What Is Collagen Good For? Here’s a Simple Guide

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    Collagen is getting a lot of attention these days, and for good reason. Read on to learn about its benefits.

    Collagen 101

    People are talking about collagen quite a bit these days. Walk down the beauty aisle of your local pharmacy and you’ll be sure to find various brands of collagen supplements. But what exactly is collagen, and why is it important?

    Collagen is the most abundant protein in the body, accounting for about 30% of the body’s total protein. It’s a building block of your body’s skin – hence why collagen is a popular skin-care supplement – as well as bones, tendons, muscles, ligaments, and connective tissues generally. In other words, collagen is there to give your body structure and support.

    Your body naturally uses the amino acids proline, glycine, and hydroxyproline to create collagen, and there are many foods that either contain collagen or help your body produce more of it. Most people can get their collagen needs met through a healthy, balanced diet.

    What are collagen peptides?

    Collagen peptides are a type of collagen supplement derived from animal-based collagen. Since collagen can’t be absorbed in whole form, in order to be used as a supplement, the collagen has to be broken into tinder pieces – also known as peptides – or amino acids. Collagen peptides get absorbed through the intestinal tract.

    What are the different types of collagen?

    There are more than 28 different types of collagen. There are five main types, which include:

    • Type I, which is the most abundant type and comprises up to 90% of the body’s collagen. It’s packed densely and used by the body to provide structure for connective tissues such as your skin, tendons, ligaments, and bones.
    • Type II, which is found in joint cartilage and intervertebral discs (space between portions of the spine).
    • Type III, which is found in muscles, organs, and arteries, and plays a critical role in wound healing.
    • Type IV, which is found in the layers of skin and is an important structure in the basement membrane of epithelial tissues.
    • Type V, which is found in the corneas, some layers of skin, as well as the hair and tissue of the placenta.

    What happens to collagen while you age?

    Your body’s production of collagen declines with age, starting around age 25. Moreover, the collagen already in your body starts to break down more rapidly. That’s why, as we age, our skin can start to appear more wrinkled, and we may start to experience loss of mobility, among other collagen-related symptoms. Collagen production can also be affected by lifestyle factors, discussed in greater detail below.

    Health benefits of collagen

    To make up for losses in collagen production, some people now opt to make use of collagen supplements. While research on this topic is still fairly new, there is sound evidence to suggest that collagen supplements can support people’s health in myriad ways. Let’s take a look at some of those ways below.

    Boosts skin health

    Collagen plays a big role in skin health, promoting skin elasticity and hydration. As we age, collagen production declines and existing collagen breaks down more rapidly, which can lead to dry, wrinkly skin. This is just part of life and is nothing to fret over. That said, collagen supplementation can lead to improvements in your skin health.

    One double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical study evaluated the effectiveness of bioactive collagen peptides on skin health. Women received 2.5 g of collagen daily over a span of six months, finding ultimately that their skin health improved considerably. Moreover, the study found that bioactive peptides can promote and stimulate natural collagen production in the body. A meta-review of 11 studies likewise found that taking 3-10 g of collagen daily for slightly more than two months can help improve skin hydration and elasticity.

    When it comes to collagen supplementation and skin health, anecdotal accounts abound, with many consumers swearing that collagen helped transform their skin. Still, it should be noted that while the scientific research is good, there remains limited information regarding a standard effective dose, and more studies are needed.

    May relieve exercise-related joint pain

    While most people associate collagen with beauty aisles and cosmetic support, there’s increasing awareness of collagen’s potential benefits for athletes.

    This study found that collagen peptide supplementation, when paired with exercise, may be beneficial for joint health. The study posits that collagen may help stimulate the “extracellular matrix of connective tissues,” which in turn helps your body bear more weight. The study specifically looked at participants who took 15 g of collagen 60 minutes before exercising.

    Another prospective, randomized, placebo-controlled study found that collagen hydrolystate supplementation can promote healthy joints in athletes experiencing temporary exercise-related joint pain. The study specifically looked at 147 subjects who competed on a varsity team or played a club sport. It should be noted, though, that this study is considered preliminary, and much more research is needed.

    Promotes bone health

    Collagen helps provide structure for our bones, and there’s evidence now to suggest that collagen supplementation can be good for bone health. This randomized study, for example, looked at the effects of collagen peptide supplementation on postmenopausal women. Over a one-year period, participants took either 5 g of collagen peptides or a placebo. The results quite clearly showed that the collagen peptide group saw improved bone mineral density compared to the placebo group.

    May boost muscle mass

    Collagen has also been shown to support muscle mass. However, it does not appear to be an equal substitute for whey protein. One randomized study involved 22 participants who were divided into two groups. One group took collagen twice a day for six days, the other used whey protein twice a day for six days, and both groups engaged in one-sided resistance training. The collagen group did indeed experience muscle growth, but not as much as the whey protein group. Still, the evidence does suggest that collagen supplementation can help boost muscle mass.

    Could promote heart health

    To date, there haven’t been any studies specifically concerning heart health and collagen. Nevertheless, there are some studies that point to the possibility that collagen could be good for your heart. One double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized study found that recreationally active women who took 15 g daily over a 12-week period had a higher increase in running distance and endurance than the placebo group. Endurance is linked to heart health.

    Some Care/of supplements more directly linked to heart health include vitamin D, garlic, astaxanthin, fish oil, veggie omega, and chia-flax.

    May aid in gut health

    On top of everything else, collagen may also support gut health! This study of healthy women found that collagen supplementation can support gut health and maintain healthy digestion. Moreover, this study found that collagen peptides can support healthy tight junctions, which are important for the gut barrier – and the gut barrier is important because it can manage immunity, nutrient absorption, and digestion.

    What does the research say about collagen supplements?

    Collagen supplements are available in powder, liquid, and capsule form, and can also be an ingredient in topical cosmetic products. While there is only limited research about the effectiveness of collagen supplements, the research that does exist strongly suggests that collagen can support people’s health in myriad ways.

    Collagen supplementation

    How to properly supplement collagen and how much to take

    Before you start taking collagen supplements, you’ll want to talk to your doctor about whether this is a good idea for you. Then you’ll want to figure out which form of collagen – whether capsule, powder, liquid, or otherwise – is best for you. This entirely depends on your own preference.

    You’ll also want to pick a supplement from a reputable source – ideally third-party tested, certified C.L.E.A.N., and lacking in any unnecessary fillers. Care/of supplements fit all these criteria, and we offer two excellent collagen supplements: Unflavored Collagen powder, which is a form of grass-fed bovine collagen, and Veg. Collagen supplements, a form of vegetarian collagen made from eggshell membranes.

    How often to supplement collagen

    You should take collagen every day, and the key is consistency. Most studies of collagen use have doses ranging from 2.5 g to 20 g daily. Talk to your doctor about the right approach for you, and pay attention to the dosages on the labels.

    Is hot liquid or heat bad for collagen powder?

    Nope! Collagen is temperature stable.

    Potential side effects from supplementing collagen

    Fortunately, people who’ve used collagen supplements haven’t reported very many side effects. Some reported minor digestive symptoms, which typically resolved in a short time.

    When to expect to see results

    The pace at which you can expect to see results totally depends on dose, frequency, and the health goal you’re pursuing. Some studies found that results could arrive in 8-12 weeks, and sometimes longer.

    Foods high in collagen

    Some quite tasty food options contain collagen, including brisket, pot roast, chuck steak, beef, and more. These cut meats are full of connective tissue. Gelatin is another form of collagen and is made by boiling animal bones, cartilage, and skin – and then allowing the liquid to cool. Think of making a delicious soup or stew with these items.

    But you shouldn’t limit yourself by only thinking in terms of which foods contain collagen. The truth is that there are many other foods thought to promote collagen production, because they contain the amino acids your body needs to be able to form collagen. Think of poultry, fish, meat, dairy, eggs, soy, and legumes. Collagen production also relies on zinc, which you can find in shellfish, legumes, meat, nuts, whole grains and seeds. Moreover, your body needs vitamin C in order to properly form collagen; fortunately, vitamin C is abundantly available in berries, citrus fruits, leafy greens, bell peppers, and tomatoes.

    Are there any lifestyle habits that damage collagen?

    In addition to regular aging, there are some lifestyle habits that can hinder your collagen production and damage the collagen already in your body. Some of these habits include smoking, which alters the balance of extracellular matrix turnover in the skin, and eating too much sugar. If you want to protect your collagen production, you’ll want to cut down on smoking and excess sugar consumption. Moreover, you’ll want to limit your UV sun exposure, which is the primary cause of outer skin aging. Sometimes, though, your collagen production is affected by plain old genetics.

    Final takeaways

    So, if you came to this article asking yourself what collagen is good for, the answer should be clear: Quite a lot! As the most abundant protein in the body, collagen serves a wide array of important functions. As we age, collagen production declines – but fortunately, there’s good evidence to suggest that collagen supplements can be helpful to us. Available research suggests that collagen can support gut health, joint health, skin health, bone health, and heart health – and even boost muscle mass. Still, you should always talk to your doctor before adding a new supplement to your routine.

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    Dr. Carla Montrond Correia ND, CNS
    Medical Content Manager
    Dr. Montrond-Correia is a licensed naturopathic physician and a certified nutrition specialist (CNS). She holds degrees from University of Bridgeport, Georgetown University, and University of Saint Joseph, and supplemented her education with internships in the health and wellness space. She's focused on research, herbal medicine, nutrigenomics, and integrative and functional medicine. She makes time for exercise, artistic activities, and enjoying delicious food.
    Our Editorial Staff
    Freelance Contributor
    The Care/of Editorial Team is made up of writers, experts, and health enthusiasts, all dedicated to giving you the information you need today. Our team is here to answer your biggest wellness questions, read the studies for you, and introduce you to your new favorite product, staying up to date on the latest research, trends, and science. Each article is written by one of our experts, reviewed both for editorial standards by an editor and medical standards by one of our naturopathic doctors, and updated regularly as new information becomes available.