Collagen Supplements: How Do They Work, Its Benefits and Side Effects

Collagen is one of the most abundant proteins found in the body. It performs many vital roles in the body, including helping your blood clot and providing structure to the skin. Collagen provides essential structural support to the connective tissues, muscles, and skin. Connective tissues make up various body parts, including your muscles, skin, ligaments, and tendons. Collagen also strengthens the bones.1

Our bodies manufacture collagen naturally. However, over time as we continue aging, the production of collagen starts to slow down. Due to this, you may notice that your skin starts to lose its ability to bounce back into shape or loses its elasticity. As the skin begins to lose its elasticity, wrinkles start to form.

Even though there are many foods that contain collagen, such as bone broth, in recent years, many people have started taking supplements of collagen to maintain wrinkle-free skin and reap the health benefits of collagen.2

Read on to find out more about collagen supplements and the many health benefits they offer.

What are Collagen Supplements and How Do They Work?

A majority of people take collagen supplements in order to increase the amount of collagen in their diet. Most collagen supplements undergo a process known as hydrolyzation. This means that the manufacturer has broken down the collagen present in the supplements into peptides, thus making it easier for the body to absorb and use the collagen.

However, whether or not collagen supplements are actually beneficial or not depends on what you are using collagen for. There are many health benefits associated with collagen supplements, though all the alleged benefits have not been proven scientifically.3,4 When it comes to regulating supplements, though, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not evaluate any claims that manufacturers make on how well their collagen supplement works.5

Collagen supplements are readily available online and in most drugstores. They can be taken in the form of capsules, tablets, and powders.

Benefits of Taking Collagen Supplements

Here are some of the major scientifically proven health benefits of taking collagen supplements.

1. Collagen Supplements Help Improve Your Skin Health

Collagen is a major component of your skin and plays a vital role in strengthening and giving shape to the skin. It offers benefits like elasticity and hydration to the skin. However, as you start to age, the body produces less and less collagen, which causes dry skin and leads to the formation of wrinkles.6

However, numerous studies have shown that collagen supplements or collagen peptides that contain collagen may help slow down the aging of your skin and reduce the formation of wrinkles and prevent dryness.7,8,9

In a 2014 study, women who were given a collagen supplement with 2.5 to 5 grams of collagen for a period of eight weeks experienced a dramatic increase in skin elasticity and a significant reduction in skin dryness as compared to women who did not take the collagen supplement.8

Another study discovered that women who regularly drank a beverage combined with a collagen supplement daily for a period of 12 weeks experienced a dramatic reduction in wrinkle depth and increased skin hydration as compared to a control group.10

The wrinkling reducing effects of collagen supplements is believed to be because of their capability to stimulate the body to manufacture collagen on its own.6 Furthermore, taking collagen supplements is also thought to enhance the production of other proteins that help provide structure to your skin, like fibrillin and elastin.1112

Simultaneously, there are many other anecdotal claims as well attributed to collagen supplements that they can also prevent the development of acne and other skin conditions, but currently, there is no scientific evidence to support these claims.

2. Collagen Can Improve Muscle Mass

Around 1 to 10 percent of muscle tissue is made up of collage. The collagen protein is required by the body to keep the muscles strong and to ensure they keep functioning properly.13

Various studies have shown that taking collagen supplements can help enhance muscle mass in people with sarcopenia, which is a condition marked by loss of muscle mass that happens as you age.

A 2015 study that was carried out on 27 frail men who were given 15 grams of collagen while taking part in an exercising program daily for a period of 12 weeks. Compared with men who exercised but were not given the collagen supplement, the group that took the collagen supplement gained significantly more muscle strength and mass.14

The research team even suggested that taking collagen supplements may boost the synthesis of muscle proteins like creatine and also stimulate muscle growth after exercise. However, there is a need for more research to investigate the exact potential of collagen to promote muscle mass.

3. Collagen Can Help Relieve Joint Pain

Collagen is known to help in maintaining the integrity of cartilage. Cartilage is the rubber-like tissue that helps in protecting the joints. As the amount of collagen decreases with age, the risk of developing degenerative joint disorders such as osteoarthritis goes up.

Various studies have shown that taking supplements of collagen can help reduce overall joint pain and also improve the symptoms of osteoarthritis.15

In a 2008 study, 73 athletes were given 10 grams of collagen every day for 24 weeks. The participants experienced a dramatic decrease in joint pain while walking and at rest, as compared to the control group that did not take collagen.16

In another 2012 study, participants were given two grams of collagen every day for a period of 70 days. The participants who were given collagen experienced a drastic reduction in joint pain and were able to better participate in physical activity as compared to those adults who did not take the collagen.17

Scientists believe that supplemental collagen can actually build up in the cartilage in the body and thus stimulate your tissues to produce collagen again. Researchers have also suggested that this is what lowers inflammation, provides better support to the joints, and also reduces pain associated with degenerative diseases as you age.18

If you want to take a collagen supplement for benefiting from its pain-relieving effects, studies show that you should ideally begin with a daily dose of 8 to 12 grams.19

4. Collagen Can Prevent Bone Loss

Since your bones are primarily made up of collagen, it is believed that collagen supplementation can help prevent bone loss. Collagen provides structure to your bones and also helps keep them strong.20

Just as the collagen production of the body starts to decline with age, so does your bone and muscle mass. This increases the risk of developing conditions like osteoporosis, a condition characterized by low bone density and a higher risk of bone fractures.21

Research has shown that taking collagen supplements can have specific impacts on the body that helps restrict the breakdown of bone that causes osteoporosis. A 2015 study done on women who were taking either a calcium supplement combined with just 5 grams of collagen or only a calcium supplement with no collagen every day for 12 months found that the group of women who took the calcium and collagen supplement together had drastically lower blood levels of proteins that boost bone breakdown than the women who were only taking calcium supplement.22

Another research study also found similar results in a group of 66 women participants who took five grams of collagen every day for 12 months. The women who consumed the collagen supplement had an increase of nearly seven percent in their bone mineral density (BMD), as compared to women who did not take the collagen supplements.23

BMD is a measure of the density of minerals like calcium in the bones. Low BMD is typically associated with weak bones and the development of degenerative diseases like osteoporosis.24

The results of these studies have been promising, but more human studies are still required to confirm the role of collagen supplements in aiding bone health.

5. Collagen Helps Boost Heart Health

Scientists have found that taking supplements of collagen can help decrease the risk of heart-related conditions. Collagen is responsible for giving structure to the arteries. Arteries are blood vessels that transport blood from the heart to the rest of the body. However, when there is not enough collagen, the arteries can become fragile and weak. This may cause atherosclerosis, a condition marked by the narrowing of the arteries. Atherosclerosis increases the risk of having a stroke and heart attack.25

In a 2016 study, 31 healthy adults were given 16 grams of collagen every day for six months. At the end of the time period, they experienced a marked reduction in measures of artery stiffness as compared with what they had before they began taking the collagen supplement.26

Additionally, the supplements also increased the levels of good (HDL) cholesterol in the participants by an average of six percent. HDL cholesterol is a significant risk factor in heart-related conditions, including atherosclerosis.

6. Other Health Benefits Associated with Collagen Supplements

Collagen supplements are known to have many other health benefits as well, but these benefits have not been researched extensively. These include:

  • Benefits For The Hair And Nails: Taking collagen supplements may boost the strength of nails as it prevents brittleness. Furthermore, it can also boost your nails and hair to grow longer.27
  • Benefits Of Gut Health: While there is no evidence to support the benefits associated with gut health, some doctors believe that using collagen supplements can help in the treatment of intestinal permeability, or a condition known as leaky gut syndrome.28
  • Benefits for Weight Loss: Some scientists believe that taking collagen supplements can help promote weight loss and also improve your metabolism. However, there are no studies to support these claims.
  • Benefits for Brain Health: To date, there are no studies that have examined the role of collagen supplementation and brain health. However, there are some anecdotal claims that say that collagen supplements can improve mood and also reduce the symptoms of anxiety.

Can You Get Collagen From Foods?

Collagen can naturally be found in the connecting tissues of animals as well. If you don’t want to take collagen supplements, you can also increase your intake of collagen-rich foods like chicken skin, beef, fish, and pork skin.

Foods that are rich in gelatin, such as bone broth, also contain collagen. Gelatin is a protein that is derived from collagen itself after it gets cooked.

However, more research is still needed to firmly establish if eating collagen-rich foods help boost the collagen levels in the body. At the same time, there have not been any human studies on whether collagen-containing foods have the same benefits as taking collagen supplements.

Digestive enzymes help break down the collagen in foods into individual peptides and amino acids. However, the collagen present in supplements has also already been broken down or hydrolyzed. This is believed to help the supplement get absorbed more effectively than the collagen that is found in foods.

Are There Any Side Effects Of Taking Collagen Supplements?

As of now, there are no known risks or side effects associated with taking collagen supplements. However, some supplements are known to be manufactured from common food allergens, such as eggs, shellfish, and eggs. People who are allergic to these foods should avoid taking collagen supplements that are made with these ingredients so as to prevent any allergic reactions.

Some people have also experienced having a bad taste in their mouth after taking the supplements. Furthermore, while taking collagen supplements also have the potential to cause digestive side effects, including heartburn and bloating.

Nevertheless, collagen supplements have been shown to be safe for most people.

Conclusion

Taking collagen supplements has many health benefits and very few known side effects. To begin with, collagen supplements improve your skin health as it reduces dryness and wrinkles. These supplements also help prevent bone loss, increase muscle mass, and relieve joint pain.

While people have reported experiencing many other benefits of taking collagen supplements, but there is not much evidence to prove these claims.

References:

  1. Lodish, H., Berk, A., Zipursky, S., Matsudaira, P., Baltimore, D. and Darnell, J., 2021. Collagen: The Fibrous Proteins of the Matrix. [online] Ncbi.nlm.nih.gov. Available at: <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK21582/> [Accessed 11 April 2021]
  2. Aust, M.C., Fernandes, D., Kolokythas, P., Kaplan, H.M. and Vogt, P.M., 2008. Percutaneous collagen induction therapy: an alternative treatment for scars, wrinkles, and skin laxity. Plastic and reconstructive surgery, 121(4), pp.1421-1429
  3. Blackburn, N.J., Sofrenovic, T., Kuraitis, D., Ahmadi, A., McNeill, B., Deng, C., Rayner, K.J., Zhong, Z., Ruel, M. and Suuronen, E.J., 2015. Timing underpins the benefits associated with injectable collagen biomaterial therapy for the treatment of myocardial infarction. Biomaterials, 39, pp.182-192
  4. Choi, F.D., Sung, C.T., Juhasz, M.L. and Mesinkovsk, N.A., 2019. Oral collagen supplementation: a systematic review of dermatological applications. Journal of drugs in dermatology: JDD, 18(1), pp.9-16
  5. Grossman, L., 2007. FDA Jurisdiction: A Matter of Definitions in Food & Drug Law: Cases and Materials
  6. Ganceviciene, R., Liakou, A.I., Theodoridis, A., Makrantonaki, E. and Zouboulis, C.C., 2012. Skin anti-aging strategies. Dermato-endocrinology, 4(3), pp.308-319
  7. ResearchGate. 2021. (PDF) Oral Intake of Specific Bioactive Collagen Peptides Reduces Skin Wrinkles and Increases Dermal Matrix Synthesis. [online] Available at: <https://www.researchgate.net/publication/259628887> [Accessed 11 April 2021]
  8. Proksch, E., Segger, D., Degwert, J., Schunck, M., Zague, V. and Oesser, S., 2014. Oral supplementation of specific collagen peptides has beneficial effects on human skin physiology: a double-blind, placebo-controlled study. Skin pharmacology and physiology, 27(1), pp.47-55.
  9. Borumand, M. and Sibilla, S., 2014. Daily consumption of the collagen supplement Pure Gold Collagen® reduces visible signs of aging. Clinical Interventions in Aging, 9, p.1747
  10. Borumand, M. and Sibilla, S., 2015. Effects of a nutritional supplement containing collagen peptides on skin elasticity, hydration and wrinkles. Journal of Medical Nutrition and Nutraceuticals, 4(1), p.47
  11. Oxlund, H., Manschot, J. and Viidik, A., 1988. The role of elastin in the mechanical properties of skin. Journal of biomechanics, 21(3), pp.213-218.
  12. Eckersley, A., Mellody, K.T., Pilkington, S., Griffiths, C.E., Watson, R.E., O’Cualain, R., Baldock, C., Knight, D. and Sherratt, M.J., 2018. Structural and compositional diversity of fibrillin microfibrils in human tissues. Journal of Biological Chemistry, 293(14), pp.5117-5133
  13. Gillies, A.R. and Lieber, R.L., 2011. Structure and function of the skeletal muscle extracellular matrix. Muscle & nerve, 44(3), pp.318-331.
  14. Zdzieblik, D., Oesser, S., Baumstark, M.W., Gollhofer, A. and König, D., 2015. Collagen peptide supplementation in combination with resistance training improves body composition and increases muscle strength in elderly sarcopenic men: a randomised controlled trial. British Journal of Nutrition, 114(8), pp.1237-1245.
  15. Walker, G.D., Fischer, M., Gannon, J., Thompson Jr, R.C. and Oegema Jr, T.R., 1995. Expression of type‐X collagen in osteoarthritis. Journal of Orthopaedic Research, 13(1), pp.4-12.
  16. Clark, K.L., Sebastianelli, W., Flechsenhar, K.R., Aukermann, D.F., Meza, F., Millard, R.L., Deitch, J.R., Sherbondy, P.S. and Albert, A., 2008. 24-Week study on the use of collagen hydrolysate as a dietary supplement in athletes with activity-related joint pain. Current medical research and opinion, 24(5), pp.1485-1496
  17. Schauss, A.G., Stenehjem, J., Park, J., Endres, J.R. and Clewell, A., 2012. Effect of the novel low molecular weight hydrolyzed chicken sternal cartilage extract, BioCell Collagen, on improving osteoarthritis-related symptoms: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. Journal of agricultural and food chemistry, 60(16), pp.4096-4101.
  18. Bello, A.E. and Oesser, S., 2006. Collagen hydrolysate for the treatment of osteoarthritis and other joint disorders: a review of the literature. Current medical research and opinion, 22(11), pp.2221-2232.
  19. Bello, A.E. and Oesser, S., 2006. Collagen hydrolysate for the treatment of osteoarthritis and other joint disorders: a review of the literature. Current medical research and opinion, 22(11), pp.2221-2232.
  20. Viguet-Carrin, S., Garnero, P. and Delmas, P.D., 2006. The role of collagen in bone strength. Osteoporosis international, 17(3), pp.319-336.
  21. Drake, M.T., Clarke, B.L. and Lewiecki, E.M., 2015. The pathophysiology and treatment of osteoporosis. Clinical therapeutics, 37(8), pp.1837-1850.
  22. Elam, M.L., Johnson, S.A., Hooshmand, S., Feresin, R.G., Payton, M.E., Gu, J. and Arjmandi, B.H., 2015. A calcium-collagen chelate dietary supplement attenuates bone loss in postmenopausal women with osteopenia: a randomized controlled trial. Journal of medicinal food, 18(3), pp.324-331.
  23. König, D., Oesser, S., Scharla, S., Zdzieblik, D. and Gollhofer, A., 2018. Specific collagen peptides improve bone mineral density and bone markers in postmenopausal women—A randomized controlled study. Nutrients, 10(1), p.97.
  24. Cefalu, C.A., 2004. Is bone mineral density predictive of fracture risk reduction?. Current medical research and opinion, 20(3), pp.341-349.
  25. Rekhter, M.D., 1999. Collagen synthesis in atherosclerosis: too much and not enough. Cardiovascular research, 41(2), pp.376-384.
  26. Tomosugi, N., Yamamoto, S., Takeuchi, M., Yonekura, H., Ishigaki, Y., Numata, N., Katsuda, S. and Sakai, Y., 2016. Effect of collagen tripeptide on atherosclerosis in healthy humans. Journal of atherosclerosis and thrombosis, p.36293.
  27. Hexsel, D., Zague, V., Schunck, M., Siega, C., Camozzato, F.O. and Oesser, S., 2017. Oral supplementation with specific bioactive collagen peptides improves nail growth and reduces symptoms of brittle nails. Journal of cosmetic dermatology, 16(4), pp.520-526.
  28. Obrenovich, M.E., 2018. Leaky gut, leaky brain?. Microorganisms, 6(4), p.107.

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