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Collagen supplements are everywhere. Is there any science behind the hype?

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There are benefits to adding more collagen to your daily routine. But you may not need to get it from a bottle. Here’s what you need to know.

Walk into any drugstore and you’re bound to see shelves full of collagen supplements.1 These pills and powders promise everything from shiny hair and stronger nails to better bone health.

But do these supplements work? And are they worth your money? The short answer is maybe.

Some studies do show benefits. But the science is mixed when it comes to specific results. Plus, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration doesn’t regulate collagen before it’s sold.2 (That’s true of all supplements.)

“Still, collagen can be helpful if we also include other healthy habits,” says Lauren Spradling. She’s a registered dietitian with Rally Health, part of Optum, in Chicago.

If you’re curious to try a collagen supplement yourself, here’s what you need to know before you buy.

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What exactly is collagen?

Collagen is the most plentiful protein in the body. It’s the foundation for your body’s connective tissue. That includes bones, joints, ligaments, tendons and muscles. Collagen is also part of the skin and nail beds.3,4

Spradling says 28 types of collagen exist in the body. They can fall under five main categories:

  • Type I collagen makes up skin, tendons, blood vessels, organs and bone.
  • Type II makes up cartilage (the smooth covering on the end of bones).
  • Type III makes up connective tissue.
  • Type IV makes up the skin’s structure.
  • Type V makes up cell surfaces, hair and the placenta during pregnancy.

What happens to collagen as we age?

Collagen levels decrease naturally as we age. Our habits can also lead to loss too, Spradling says. A common one? Sun exposure. Ultraviolet rays can damage collagen. So can smoking, says Spradling.

Decreased collagen can lead to visible signs of aging in the skin.5 Think fine lines, wrinkles, dark spots and rough texture. 

On the other hand, too much collagen can create different problems. In the case of scleroderma, the body overproduces collagen. Symptoms include thickened skin and issues with blood vessels.6

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Can you produce more collagen naturally?

Yes. Your body creates collagen from amino acids. Those are the building blocks of protein. Eating foods that contain collagen, such as red meat and fish, can help your body make its own, Spradling says.

Other nutrients may boost production, too. These include:

  • Copper. Find it in liver, lobster, oysters, shiitake mushrooms, nuts and seeds, leafy green and tofu.
  • Glycine. Find it in red meats, turkey, chicken and pork skin, peanuts and granola.
  • Proline. Find it in mushrooms, cabbage, asparagus, egg white and meat.
  • Vitamin C. Find it in oranges, strawberries, bell peppers and broccoli.
  • Zinc. Find it in oysters, red meat, poultry, pork, beans, leafy greens, whole grains and dairy.

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What types of collagen supplements are there?

Collagen supplements come in the form of powders, capsules and tablets. Some collagen powder is made to melt easily in coffee, smoothies or water.

There are two types of collagen found in supplements: marine and bovine. As the names imply, the collagen in these sources comes from either fish or cows. In general, they tend to have similar effects. But one study suggests that marine collagen may be more environmentally friendly than bovine.7

There’s no recommended daily amount of collagen, Spradling says. And we don’t yet know how collagen supplements compare to foods that contain collagen.

Can collagen supplements improve skin health?

Possibly. A recent report looked at 11 studies of collagen supplements. People who took them had better skin elasticity, hydration and fewer signs of aging.8 There’s also evidence that they help reduce wrinkles.Read more about the best vitamins for healthy skin and hair.

Can collagen affect joint health?

A daily collagen supplement may boost joint health and ease arthritis symptoms.13 In one report, people who took 5 grams of collagen daily for 12 weeks had less knee pain.12

A possible reason why? Collagen makes up about 60% of cartilage.10 That’s the cushiony tissue between bones that also keeps them strong and flexible.11 If your cartilage breaks down, you may have more pain and stiffness. Adding in a collagen supplement may help you keep the cartilage you have.14

Stay active with these easy-on-the-joints exercises.

Can collagen supplements improve bone health?

Possibly. Lower collagen levels can lead to weaker bones.15 And some evidence suggests that collagen supplements can help improve bone density.17,18

The bottom line

The choice to take collagen supplements is up to you. But it’s possible to naturally boost your collagen production by changing your habits. Start with quitting smoking and getting enough sleep and exercise, Spradling says.

And if you’re thinking about taking a supplement, talk to your doctor first.

Sources

  1. Grandview Research. Collagen market growth & trends. Published February 2020. Accessed July 25, 2022.
  2. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. FDA 101: Dietary supplements. Last updated June 2, 2022. Accessed July 25, 2022.
  3. StatPearls. Physiology, connective tissue. Last updated September 20, 2021. Accessed July 25, 2022.
  4. StatPearls. Biochemistry, collagen synthesis. Last updated September 13, 2021. Accessed July 25, 2022.
  5. Plastic and Aesthetic Research. Skin collagen through the lifestages: Importance for skin health and beauty. Published January 8, 2021. Accessed August 3, 2022.
  6. National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. Scleroderma. Last reviewed February 2020. Accessed July 25, 2022.
  7. Marine Drugs. Marine collagen from alternative and sustainable sources: extraction, processing and applications. Published April 2020. Accessed July 25, 2022.
  8. Journal of Drugs in Dermatology. Oral collagen supplementation: A systematic review of dermatological applications. Published January 2019. Accessed July 25, 2022.
  9. Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture. Ingestion of bioactive collagen hydrolysates enhance facial skin moisture and elasticity and reduce facial ageing signs in a randomised double-blind placebo-controlled clinical study. Published February 10, 2016. Accessed July 25, 2022.
  10. Cartilage. Collagen growth pattern in human articular cartilage of the knee. Published December 13, 2021. Accessed August 3, 2022.
  11. StatPearls. Anatomy, cartilage. Last updated October 21, 2021. Accessed July 25, 2022.
  12. Nutrients. The influence of specific bioactive collagen peptides on knee joint discomfort in young physically active adults: A randomized controlled trial. Published February 13, 2021. Accessed August 3, 2022.
  13. International Orthopaedics. Effect of collagen supplementation on osteoarthritis symptoms: a meta-analysis of randomized placebo-controlled trials. Published October 17, 2018. Accessed August 3, 2022.
  14. PLOS One. Daily oral consumption of hydrolyzed type 1 collagen is chondroprotective and anti-inflammatory in murine posttraumatic osteoarthritis. Published April 6, 2017. Accessed August 3, 2022.
  15. Mechanisms of Ageing and Development. Cellular aging towards osteoarthritis. Published December 31, 2016. Accessed July 25, 2022.
  16. Brazilian Journal of Geriatrics and Gerontology. Collagen supplementation as a complementary therapy for the prevention and treatment of osteoporosis and osteoarthritis: a systematic review. Published January 2016. Accessed July 25, 2022.
  17. Nutrients. Specific collagen peptides improve bone mineral density and bone markers in postmenopausal women—a randomized controlled study. Published January 16, 2018. Accessed July 25, 2022.

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