Collagen is the most abundant protein in your body, comprising approximately 30% of our total protein content. It consists of a fiber-like structure that is used to make connective tissue and is a major component of bone, skin, muscles, cartilage, and tendons. You can think of collagen as the glue that holds your body together.
There are over 28 types of collagen. There are five main types, and here’s what each does:
We’ve got some good news for you. Your body actually produces its own collagen! In fact, your body is always in a state of producing and then breaking down collagen.
But there’s a catch. Your collagen production reaches a peak around age 25. As you get older, though, your collagen production declines, and the rate at which the collagen in your body breaks down accelerates. There are some lifestyle factors, too, that can reduce your body’s collagen supply. Oxidative stress, for example, can spur collagen degradation, possibly resulting in skin issues. Smoking has been shown to reduce the body’s collagen supply, as well. Other causes of collagen decline include excessive exposure to UV light, consuming too much sugar and too many carbs, and not getting enough sleep and exercise.
Collagen supplements come from a variety of sources. When choosing a collagen supplement that’s right for you, it’s important to be mindful of ingredients and sourcing, watching out for allergens or ingredients that don’t align with your lifestyle preference. (For example, if you are a pescatarian, you can find collagen derived from a marine source instead of collagen from a bovine source.)
Bovine is one of the most common sources of collagen. Bovine type I collagen is the major source of commercially available collagen today.
Like anything else you consume, you should check to see where your bovine collagen is from and how it was made. Ask some questions. How were the cows raised and fed? Those are important questions for assessing how healthy your supplement will be for you. If possible, you’ll want to go with collagen sourced from grass-fed, humanely raised cows. This means the animal will not have been given grains (only grass and hay) and wasn’t confined on a factory farm.
Care/of’s The Skin Hero is a bovine collagen that meets these criteria, and has been shown to strengthen nails and support hydration and elasticity in skin. It also blends seamlessly with your coffee, tea, and smoothies.
Collagen derived from poultry is somewhat less common, but can still support you in reaching your collagen needs. Certain collagen peptides are derived from chicken cartilage, bones, and eggshell membrane. Poultry collagen has high levels of type II collagen, in particular, suggesting its potential benefits for joints and bones.
Marine-based collagen is a popular option for pescatarians. Existing research suggests that marine collagen boasts benefits similar to those offered by bovine collagen. What this specifically means is that marine collagen can be beneficial for skin health, bone health, and gut health.
Here’s what you need to know about “vegetarian” and “vegan” collagen. There aren’t any plant-based sources of collagen known to exist. That said, vegetarian and vegan collagen options are often loaded up with nutrients known to support the production of collagen in the body.
Care/of offers a vegetarian collagen, dubbed The Good Egg, which is made from eggshell membranes and has been shown to support skin hydration and stimulate nail growth. Now, when it comes to purely vegan options, things can get a bit trickier. Vegan collagen will not possess collagen as such, but will often contain the amino acids your body needs to ramp up its own collagen production.
Most people, when they think of collagen, probably think of the beauty aisle in the pharmacy. But recent research has found that collagen supplementation can also support people’s fitness goals, particularly when paired with high intensity exercise.
This raises a question, though: How does collagen powder compare to more popular and conventional protein powders?
Protein powder, depending on the type, can be a complete source of protein. That means the protein powder contains all the nine types of amino acids you need to get from food. Collagen, on the other hand, isn’t a complete protein.
While more research is needed, it seems that protein powders have a slight edge when it comes to supporting muscle growth when paired with high intensity exercise.
Taking collagen daily can help lead to a number of health benefits. Let’s take a look at some of them below.
Your gut health is hugely important for the health of your whole body. All the nutrients your body needs to function at an optimal level make their way through your gut first. So, it’s important to take care of your gut!
It turns out that collagen can help you with this. Animal studiestudies show that a diet high in collagen peptides can support your gut microbiome. Moreover, existing research suggests that collagen supplementation can support healthy digestion and nutrient absorption. Consider this study of healthy women, which found that collagen supplementation can support gut health and maintain healthy digestion. Still, more research is needed.
This is probably what collagen is best known for: supporting skin, hair, and nail health.
There’s research to back this up. One randomized, placebo-controlled clinical trial found that after 3 months of supplementing with collagen peptides, participants reported improvements in skin hydration, elasticity, and density. Furthermore, this study showed the benefits of type I marine collagen on skin.
Research suggests that collagen can also support joint health. This 24-week study found that supplementing with collagen hydrolysate has the potential to help with exercise-related joint discomfort. Furthermore, other studies have found that eggshell membrane is fast-acting for joint comfort. In a number of studies, participants who were given eggshell membrane supplementation saw a significant increase in flexibility in as little as 7 to 10 days. Care/of’s vegetarian collagen is made with eggshell membranes.
There are no direct studies pertaining to collagen and weight management. The best way to support weight management is through a varied, nutrient-rich diet paired with exercise, adequate hydration, stress management, and getting enough sleep. That said, collagen is a source of protein that can help promote the building of healthy muscle mass, which can be part of a sound weight management strategy.
Collagen plays a major role in bone health. Indeed, the extracellular matrix of bone is composed mainly of collagen. This randomized study found that, over a one-year period, participants who took 5 g of collagen peptides daily experienced improved bone mineral density compared to the placebo group.
Calcium and vitamin D are also critically important for bone health, as are diet and physical activity.
The collagen source matters when it comes to your particular dietary preferences. Beyond that, you should talk to a doctor or a registered dietitian about the option that’ll work best for your health goals. Most studies on collagen have focused on bovine, poultry, and porcine sources of collagen.
Yes, you can! You can mix your collagen powder with food, coffee, smoothies – you name it. You can also eat foods that are naturally rich in collagen, or find some foods that help produce collagen production in your body.
Some food options containing collagen include pot roast, brisket, and chuck steak – tough meats packed with connective tissue. Bone broth, available in most any souple aisle, is also rich in collagen.
Then you’ve got foods that, while not rich in collagen, promote healthy collagen production in the body. These are foods that are rich in the amino acids that promote the formation of collagen: poultry, fish, meat, dairy, eggs, legumes, and soy. Your body also relies on zinc for collagen production, and zinc can be found abundantly in shellfish, meat, legumes, nuts, seeds, and whole grains. And furthermore, your body’s collagen production relies on vitamin C, which you’ll find in many foods, such as leafy greens, tomatoes, and citrus fruits.
Collagen is the most abundant protein in your body. As this article has made clear, collagen comes from a variety of sources: bovine sources, poultry sources, marine sources. Whatever your dietary preferences, there’s likely a collagen for you. That’s true even if you’re a vegetarian, since you can get collagen made from eggshell membranes. (Vegans have a trickier time, but even they can take supplements that promote collagen production.)
The variety of options is good news for everyone interested in a healthy lifestyle. Collagen is important for many different facets of your health, but your body will naturally start producing less of it as you age. Your collagen production can also be negatively affected by certain lifestyle factors, including smoking, exposure to UV rays, lack of sleep, and poor diet.
That’s where collagen supplements come in. While more research is needed, there’s evidence to suggest that collagen supplements can support your gut health; your skin, hair, and nail health; your bone health, and your joint health. It may even help with weight management. The key is to take collagen consistently – and, of course, to combine your supplement routine with broader, healthy lifestyle changes. Supplements are no substitute for exercise, adequate sleep, or a nutrient-rich diet.
Before adding collagen supplements to your routine, talk to your doctor or a registered dietitian about whether collagen is a good fit for your longer-term health goals. Then you can decide which type of collagen aligns with your preferences.