Without collagen, you’d basically be a lump of goo. Collagen is a protein that gives structure to your body’s most important parts (like your skin and bones). As you age, your bod creates less of this helpful building block. You may start to notice signs of this normal slowdown if you experience wrinkles or joint pain.
Does that mean collagen supplements are the fountain of youth? No. They’re not a magic potion. But there’s some scientific evidence that taking extra collagen may help you out. Let’s take a deeper look at the benefits of collagen.
It’s prob a good idea to get on a first-name basis with collagen, since it makes up about 30 percent of the protein in your body.
Collagen is a category of proteins that provide structure for your body parts. It creates a rigid structure between the cells of your skin, bones, cartilage, and tendons. It also provides structure to your organs, muscles, and arteries.
FYI: If you have a vitamin C deficiency or certain medical conditions (like osteogenesis imperfecta or Ehlers-Danlos syndrome), your body’s collagen production may be thrown off. It’s important to consult a healthcare professional if you think you might be experiencing any of these issues. Collagen supplements won’t cut it.
Collagen is kind of a big deal. But age, nutrition, environmental factors, and illness can all impact how well your body makes it. That’s where collagen supplements come in. Here’s a roundup of what researchers have found about how it can help.
1. Helps you glow, girl
The breakdown of collagen leads to the signature sagging and wrinkles associated with aging. Lower levels of hyaluronic acid also mean you’ll experience drier skin, which isn’t a great barrier between your tender flesh and the outside world.
Using topical products with collagen peptides improves your skin’s function as a barrier to keep good stuff in and bad stuff out. They can even help your bod make collagen and hyaluronic acid.
A 2015 study suggests that taking collagen peptide supplements could lessen wrinkles and increase skin hydration. After only 4 weeks, skin had more collagen and less breakdown of the collagen network. But notably, this study was performed on skin samples rather than the skin actually on people’s bodies.
In another 2015 study, a drink containing collagen, hyaluronic acid, vitamins, and minerals also proved promising. It helped reduce the depth of facial wrinkles and improve skin hydration and elasticity in postmenopausal women.
Ongoing studies are exploring the nutritional mechanisms involved in improving skin physiology and appearance.
2. Promotes healthy cartilage for cushy joints
Collagen hydrolysate (aka collagen peptide) stimulates collagen production in cartilage and other tissues.
Osteoarthritis is a degenerative condition that causes pain and loss of function in joints.
In a 2016 review of nine studies (in humans, animals, and human cells in labs), researchers concluded that collagen hydrolysate could help with osteoporosis and osteoarthritis. It may also increase bone mineral density, protect cartilage, and relieve pain.
3. Beefs up your muscles
In a 2015 study with 53 older adult male participants, subjects took collagen supplements and did a resistance training program 3 times a week for 12 weeks. The test group increased their fat-free body mass and muscle strength while decreasing their fat mass.
But it doesn’t just work for older folks. A 2019 study in 77 premenopausal women had similar results. Participants who took collagen while strength training for 12 weeks had gains in lean mass and strength that were greater than those in the placebo group.
Another 2019 study in 57 active young men showed increased muscle mass after 12 weeks of collagen supplements and resistance training.
4. Prevents atherosclerosis
Atherosclerosis is a condition caused by the buildup of plaque on the inside wall of an artery. It usually has no symptoms until a plaque ruptures. A plaque rupture could be life threatening.
How could this type of rupture happen? Collagen can play a role. If the collagen around the plaque becomes less resistant to tension, the plaque becomes less stable. Plaques with more collagen are less vulnerable to rupturing.
One 2017 study indicated that collagen tripeptide supplements may help prevent and treat atherosclerosis. In the study, 32 healthy subjects took the supplement daily for 6 months. Their ratios of HDL (“good”) to LDL (“bad”) cholesterol improved along with other markers for atherosclerosis.
5. Reduces pain
In a 2017 study, 139 athletes with knee pain took collagen peptides or a placebo for 12 weeks. Participants taking collagen peptides had less intense pain during activity and needed fewer additional interventions (like physical therapy or ice packs) to treat their pain.
Also, a 2021 study in 90 people ages 40 to 65 found that a collagen supplement reduced joint pain and stiffness better than a placebo.
6. Builds up your bones
Osteoporosis is a disease that causes reduced bone mass. This can cause bones to become fragile. But it is possible to combat this condition.
A 2016 review of research in humans, animals, and human cells in labs concluded that collagen supplements can be beneficial for osteoporosis.
In a 2018 study, 131 postmenopausal women took a daily collagen supplement for 12 months. They saw a significant increase in bone mineral density in their spines and femurs. The study also found improvement in indicators that suggest better bone formation and reduced bone deterioration.
But we need more research in humans before we can draw any major conclusions about these effects.
7. Strengthens your nails
A small 2017 study with 25 participants suggests that taking collagen peptides orally may help your nails grow faster and make them less likely to break.
Many supplements are marketed to help with hair growth or improve the quality of your hair and nails, but there’s not really much research to show how effective these specific blends are.
Those “hair, skin, and nails” supplements may contain collagen or other ingredients that marketers claim will help you build collagen, but we can’t say for sure that they work.
Pro tip: Look for a collagen supplement from a brand that is very clear about its source. Collagen is an animal product, so if ethical and humane sourcing is a priority for you, you may have to do some brand research.
Collagen supplements come in many forms, such as:
- flavorless collagen peptide powder
- flavored powders
- collagen gummies
- gummies or powders with other ingredients added (like vitamin C or caffeine)
For a few reasons, you might think twice before jumping on the collagen bandwagon:
- Collagen is typically an animal product (often sourced from cows, pigs, or fish), so it may not be compatible with a vegetarian lifestyle. Some vegan collagen products exist, but you’ll have to go out of your way to look for them.
- The collagen in some supplements may be derived from fish, which could be dangerous if you have a fish allergy. These products are also incompatible with vegetarian diets.
- Buyer beware: Supplement labels may not even specify the origin of the collagen or include an allergen warning.
Nutritional supplements aren’t regulated by the FDA the same way medications are. Supplements aren’t required to be independently tested for quality and accuracy of labeling.
In some cases, supplements might not actually contain the ingredients or amounts stated on the label, and they could be contaminated with other undisclosed substances.
Look for a brand that uses third-party testing to verify the purity and safety of its products and has plenty of independent reviews to back it up. And check with a healthcare pro to make sure a collagen product is safe for you before adding it to your supplement routine.
If mixing some collagen powder into your coffee isn’t your jam, there are other ways to get a little more in your diet or enhance your body’s production of collagen:
- Drink bone broth or eat flavored gummies or other jiggly snacks made from gelatin.
- Try topical collagen products for your skin.
- Eat a balanced diet so your body gets the nutrients it needs to make collagen.
- Make an effort to get enough vitamin C. It’s a key component in collagen production.
- Avoid smoking and getting too much sun — both zap your body’s collagen-making potential.
Collagen is a major building block of your body. Some research suggests that taking collagen supplements can improve skin, joint, bone, and muscle health — but more and larger studies in humans are still needed to explore these effects.
If you opt to join the Collagen Club, be sure you’re choosing a reputable product and get the OK from a healthcare professional before taking it.