive from an extra boost of the protein.
Below are the key health benefits you gain from supplementing with collagen, plus studies to support the validity of the claims:
Health benefits of collagen for skin
As you age, your body becomes less efficient at producing collagen. Consequently, this leads to elasticity and moisturizing problems that cause wrinkles and rashes.
In a 2013 study, researchers inspected the effects of collagen supplementation on skin elasticity and moisture.
Researchers took 69 participants and divided them into 3 groups; one group received 2.5–5 grams of collagen per day for 8 weeks, the second group received lower doses of collagen, and the third group received a placebo.
After analyzing the results of the study, researchers reported that the first group had a significant improvement in their skin’s appearance, elasticity, and degree of hydration relative to the other groups.
The thought is that collagen works to form a cluster of fibroblasts that replaces dead skin cells with new ones. Fibroblasts are essential for wound healing and skin health.
Another study also shows that supplements containing collagen or collagen peptides may help to slow the rate of skin aging by reducing dryness and wrinkles.
One other study found that women who drank beverages containing collagen supplements for a period of 12 weeks experienced more hydration and reduction in wrinkle depth compared to a control group.
One study published in the Journal Skin Pharmacology and Physiology examined the effect of collagen on women’s skin. After 8 weeks, the women who took collagen supplements were seen to have higher elasticity and moisture levels compared to the placebo group.
Many other studies found similar results, where collagen supplements led to positive skin benefits shortly after intake.
In fact, this led many gigantic beauty product brands to start incorporating collagen into their products, specifically to improve skin composition and texture.
Aside from its role as a building block, collagen is a potent antioxidant that protects cells from the destructive damage of oxidative stress.
If you’re not familiar with oxidative stress, here’s a quick definition:
Inside the cells, there are some molecules in a chemically unstable form (i.e., reactive oxygen species). The main goal of these chemicals is to destroy foreign pathogens (e.g., bacteria, viruses, fungi). Unfortunately, they are not equipped with targeting properties; therefore, if we lose the balance of reactive oxygen species (ROS), they start wreaking havoc on our own cells.
To keep this system in check, the body employs a smart system that involves antioxidants to counter the effects of ROS. Of course, this system is not perfect and could easily lead to an excess number of ROS relative to antioxidants, which is collectively known as oxidative stress.
By neutralizing the effects of ROS, collagen is a fantastic way to improve skin health.
Health Benefits of collagen for Hair and Nails
It’s common for women to experience hair loss as they grow older; men go bald as they age. Studies, however, have shown that collagen supplements help with thicker hair.
One study conducted on a group of women with thinning hair showed an increase in their hair quantity, thickness, and scalp coverage while taking collagen on a daily basis.
Some people’s nails don’t grow fast and when they do, they break easily. Collagen supplements have been found to help boost nail growth and keep them healthy and strong.
Health Benefits of Collagen for Joints
As you age, your joints start to grow weak. This happens because the spongy cartilages of the joints are already wearing away. Sometimes, this can progress to degenerative disorders like osteoarthritis.
Apart from the age factor, joint pain can also be triggered by inflammation, which is studied to deplete proteoglycan – a useful protein that provides hydration and enables the joint to withstand pressure. When proteoglycan is depleted, it means your joints cannot heal properly if left alone. And that’s where collagen comes into play.
Collagen supplements are helpful in preventing or restoring the deterioration of joint cartilage. Collagen lowers inflammation and better protects your joints.
A study shows that taking 2 grams of collagen for seventy days has the ability to reduce joint pain. The study also showed improved physical activity in people administered with collagen.
One review of research on collagen supplementation shows that taking hydrolyzed collagen helps restore bone density in people suffering from osteoarthritis and osteoporosis. The review also showed this supplement helped reduce joint pain.
Some research published in the International Journal of Medical Sciences showed that collagen may help manage painful symptoms in people living with osteoarthritis.
William Cole, a functional medicine expert, once said regarding his patients who used collagen supplements, “Not only does their skin become brighter, hair becomes more luminous, nails become stronger, but they also experience less joint pain.”
Health Benefits of Collagen for Muscles and Bones
Many studies have suggested that using collagen supplements may help boost muscle mass.
One study conducted on 53 men showed the positive effects of collagen when exercising. The participants took 15g of collagen or a placebo every day and engaged in regular exercise for 12 weeks. The result showed that those who took collagen supplements experienced an increase in strength and muscle mass that was significantly higher than in those that took the placebo.
The research shows that collagen helped to stimulate the production of proteins necessary for muscle growth.
Collagen is also a major building block of bone structure and it helps to keep the bones strong. As you age, your bones become weaker and you tend to lose the collagen necessary to keep your bones strong. This can lead to conditions such as osteoporosis.
However, research suggests that taking a collagen supplement is effective for preventing the deterioration of bone density.
One study had women taking either calcium or both calcium and collagen supplements. After one year, researchers found that those taking both calcium and collagen experienced reduced bone loss. These women had lower levels of proteins involved in the breakdown of bones.
And more research is ongoing to further prove the effects that collagen has on promoting strong bones.
Benefits of Collagen for Heart Health
Collagen supplements may also help to improve the health of the cardiovascular system. Type 1 collagen is the dominant protein that makes up our arterial wall. The arteries are responsible for transporting blood from your heart to your whole body, and they need to be strong to withstand blood pressure.
A lack of collagen can make your arterial walls weak and frail, and this can result in heart disease. Studies have shown that taking collagen supplements can reduce arterial stiffness and boost the production of good cholesterol.
One study conducted on 30 participants who took 16g of collagen tripeptide for a period of 6 months showed a significant reduction in their “bad” cholesterol, or low-density lipoprotein levels, and artery stiffness.
Benefits of Collagen for the Gut
Collagen also plays an important role in gut health. There is some evidence that shows that the amino acids in collagen, such as glycine, may help manage GI inflammation for people with digestive conditions.
One study shows that glutamine, which is one of the amino acids in collagen, helps to manage gut inflammation and inhibit oxidative stress of the intestines.
More so, healthy collagen levels in the body have been shown to support proper gut acidity. This may help manage digestive issues and painful heartburn.
Collagen is also essential for supporting the intestinal wall. According to the Journal Gastroenterology, studies show that collagen supports the stomach lining.
Also, there have been associations between diminished collagen levels and IBS. Research from the Journal of Clinical Pathology found decreased collagen levels in people living with digestive troubles.
Other potential benefits of collagen for health
Collagen may provide other potential benefits, including:
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Improved mood
- Reduced anxiety
- Promoting healthy nail and hair growth
Does Collagen Produce Any Side Effects?
You may be wondering if collagen supplements cause any side effects after consumption. Well, taking collagen supplements as directed by a healthcare professional is generally safe.
You should always talk to your doctor before starting any supplement routine or increasing the use of an existing one.
Generally, collagen supplements can cause some mild side effects, including:
- A general feeling of heaviness in the stomach
However, in most adults, adding collagen supplements to their diet does not pose any significant health risk.
Are Collagen Supplements Recommended for Vegans?
Collagen supplements are mostly produced using the protein and bones of animals. So you should know that these supplements are not vegan-friendly.
Nonetheless, some options of vegan collagen are available and these options are available everywhere, including online stores.
You can also use collagen supplements while following a keto diet plan. Just like the vegan options, you can choose collagen supplements that are specifically used to support the keto diet.
How Should You Supplement Collagen?
Some foods like beef, fish, chicken, and bone broth are rich in collagen. But you may not get enough of this protein to maintain ideal health.
Taking collagen supplements is a great way to keep your bodily functions working optimally and keeping your skin, bones, and joints healthy.
You can take collagen supplements as a powder or capsule. The powder is more efficient as it dissolves easily into smoothies and baked goods.
Useful Tips for Buying the Best Collagen Supplements
Now that you know what collagen supplement is and the benefits you can get from adding it to your daily life, let’s talk about how to choose the right product.
No doubt, there are thousands of products and brands out there in the market today, and you might ask questions like, “which collagen, collagen form, or collagen type should I buy?” Well, we’ve got you covered.
Here are some useful tips or factors to consider to choose the right collagen for yourself:
Consider the Source of collagen
Collagen can be derived from different sources, including marines or animals. Marine collagen is more expensive compared to the animal source as it is extracted from fish.
The good side, however, is that marine collagen has a small molecular size and amino acid structure that makes it easy to absorb, digest, and distribute in the body.
Animal-derived collagen should be sourced from pastured or grass-fed animals. This helps protect you from hormones or toxins that might be present in animals that are commercially raised.
Choose the right type
Collagen is generally good for skin, nails, hair, joints, and other functions. You already know it helps keep your skin hydrated and healthy and also helps improve your nail quality and hair shine. More so, it helps strengthen your bones and alleviate pain and stiffness.
So you need to decide what you want. Is it a general function or a targeted function? This can help you choose the right collagen product that you really need.
Check the ingredients
Different collagen products come with different formulations infused with suitable vitamins and ingredients. The ingredients in collagen products often help to boost its absorption and provide targeted results. More so, collagen supplements infused with vitamin C and Biotin works great wonders for your skin.
Collagen supplements that contain glucosamine may help alleviate pain in your joints and keep you healthy.
So after considering your purpose for using a collagen supplement, check the ingredients to see which supports the function you’re looking for.
Always remember that the best collagen powders do not have any foreign or fishy smell or taste. A carefully crafted product can be great for your taste buds. The best collagen powders add only natural flavors and sweeteners to preserve their health-giving benefits. However, avoid artificial sweeteners.
Look for a transparent brand
Choosing brands that are transparent about their sourcing and processes is key. Check for results of third-party testing, often documented as a certificate of analysis (COA).
Collagen is an essential protein necessary for the health of your skin, nails, hair, joints, gut, heart, and other body parts. It is naturally produced in the body, but as you age, its production decreases.
You may get some needed amino acids for collagen from food sources, but most times, it is inadequate. Hence, collagen supplementation supplies you with essential amino acids needed for the body to make collagen and keep your skin, hair, nails, and joints healthy.
You need to be careful, however, because there are thousands of products on the market today, but not all are reliable. That’s more reason you should always buy collagen supplements from a trusted brand that is transparent in their ingredients and sourcing, as well as provide their certificate of analysis.
We believe we’ve been able to educate you on everything you need to know about collagen. You can go ahead and get a quality collagen supplement to add to your daily routine, starting from today!