Collagen
Collagen: A Must-Have Supplement for Health and Longevity
Author

Fact Checked By Jill Armijo, PTA, CHC

What Is Collagen and Why Do I Need It?

Collagen makes up a third of the protein in the human body. It's in charge of making and keeping your skin, bones, muscles, tendons, and ligaments (altogether called soft tissue) strong and healthy (1).

There are twenty-eight different collagen types that work to keep you upright, held together, moving, flexible, and looking fabulous (2).

Collagen is a triple helix molecule that makes up the white fibers of connective tissue for your body's mechanical resistance and resilience.

Collagen also helps keep tissues healthy, and cells organized correctly to support and protect your organs and body systems (3).

As you get older (like in your twenties), your body naturally stops producing as much collagen as when you're younger. If you can imagine a giant net that catches tiny minnows, and here and there, some rope fibers begin to fray little by little.

The body works to heal and replace them and does pretty well but can't keep up perfectly, especially with abuse or stress. You'll lose about 1 percent of your collagen net every year after the mid-'20s (4).

That's when skin loses some of its "elasticity," the ability to hold its shape. It gets a little drier, and your laughing makes itty bitty wrinkles start to form. Don't scowl a lot because those creases will happen, too (5).

Collagen mostly comes from your own body. When you eat a healthy diet, your cells know what to do, and they make it. Hydrolyzed collagen can also be extracted from animals such as fish, pigs, and cows (6).

Smooth, Silky, Supple Skin

Your skin is 80 percent collagen, and together with elastin, they keep that outside, visible layer of loveliness smooth, silky, and flexible, so when you smile, nothing breaks (7).

Besides eating healthy food and drinking plenty of water, taking collagen can help keep skin elastic and have less dryness, fewer eye wrinkles, and have better circulation (8), (9).

Some people visualize collagen as the skin's "scaffolding." This is the structure formed by the extracellular matrix (ECM). Cells attach to receptors on ECM molecules, such as fibronectin, vitronectin, laminin, elastin, and collagen (10).

It makes up about 75 percent of the dry weight of skin, giving it plumpness and wrinkle-free. During the first five years of menopause, when women's hormones are wonky, they can lose 20 to 30 percent of collagen (11).

The "fountain of youth" was discovered hundreds of years ago by people who ate things like pig's feet, shark fins, and donkey skin to preserve joints and smooth their skin (12).

In the 1980s, people thought it would help inject collagen straight into their lips and other facial features to keep them luscious. But it didn't always work well (13).

In more recent years, eating collagen in the form of yummy fruit chews, vanilla coffee creamers, drinkable powders, and smooth capsules has caught on and become an acceptable method to get extra collagen than what your body is making (14).

Skin gets dry and wrinkly through two processes.

  • Intrinsic – You get older. All your organs do that.
  • Extrinsic – Things in your environment take their toll.

Intrinsic aging is unavoidable. It happens to everyone, and you can fight it with surgery and Botox or collagen injections, but time is still going to march on.

Extrinsic aging is sometimes unavoidable, but you can often control what you subject your skin to. This effect results from too much sun exposure, ultraviolet (UV) irradiation, smoking, pollution, lack of sleep, and poor nutrition (15).

Your skin won't immediately fall apart (except for maybe a bad sunburn). It's like going to school. If you miss a day or even a year, you won't suddenly be stupid, but if you miss school for a long time, you'll eventually notice some difficulties crop up.

Your Body's Incredible Repair System

One side benefit of wanting lovely skin is that taking good care of it and supplementing it with collagen to remodel your "net," "scaffolding," or extracellular matrix (ECM), may also support other body systems (16).

When your skin gets too many UV rays, they mess with the scaffolding's basement membrane structure. The ECM is vital to maintaining your tissues and organs (17).

Most people believe that aging IS the build-up of damage and the break-down of ECM components (18).

Research on aging focuses on protecting and supporting cells. Every cell builds its own ECM matrix. Even cancer cells can often be discovered because of their unique composition (19).

Many studies show promising evidence for rejuvenating aging and damaged skin, easing painful joints, and improving energy and zest for life. The hope of influencing collagen production during hormonal changes like puberty, pregnancy, menopause, and andropause prompts studies and new technologies (20).

As much as we all know that beauty goes further than skin deep, it sure is nice to have beautiful skin and healthy joints to be confident in public and enjoy playing at the park with the kids and grandkids.

Bones and Joints

Collagen is rich in amino acids, proline, and glycine, helping keep your bones, tendons, and joints healthy (21).

As you mature, the spongy cartilage of your joints begins to wear away. Evidence shows that hydrolyzed collagen supplementation may support joints, restore bone density in people with osteoporosis and osteoarthritis, and decrease pain (22).

One study showed that women who took calcium and collagen had lower protein levels in their blood that breaks down bones (23).

Hydrolyzed collagen (HC - supplemental collagen) taken continually also stimulates glycosaminoglycans and hyaluronic acid synthesis as well as collagen synthesis. HC has been shown in clinical studies to reduce and prevent joint pain and bone density loss (24).

Muscle Mass

Some evidence shows that taking collagen supplements can even increase muscle mass. Who doesn't want that? (25)

Men in a study included 15 grams of a collagen supplement in their diet. Others took a placebo. At the end of twelve weeks of regular exercise for both groups, the men who took the collagen supplements demonstrated significantly increased muscle mass and strength from those who took the placebo (26).

This study is promising, and more research is expected to understand the full effects that collagen can have on muscle growth and power.

Heart Health

In another study, a group of 15 participants took 16 grams of collagen tripeptide for six months. At the end of this period, researchers saw a significant decrease in low-density lipoprotein (the "bad" cholesterol) levels and less stiffness in participants' arteries (26).

Reducing artery stiffness can help support the heart, and taking collagen supplements might improve the cardiovascular system's health (27).

Collagen Damage Control

Remember that aging and damage gradually wears away at your collagen fibers? The following steps can help you maintain your health and longevity.

  • Stay out of the sun
  • Don't smoke.
  • Limit exposure to pollution.
  • Eat a variety of healthy food (29)

There is evidence that your body might heal more quickly and better with increased collagen supplementation (30).

Including more collagen in your daily routine may improve healing rate, body composition, and joint health (31).

In another study of fifty-three older men who had lost muscle mass as they got older, a group who took a daily dose of 15 mg of collagen and lifted weights three days a week for three months lost more fat and gained more muscle than those who lifted weights but didn't supplement (32).

Collagen can also be a powerful support in healing wounds, stopping bleeding, recruiting immune cells, building skin cells, and stimulating new blood vessels (33).

And collagen studies have also indicated the possibility that arthritis and sports-related joint pain can be limited, providing older people and athletes with non-addicting products that decrease pain (34).

Supplementation Suggestions

Collagen supplements are made of collagen peptides, also referred to as hydrolyzed collagen. They're made of amino acids, just as collagen is, but our bodies absorb them more readily because they are shorter chains (35).

It's essential to look at the labels while choosing a supplement to ensure your daily dose will be absorbed into your bloodstream and make it to the organs you're targeting (36).

Collagen is a huge molecule, and absorbing supplements can be improved with smaller peptides that more easily pass through your intestinal barrier to your blood vessels, so the collagen can get to areas in your body that need it most (37).

There are various forms of collagen supplements, including pills, powders, topical creams, and powders.

Many people prefer powders because they can add them to smoothies, juice, hot beverages, and even water. It's always important to follow the directions on the package of the choice you buy to get the most benefit for your body (38).

The jury is still out on "plant-based collagen." Plants don't contain collagen, but some believe that plants support collagen production, and many vegans are super healthy, with beautiful skin and supple joints.

An overview of clinical studies in 2019 showed that taking 2.5 to 15 grams of hydrolyzed collagen peptides daily may be not only perfectly safe but effective in benefitting joints, skin, and hydration (39).

As with any supplement, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn't evaluate claims companies make about the proof that their collagen products work. It's always up to you to study the research and make informed decisions (40).

Formulas

Collagen supplementation comes in five most common types (41). You will want to choose the supplement that best reflects your needs when you decide on one.

Collagen supplements come in a variety of types (42). A person should choose the supplement that best supports their goals when picking a collagen type. These types are:

  • Collagen I and III that support healthy skin.
  • Collagen II and III that help promote joint health.

These can be further broken down into specifically targeted effects.

  • Type 1 is one of the most abundant collagens in humans and keeps skin healthy.
  • Type 2 is found mostly in the cartilage and improves skin elasticity.
  • Type 3 also helps promote skin health by improving elasticity.
  • Type 5 helps support the growth of the placenta during pregnancy.
  • Type 10 occurs in cartilage to promote bone growth and health.

Most supplements include several of these types in their formulas, along with others (43).

Safety and Side Effects

Some collagen supplements may cause mild digestive side effects in random people. It's always a good idea to discuss your concerns with your doctor or healthcare professional before embarking on a new supplement routine of any kind.

Possible mild side effects can include

  • Diarrhea (44).
  • A heavy sensation in the stomach or bowel.
  • Rashes.

You may want to avoid using while pregnant or nursing unless given the go-ahead from your doctor. Otherwise, in most adults, taking collagen supplements should not pose any significant health risks.

There are no known interactions with other medications (45).

These can be further broken down into specifically targeted effects.

Author

Fact Checked By Jill Armijo, PTA, CHC

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