Do collagen supplements work? They may benefit your skin, joint, and bone health
- Collagen supplements may benefit the
healthof your skin, joints, and bones.
- In fact, some studies have found that taking a hydrolyzed collagen supplement each day can boost the skin's elasticity and hydration.
- Collagen supplementation can also be helpful in the treatment of bone diseases like osteoporosis.
- This article was reviewed by Jason R. McKnight, MD, MS, a family medicine physician and clinical assistant professor at Texas A&M College of Medicine.
As you age, you start to produce less collagen — a protein that helps give structure to your tendons, bones, and skin. Lower levels of collagen can lead to painful joints and aging skin.
That's why people turn to supplements to replenish lost collagen. But more research is still needed to determine how well collagen supplements actually work.
Here's what researchers know so far about collagen supplements and under what circumstances they may be effective.
What is collagen?
Collagen is an abundant protein in the body that acts as a building block to form the structure of your bones, skin, cartilage, and tendons.
There are many types of collagen, but most of the collagen in your body falls into one of three types:
- Type I: This type of collagen can be found throughout your whole body, but it is especially important for the structure of your skin, your tendons, and your bones.
- Type II: This type of collagen is the main building block of cartilage, the springy tissue that connects your joints and is important in the structure of your body.
- Type III: This type of collagen makes up the structure of large blood vessels like arteries and internal organs like your intestines.
"We slowly lose collagen starting in our mid-20s, and women can lose up to 30% in the first five years of menopause," says Ohara Aivaz, MD, a dermatologist at Cedars Sinai Medical Center. This loss can affect all areas of your body, including the elasticity of your skin and the strength of your bones and joints.
Types of collagen supplements
Collagen supplements can have all three types of collagen, depending on what they are used for. For example, a supplement targeted toward skin health would use mainly type I collagen.
"Collagen supplementation has been viewed as a proverbial fountain of youth," says Aivaz. But more research is still needed to see if collagen supplements can truly slow the effects of aging.
You can find collagen supplements at pharmacies and certain grocery stores in the form of pills, powders, or specialized drinks. When collagen is made into a supplement, it can become either gelatin, hydrolyzed collagen, or undenatured collagen, depending on how it is processed.
- Gelatin is collagen that has been broken down into smaller protein components – for example, in the process of boiling bone and cartilage into bone broth. There are very few studies looking at how gelatin affects bone or skin health.
- Hydrolyzed collagen is collagen that has been broken down even further into the amino acids that make up proteins. This form of collagen supplement may work better than gelatin, as it is more easily available to your body's tissues.
- Undenatured type II collagen (UC-II) is used to treat conditions like rheumatoid arthritis and lupus that cause your immune system to destroy the collagen in your body. Introducing very small doses of UC-II over time can help build up your body's tolerance to collagen and stop this destructive immune reaction.
Benefits of collagen supplements
Taking collagen supplements can have benefits throughout the entire body. Here's what the research says about how they can boost health.
The science is mixed on whether collagen supplements can actually boost collagen production and improve skin elasticity and hydration. Some small studies have found promising results, but it's unclear if they apply to a wider population.
A 2018 review of 11 studies found that people who took a hydrolyzed collagen supplement every day for at least a month saw increases in their skin's elasticity and hydration level.
The collagen doses ranged from 2.5g to 10g and some studies lasted as long as 6 months. However, it was unclear from the review which dose was most effective over which time period. But higher doses may work better for anti-aging effects.
Moreover, most people who seem to benefit from collagen supplements already suffer from sagging skin or weak bones, so while it may have benefits for treating existing ailments, its preventative measures are unclear.
Collagen helps keep your joints healthy because it contains key amino acids like proline and glycine. Collagen also makes up much of your cartilage, which acts as a cushion between the bones of your joints.
Studies show that taking UC-II and hydrolyzed collagen supplements can help treat osteoarthritis, a painful condition that occurs when the cartilage between your joints wears down.
In a 2009 study, people with osteoarthritis who took 10g of UC-II each day had reduced pain in their knees after three months of treatment. However, these benefits faded after the participants stopped taking supplements.
In another study, people who took a 1.2g hydrolyzed collagen supplement each day saw improvements in pain in their arm and leg joints as well as their lower back, but only after six months of treatment.
Researchers have been studying collagen supplements as a treatment for bone diseases like osteoporosis and osteoarthritis for over a decade, Aivaz says.
"Collagen is the main protein in bones," Aivaz says. As you age and produce less collagen, your bones become less dense, putting you at greater risk for pain, poor posture, and bone breaks.
A review of 9 studies published in 2020 in the World Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences found that taking hydrolyzed collagen supplements may help to prevent and treat bone disease. In these studies, collagen supplements were linked to lower pain levels, higher bone density, and less erosion of joint cartilage.
Although more research is still needed on the optimal collagen dosage, the researchers found that the people who took 12g of collagen per day and continued treatment for 6 months had the most improvements to their bone health.
The bottom line
Though collagen supplements may offer health benefits, dietary supplements are not approved by the FDA so there is a potential for contamination, Aivaz says. Also, individual results may vary and some people could see an improvement with collagen supplements, while others may not.
To make sure that you are getting good quality supplements, look for products with labels showing that they have been approved by independent groups like the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the United States Pharmacopeia (USP), Aivaz says. Talk to your doctor about the right dose for you.
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