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What Does Collagen Do? Uses and Benefits

Question: What Does Collagen Do?

Answer: Just about everything!

Read on to discover the purpose and benefits of collagen.

An image of foods rich in collagen, including salmon, avocado, eggs, nuts, tomatoes, and lemons, with text written on a small chalkboard that reads collagen.

 

What is Collagen?

Collagen is the most abundant protein in the body and an essential building block for the body. Its fibrous structure is used to make connective tissue that holds the skin, bones, and cartilage together. 

Its elastic nature adds stretch and flexibility to tissue. It is also responsible for healthy joints. After all, collagen is a significant component in the ligaments, cartilage, and tendons needed for the proper operation of the joints.

An infographic of the five most common types of collagen fibers with text that reads Collagen the five most common types. Collagen fiber. Type I bone and skin, Type II cartilage, Type III connective tissue, Type IV basement membrane, Type V hair.

Types of Collagen

Research has discovered 28 types of collagen. Here are four of the most common types: (1)

Type Iis the most plentiful type, comprising over 90% of the collagen in the human body. It is found in all connective tissue, teeth, and bones. (2)

Type II is the primary collagen found in cartilage. It's what gives collagen its strength and flexibility.

Type III is found in blood vessels, intestines, and skin. It helps blood to clot and wounds to heal.

Type IV helps form the primary barrier between tissue compartments. It is found within layers of the skin. It is also a component of the inner ear, eyes, and kidneys. (3)

What Are Collagen Peptides?

Collagen peptides, also called hydrolyzed collagen or collagen hydrolysate, are tiny pieces of collagen that are easily absorbed into the bloodstream. Their easy absorbability makes them the collagen of choice for most consumers and the one you'll see most often for sale online or on store shelves.

Does the Body Make Collagen?

Yes, the body naturally makes collagen, but it must rely on your diet to do so.

What Foods Boost Natural Collagen Production?

Your body needs amino acids, zinc, and vitamin C to make collagen.

Amino Acids

Your body breaks down the protein foods you consume into amino acids. Then, it uses three of these amino acids -- glycine, proline, and hydroxyproline -- to make collagen.

So, one of the best ways to boost natural collagen production is to eat foods rich in these amino acids, including:

  • Bone broth
  • Fish and shellfish
  • Soy
  • Egg whites
  • Dairy
  • Poultry
  • Legumes

Zinc

The mineral zinc is essential for collagen synthesis, and it also helps protect existing collagen from damage. A deficiency of this mineral can reduce the amount of collagen the body can produce, so it's crucial to eat zinc-rich foods, including:

  • Legumes
  • Nuts
  • Seeds
  • Meats
  • Shellfish
  • Whole grains
  • Soy products
An image of foods containing vitamin C, including an orange, kiwi, tomato, garlic, bell pepper, blueberries, lettuce, and bananas surrounding a small chalkboard with text that reads Vitamin C.

Vitamin C

Getting enough vitamin C is crucial to health in general and particularly essential for collagen production. Your body does not produce vitamin C, so you must get this nutrient through your diet. Foods containing vitamin C include:

  • Citrus fruits, i.e., orange, grapefruit
  • Bell peppers
  • Broccoli
  • Brussels Sprouts
  • Cauliflower
  • Kale
  • Lemons
  • Strawberries

Factors That Reduce Collagen Production

Here are a few factors that reduce collagen production.

A graphical side by side comparison of a young and older face showing the decrease in collagen and broken elastin with text that reads young skin, aging skin.

Age. Age is the number one reason for decreased collagen production. Research suggests that we lose around 1% of collagen per year after 25. As collagen declines, fine lines, wrinkles, and saggy skin appear.

Smoking. This habit is not only dangerous for health, but it also damages collagen.

Poor Quality Diet. Regularly consuming refined carbs, sugars, and processed meats can lead to inflammation that hardens and breaks the collagen.

Sleep deprivation. In a research paper, the authors noted: "A variety of studies in the literature have shown that sleep plays a role in restoring immune system function and that changes in the immune response may affect collagen production. Several studies of prolonged sleep deprivation suggest a break in skin barrier function and mucous membranes." (4)

Sun exposure -- Too much exposure to ultraviolet light can break down collagen and damage the ability of skin cells to rebuild appropriately, eventually leading to wrinkles.

An image of an orange sky with clouds and glowing sun.

Chronic stress. Research studies suggest that chronic stress decreases collagen production and increases its degradation. Stress can also affect skin quality through the modulation of the immune system. (5)

What Are The Benefits of Collagen Supplements?

There are several potential benefits of collagen supplementation. Here are just a few of them.

Helps Replace Age-Relating Collagen Loss

Let's start with the obvious and arguably the most important benefit: supplemental collagen's ability to replace age-related collagen loss. After all, why take exogenous (supplemental) collagen if it doesn't help replace collagen loss?

Researchers wanted to know the same thing, so they decided to, as they wrote, "review the literature and assess available randomized-controlled trials using collagen supplementation for treatment efficacy regarding skin quality, anti-aging benefits, and potential application in medical dermatology." (6)

An image of a mature smiling woman in a white bathrobe applying facial cream on her cheeks.

Their findings, published in the Journal of Drugs in Dermatology, were that short- and long-term usage of collagen supplementation was effective, at least regarding skin aging and wound healing.

Collagen's positive effect on the skin is one of the reasons it's often added to anti-aging skin creams.

Maintains Skin Health and Elasticity

In the same study above, researchers also found that "Oral collagen supplements also increase skin elasticity, hydration, and dermal collagen density." (7)

Other studies have reached the same conclusion. For example, in one double-blind, placebo-controlled study on 69 women aged 35 to 55, researchers observed a significantly higher skin elasticity in the older women after eight weeks of daily oral collagen supplementation. (8)

Translation? There is strong scientific evidence that collagen supplements may help improve skin elasticity, reducing wrinkling.

A cropped image of a young woman making a heart shape with her hands on her stomach.

May Improve Gut Health

Collagen supplementation is not usually associated with gut health, but scientific studies indicate that it may be effective in this area.

You see, the intestinal barrier is crucial for overall health and, if damaged, can allow dangerous substances to leak into the bloodstream, causing widespread inflammation. Dysfunction of the intestinal wall also plays a role in inflammatory bowel disease and other gastrointestinal issues. Research indicates that collagen may help improve intestinal barrier integrity. (9, 10)

The gut microbiota composition is crucial for gut health and overall health. Numerous research studies suggest a high intake of collagen peptides may alter the gut microbiota. Specifically, it may help increase short-chain fatty acid production, a top class of metabolites created from bacterial fermentation in the lower colon. (11)

So, if you want to obtain or maintain robust gut health, adding collagen peptides to your diet might be the way to go!

An image of a smiling, mature woman in pink exercise clothes holding a model of a heart up to her chest in the park.

May Support Heart Health

Research suggests that taking daily collagen supplements may even support cardiovascular health and defend against heart disease. Why? It seems that collagen adds structure and suppleness to the arteries that carry blood from your heart to the rest of the body.

Arteriosclerosis or "hardening of the arteries" -- a condition in which the arteries narrow and decrease blood flow -- is a significant cause of heart attack. It can gradually occur after decades of unhealthy lifestyle choices, such as poor quality diet and lack of exercise. Reduced collagen production can also negatively affect arterial walls and lead to atherosclerosis. (12)

And studies suggest that collagen supplements may help reverse arteriosclerosis, at least in the early stages. In a 2017 Japanese study, researchers observed a significant reduction in arterial stiffness in adults who took just 16 grams of collagen tripeptide for six months. (13)

May Ease Joint Pain and Improve Mobility

Next to skin health, collagen is most known for its positive effect on joint function. This is not surprising considering the amount of connective tissue involved in joint structure. There are many ways that collagen may ease joint pain and improve mobility.

First, it helps support cartilage, that rubber-like cushioning between joints. (Decreased cartilage is a primary factor in developing degenerative joint diseases like osteoarthritis.)

An  image of a mature woman massaging her arthritic hand and wrist.

Numerous research studies suggest that collagen can protect or rebuild collagen, thus preventing pain and discomfort potentially preventing the development of osteoarthritis. In one 24-week study on athletes given collagen hydrolysate, researchers noted statistically significant improvements in joint pain under the following conditions when compared with placebo: (14)

  • At rest
  • When walking
  • While standing
  • When carrying objects
  • When lifting objects

The results of this study are encouraging, especially for those at high risk of joint dysfunction and osteoarthritis.

And a 2019 meta-analysis of randomized placebo-controlled trials on those with osteoarthritis is similarly encouraging. In short, researchers found that oral collagen supplementation significantly reduced osteoarthritis symptoms in study participants. (15)

Are There Any Vegan Sources of Collagen?

Because collagen is always derived from animal sources, there are no vegan collagen options.

How Much Collagen Should You Take Per Day?

There are no official health guidelines regarding collagen intake. However, collagen is generally non-toxic and safe for human consumption.

What Are The Side Effects of Taking Collagen Supplements?

Supplemental collagen side effects are generally mild and may include diarrhea, skin rashes, and/or a sensation of heaviness in your stomach. However, most people do not experience any adverse effects when taking collagen.

But if you have trouble digesting animal proteins, you should probably steer clear of collagen.

Collagen Summary

Collagen is the most abundant protein in the body.

There are 28 types of collagen.

Collagen peptides, also called hydrolyzed collagen, are the most absorbable form and the one most commonly used in supplements.

Collagen supplements are always derived from animal sources. Therefore, there are no vegan sources of collagen.

Collagen is commonly used in anti-aging skin creams as there is strong scientific evidence that it can improve skin elasticity and hydration, reducing fine lines and wrinkles.

Other health benefits of collagen include supporting gut health, reducing the risk of heart disease, easing joint pain, and more.

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An image of a bag of SANE Youthful Glow Collagen Peptides powder.
References

1- https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK507709/

2- https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK507709/

3- https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3289483/

4- https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S030698771000246X?via%3Dihub

5- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19523511/

6- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30681787/

7- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30681787/

8- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23949208/

9- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28174772/

10- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32902315/

11- https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1756464620305028

12- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22290157/

13- https://organixx.com/collagen-and-heart-health/

14- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18416885/

15- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30368550

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