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By Jessica Migala
Medically Reviewed by Justin Laube, MD
Reviewed: September 8, 2020
Who would have thought that a substance found in bones and skin could become the need-to-have supplement? We’re talking collagen.
“Collagen is a type of protein that plays an important role in building and supporting many tissues, from bones and cartilage to skin, hair, eyes, and the digestive system,” says Sonya Angelone, RDN, who practices in San Francisco and is a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
When you take a collagen supplement or eat foods rich in collagen, you are consuming collagen that comes from an animal, explains Ryanne Lachman, RDN, a functional medicine dietitian at Cleveland Clinic in Ohio. Collagen peptides are often sold in powdered or capsule form, and collagen can also be consumed in bone broth.
As with any supplement, there are potential side effects.
While collagen is generally safe, you should always talk to your healthcare team before adding a supplement to your diet. Side effects may also occur: According to ConsumerLab.com, collagen supplements may cause a rash or, in rarer cases, liver problems.
Aside from that, a universal downside to collagen supplements is that they add an extra expense to your grocery bill. One popular collagen peptide brand, Vital Proteins, sells a 10-ounce container for $25. A 30-day supply of collagen supplements for skin, hair, and nails from the brand Hum is $40.
If you’re going to invest in taking them, it’s important to know the bevy of possible benefits collagen supplements can provide. Read on.
1. Supplements Help Replace What’s Naturally Lost Through Aging
Collagen is the “glue” that holds your body together, says Angelone. It makes up about one-third of the protein in your body, research shows. Thing is, she says, your body produces less collagen starting in your thirties and forties. Collagen peptides added to your diet may serve to replace what your body begins to lack as you age, and support your overall health.
2. Collagen Is an Easy-to-Digest Source of Protein
Your body works hard to digest protein from sources like chicken or beef, and some people may find that they deal with digestive symptoms like burping or stomach pain after a meal, explains Lachman. But collagen supplements are hydrolyzed, meaning the collagen is broken down, a process that makes it easier for your body to digest. Collagen supplements may potentially be a more comfortable way to get protein into your diet, she says. The process of hydrolyzing also allows collagen peptides to dissolve in water, which makes it relatively simple to use them in everyday foods (like water or smoothies).
3. Collagen Helps Smooth Wrinkles and Boost Elasticity in Skin
Skin health is the most well-researched benefit of taking collagen, says Lachman. In a January 2019 review in the Journal of Drugs in Dermatology, researchers analyzed 11 randomized, placebo-controlled studies of more than 800 patients who took up to 10 grams (g) per day of collagen with the goal of improving skin health. The results? The supplements were shown to improve skin elasticity, help it better hold onto moisture, and rev the density of collagen fibers within skin. “Ten grams per day is a small scoop,” says Lachman — and it could be a small step in preserving a youthful appearance.
4. Collagen May Help Lessen Joint Aches and Pains
Joint pain can make it difficult to exercise, which can knock you off the path toward your goals. Taking a collagen supplement may help you get back on track. “There is some evidence that collagen can be great for supporting connective tissues and improving joint pain after exercise,” says Angelone. For instance, one study published in January 2017 in the journal Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism found that athletes with knee pain who took 5 g of collagen peptides daily for 12 weeks had less joint pain during exercise compared with a placebo group. Oral collagen may support cartilage repair and may also have an anti-inflammatory effect.
5. Oral Supplements May Promote Gut Health
In inflammatory digestive conditions, such as irritable bowel disease (IBD), there is a “gut healing” theory about collagen. “Some research finds that collagen levels are decreased in patients with these conditions. By taking collagen, you would help correct a deficiency,” says Lachman.
Research published in May 2017 in the journal Alimentary Pharmacology and Therapeutics found that among IBD patients, there was an imbalance between the formation and breakdown of collagen fibers, and this was connected to inflammation. Past research also shows that IBD patients have decreased serum levels of type 4 collagen. Collagen is a part of connective tissue, which makes up your colon and GI tract, so by bringing your levels up, there may be a supportive environment for your body to heal. This is an emerging idea, she says, but it may be one benefit to trying a supplement or dietary approach to increase collagen intake.