The health benefits of collagen are numerous, which likely explains its popularity and sales growth.
According to Grand View Research:
"The global collagen market size was valued at USD 8.36 billion in 2020 and is expected to expand at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 9.0% from 2020 to 2028." (1)
Collagen's increasing use in food, beverages, and cosmetics spurs this growth. But does collagen supplementation really provide any health benefits, or is it just the newest fad?
Science suggests that collagen does indeed provide numerous health and beauty benefits.
But before we get into those, let's discuss collagen in general.
What is Collagen?
Collagen is the most abundant structural protein in humans, making up a third of the total protein in the body. It is part of the connective tissue that holds cells and tissues together, making it essential for survival.
The word collagen is derived from the Greek word kólla, which means glue. This is an apt description, as collagen is indeed the glue that holds the body together!
Collagen's anti-aging properties are well known, but several other clinically proven benefits of this supplement are not so well known.
Does the Body Make Collagen?
Yes, the body naturally produces collagen, but it relies on your diet to do so. Collagen is made by combining the following nutrients from your diet:
Amino acids: You obtain this from consuming protein-rich foods like beef, chicken, eggs, and dairy products.
Vitamin C: You can get this from citrus fruits, green peppers, broccoli, cauliflower, and other foods.
Zinc: You can get this mineral by eating grass-fed beef, shellfish, pumpkin seeds, legumes, and other foods.
Copper: You can get copper by eating seafood, potatoes, cashews, salmon, and many high-zinc foods.
Eating these foods can boost collagen production.
If My Body Makes it, Why Do I Need Collagen Supplements?
As we age, collagen production gradually decreases. Existing collagen also starts breaking down. Research suggests that this process begins as young as 25. By the age of 40, collagen levels fall dramatically. (2)
One reason for this effect is that nutrients are not as efficiently absorbed or synthesized as you get older, which prevents the body from making adequate collagen.
As collagen makes up 70% to 80% of the skin, a minor reduction can show as dry skin, wrinkles, and fine lines, especially in the face.
What's the Difference Between Collagen and Collagen Peptides?
The main difference is that collagen peptides (also called hydrolyzed collagen) are made of much shorter chains of fatty acids than collagen. This allows them to be more easily absorbed into the bloodstream. For this reason, most collagen products on the market today are peptides.
Health Benefits of Collagen
Let's start with the most well-known collagen benefit -- healthy skin.
Along with hyaluronic acid, collagen helps give skin its youthful appearance. Hyaluronic acid draws moisture from the air into the skin, making it essential for skin hydration. There is a theory that it also helps trigger collagen production, and there is some scientific evidence for this effect.
For example, one study showed that injecting hyaluronic acid into the skin stimulated collagen synthesis, thus partially repairing parts of photodamaged skin. (3)
And numerous clinical research studies show the anti-aging effect of collagen, especially regarding the skin.
For example, researchers analyzed several randomized, placebo-controlled research studies on collagen in one literature review. The participants in these studies took up to 10 grams per day of oral collagen supplementation per day for several weeks. The results? The collagen supplements appeared to improve skin elasticity and hydration. It also increases collagen fiber density within the skin. (4)
Since collagen is an essential component of connective tissues, it makes sense that it would be helpful to relieve joint pain. After all, the joints are held together by connective tissues.
The connective tissue in joints consists of ligaments, cartilage, and tendons. Overuse or incorrect use of joints can damage them, causing excruciating pain and even disability. (Gradual wear and tear of the cartilage are also quite common, eventually leading to osteoarthritis.)
Though few easy fixes for joint pain and discomfort exist, studies suggest that collagen supplements offer some relief.
For example, in one study, athletes with knee pain were given 5 mg of collagen peptides per day for 12 weeks. The results? Those taking the collagen supplements had less joint pain while exercising than the placebo group. (5)
Believe it or not, there is evidence that regular collagen supplementation may help improve gut health.
Collagen contains glutamine, an amino acid shown to support gut barrier integrity. Specifically, it helps keep the "tight junctions" in the gut lining strong so foreign particles and toxins cannot escape the bloodstream. (6)
The glutamine in collagen may also reduce gut inflammation. (7) Research shows that inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract can lead to imbalanced gut bacteria -- a condition called gut dysbiosis -- that alters the function and diversity of gut bacteria. Dysbiosis negatively impacts overall health. In addition, inflammation can cause leaky gut syndrome allowing toxins to leak into the bloodstream, causing more health problems.
What is gut health so important?
In the past few years, researchers have discovered that microbes in the gut are not just involved with digestive matters. Instead, they significantly influence overall health. Conditions associated with poor gut health include:
Sluggish immune system
Frequent digestive upsets
Skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis
Chronic fatigue syndrome
Inflammatory bowel diseases
Frequent illnesses or infections
And many more
So, healing your gut with collagen supplements may help reduce your risk of numerous other conditions. How great is that?
Heart disease is the #1 killer of men and women in the United States.
Coronary artery disease (CAD) is the most common type of heart disease. It occurs when arteries that supply blood to the heart become hardened and narrowed.
You can make many lifestyle modifications to reduce your risk of developing CAD, and one of the most significant appears to be daily collagen supplementation.
How can collagen prevent this disease? Research shows that collagen can reduce arterial stiffness and inflammation, allowing blood to flow freely through the arteries. It can also reduce "bad" cholesterol levels that can, in turn, reduce your risk of CAD. (8)
The last collagen benefit we have time to cover here is bone health. Though bone may seem unchangeable, especially in the younger years, it is a living tissue that constantly renews itself. Indeed, you have a new skeleton every ten years.
In your early 20s, bone renewal outpaces bone loss. But in your mid-20s, the reverse starts happening -- bone loss outpaces renewal. In other words, bone densitydecreasesas you age. It's a gradual process at first, but then it accelerates in midlife, increasing the risk of osteoporosis.
Here, again, collagen may help.
You see, collagen is naturally found in bone, and several studies indicate that collagen supplements may help prevent bone loss and increase bone formation. In one randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind trial -- the gold standard in science -- post-menopausal women taking collagen peptide supplements for 12 months significantly improved their bone density compared with the control group. (9)
Is Collagen Safe to Take?
By now, you must be thinking, "Collagen is so great there must be some major side effects!"
According to Medline Plus, "Collagen peptides have been safely used in doses up to 10 grams daily for up to 5 months. Side effects are rare." (10)
With that said, here are a few rare side effects that can occur when supplementing with collagen.
A feeling of heaviness in the abdominal area
You must check with your doctor before taking this or any other nutritional supplement.
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