There has been a recent surge in the popularity of collagen.
However, many consumers are still unsure what it's for and how to take it.
This short review will discuss what collagen is, along with its potential benefits.
What is Collagen & What Does It Do?
Collagen is the most abundant protein found in the human body (1) and is primarily responsible for providing structure to the body’s connective tissue.
The primary function of collagen, more or less, is to keep the entire body connected together. In fact, the word collagen is derived from theGreek word “κόλλα” (kólla) which means glue.
There are at least 16 known types of collagen, (2) but the most common forms are the first four:
Type 1 Collagen| the most abundant form of collagen that is naturally found in the body. It is primarily found in connective tissue like skin, ligaments, tendons and bone (3).
Type 2 Collagen | collagen molecules are found primarily in cartilage tissue (3).
Type 3 Collagen| found in organs and is thought to help cells organize properly within the organ (3).
Type 4 Collagen| can be found in something called the basement membrane, which is a thin sheet of collagen tissue found around most tissues (3).
As we age, our body naturally slows down its production of collagen. Other factors that can damage collagen include excessive sugar in the diet (4), too much sun exposure (5), and smoking (6).
Benefits of Collagen:
Our bodies are able to create collagen on their own. However, getting additional collagen through our diets or a supplement can provide a number of positive health benefits.
1. May Support Bone Health
Bones are largely made up of collagen, along with calcium. In fact, 90% of bone mass is made of collagen! Collagen provides bones their structure, while calcium provides its strength and rigidity .
Having sufficient collagen is important to maintain healthy bones. Researchers have found a connection between low collagen levels and low bone density .
Research has found benefits of collagen supplementation for bone health. In one study, a group of aging women with low bone density took a collagen supplement each day for one year. These women saw an increase in bone mineral density after that year .
2. May Promote Healthy Skin
Similarly to our bones, our skin is made up primarily of collagen. Type I and type III collagen are found in our skin [10,11].
When you age, the body loses its ability to produce collagen on its own . This can cause skin to lose elasticity and strength. Collagen supplements are thought to help promote healthy, elastic skin and reduce wrinkles.
Many studies have been done showing the effects of collagen supplements on skin health.
One study found improvement in the skin hydration, elasticity, and smoothness in middle-aged women after just 12 weeks of taking a daily collagen supplement .
Similar results were found in another study that showed that collagen can improve skin elasticity, moisture, and hydration as well as decreasing wrinkles and roughness .
3. May Improve Gut Health
Collagen is able to benefit the gut as well. More specifically, it may strengthen the lining of the digestive system, which could help to balance inflammation in the gut .
Collagen may also help improve digestion. One 8-week study saw reductions in bloating, constipation, and acid reflux among individuals who supplemented daily with collagen .
4. May Protect Joints
Your joints may benefit from getting extra collagen in your diet as well. Collagen makes up a good portion of tendons, ligaments, and cartilage found in our joints .
Collagen supplements have been shown to help reduce joint pain and improve mobility. In a study among athletes who suffered from joint pain, a daily collagen supplement was able to reduce joint pain after 24 weeks .
Other human studies have shown similar results, indicating that a collagen supplement may help reduce joint pain . It’s thought that collagen supports joint health by giving the body the raw materials it needs to build cartilage.
Cartilage provides a comfortable cushion for your joints, which helps to reduce excess fiction in the joint capsule. When cartilage breaks down, friction increases, which can cause inflammation and joint pain .
Cartilage also acts as a shock absorber. It is especially important during impact-related exercise like running and walking.
5. May Improve Exercise Performance
Collagen supplements may also play an important role in exercise performance.
Collagen makes up muscles and joints, which do the majority of the work during exercise. The more collagen that is available, the quicker muscle tissue can be repaired and the more stable muscles and joints can be during exercise.
One study analyzed the effects of a daily collagen supplement on male and female endurance athletes. They found significant improvements in running performance time and muscle strength after taking collagen daily for 16 weeks .
Other studies looking at exercise performance and recovery have shown that collagen supplements can help to increase muscle strength, decrease muscle soreness, and generate a quicker recovery after exercise [19,20].
How to Add Collagen to Your Diet:
Collagen is only naturally found in animal products. It is the highest in cuts of meat with a lot of connective tissue, including brisket, chuck steak, and pot roast .
Collagen is also found in bone broths, which can be prepared at home or found pre-made at grocery stores.
Gelatin is another good source of collagen. Gelatin is produced by extracting collagen from animals. It can be used in a number of recipes in order to provide an extra collagen boost.
Zinc and vitamin C are key nutrients that support collagen production. Make sure to get enough of these nutrients to help boost your body’s natural collagen reserves.
Collagen supplements are also a great option. They dissolve easily in water, coffee, or tea. Utzy’sColl-U-Gen collagen powderis a great collagen supplement option that has been clinically studied and provides two types of collagen peptides (type I and type III).
What Foods Contain Collagen?
While the body will naturally create its own collagen, it will use amino acids from digested protein to help create additional collagen.
Some of the most collagen-rich foods include:
Red and yellow vegetables
In addition to increasing one’s protein intake, bone broth is another dietary source that is rich in collagen. There are many prepared bone broth options available on the market today, however, one could make their own at home by boiling animal bones for a few hours.
The body uses nutrients like Vitamin C, Copper and amino acids, like glycine and proline, to make collagen. Most protein sources (ie: poultry, tofu, legumes) are rich in amino acids while Vitamin C can be found in most fruits and vegetables and copper found in organ meat and lentils.
Eating a diet with these nutrients will ensure that the body has the cofactors it needs to produce its own collagen.
How Much Collagen Should I Take Each Day?
As previously mentioned, the body slows down its natural production of collagen as we age. In addition to eating a balanced diet, one could use a dietary supplement to help provide the body with additional collagen.
The amount someone should consume will vary based on their specific health goals.
For muscle mass, one study found an increase in body mass, in conjunction with exercise, using 15g over a 12 week period (22).
For healthier skin, one study found that 7g of collagen for 6 weeks resulted in increased skin pliability and elasticity which resulted in smoother skin with fewer wrinkles (23). Another study looked at a dose of 2.5g and 5g, compared to placebo, and found that both doses resulted in improved skin elasticity compared to placebo after the 8 week trial.
For joint health, research found that only 40mg of UC-II®, an undenatured type 2 collagen, to be helpful in joint comfort, mobility and flexibility (24,25) after 120 and 180 days. Another 12 week study, using a different branded raw material (FORTIGEL®), found 5g to be effective at improving activity-related joint discomfort (26).
How Long Does It Take for Collagen to Work?
The length of time someone should expect to take collagen before seeing the desired outcome will vary based on their goals for using collagen.
While some studies were conducted over a 6-month period, others found a benefit after only 6 weeks. Generally speaking, one could expect to see some type of change after 6-8 weeks of consistently supplementing with collagen.
However, for some applications, they might consider waiting a longer period of time before assessing the effectiveness of a product.
There may be additional supplement options that could be used in conjunction with collagen to expedite desired outcomes.
For example, someone using collagen for joint support could consider using aglucosamine formulato provide additional support.
Using a collagen supplement can be an effective way to augment the body’s natural production of collagen. This could provide benefits to the health of their skin, muscle tissue and joints.
For those looking for a formula that is designed to target joint health, they could consider usingColl-U-Genfrom Utzy Naturals. This flavorless collagen powder easily blends into any beverage and supplies an effective dose of two brand name hydrolyzed collagen peptides -UC-II®& FORTIGEL®.