You’ve heard it said by health experts, beauty gurus, and possibly even your best friend. Collagen is the new buzzword on everyone’s lips, and it can now be found in just about everything — from creams and cosmetics, to powders and pills. And the truth is, this may be one instance where the hype is actually warranted.
As the most abundant protein in the body, collagen is available in your muscles, skin, blood, bones, cartilage, and ligaments. You may want to consider squeezing in an extra serving of this vital protein for several reasons, as collagen is a building block that promotes skin elasticity, holds your bones and muscles together, protects your organs and provides structure to joints and tendons.
The good news is that your body produces collagen on a regular basis. But, it does slow down with age. Other lifestyle habits that can bring collagen production to a screeching halt include smoking, sun exposure, and an unhealthy diet. Some health conditions may also deplete your collagen storage. And without this important building block, you may start to see wrinkles and sagging skin, or even experience joint pain.
Top Five Benefits of Collagen
- May ease joint pain
As your cartilage weakens and deteriorates with age, you may start to feel stiff, achy joints. It’s possible that upping your collagen intake may help reduce joint pain and alleviate symptoms of arthritis. In a 2009 study, participants took a type II collagen supplement made from chicken necks for 90 days. Results showed that osteoarthritis symptoms decreased by 40 percent while the severity of symptoms dropped by an impressive 33 percent.
In an older study from 1993 with the same collagen supplement, participants with severe rheumatoid arthritis saw a reduced number of swollen and tender joints — 4 out of 60 participants also experienced complete remission. This supplement was undenatured, meaning that the amino acids weren’t broken down as a result of processing and exposure to high heat.
- May reverse skin aging
One of the most well-known benefits of collagen is its ability to promote glowing, vibrant skin. This essential protein provides elasticity to the skin, helping it to appear more youthful and healthy. But as you get older and collagen production declines, fine lines, loose skin, and dryness can occur.
A study published in 2014 randomly chose 46 out of 69 women, ages 35 to 55 years old, to take a collagen hydrolysate supplement.
The rest of the group took a placebo. The women who took the collagen showed an improvement in skin elasticity within four weeks. The same manufacturer also conducted another study in 2014 with the same supplement, which significantly reduced wrinkles after just eight weeks.
- Helps build muscle and burn fat
Collagen is a major component of muscle tissue, so it should come as no surprise that it can have a big impact when it comes to building muscle mass. Plus, collagen also contains a concentrated amount of glycine, an amino acid involved in the synthesis of creatine. This can provide muscles with the fuel needed to power through your workout. There’s not much research on collagen and exercise, but a study in 2015 looked at collagen supplements in 53 older males with sarcopenia, a condition where you lose muscle mass due to aging. After 12 weeks, those who took supplements along with resistance training saw an increase in fat loss and muscle strength more than the placebo group.
- May reduce cellulite
Besides keeping your skin healthy and glowing, collagen may also help improve the appearance of stubborn cellulite. Cellulite is when the layer of fat under the skin pushes up against the connective tissue, creating a dimpled or lumpy appearance on the skin. However cellulite is incredibly common; it is a natural part of aging and skin formation and not a cause for concern.
A study was sponsored in 2015 by manufacturers to see what type I collagen would do for cellulite. They randomly assigned 105 women, ages 24 to 50, to take collagen peptides for six months. Those who did demonstrated a clear improvement in skin texture and waviness.
- May improve digestive health
Collagen is in the gut’s connective tissue and can help support and strengthen the protective lining of your digestive tract. This is critically important because alterations in the barrier function of your intestine, also known as leaky gut syndrome, can allow particles to pass into the bloodstream. This may result in inflammation.
In fact, an older study from 2003 looked at 170 individuals with inflammatory bowel disease and found that they were more likely to have lower levels of serum collagen. So the current theory is that by increasing your intake of collagen, you could help build up the tissues that line your gastrointestinal tract and promote better gut health. However, current research is limited on the direct effects of collagen supplementation on the digestive system.
How to Add Collagen to Your Diet
Here are a few easy ways to kick up your collagen intake:
- Experiment with bone broth
Bone broth is made by simmering bones to help extract the flavor and beneficial nutrients. Not only is it an excellent source of collagen, but it’s also tasty and easy to add to your diet. Use it to make soups and stews, cook whole grains like rice and quinoa, and even to moisten leftovers. You can easily make bone broth at home, or save time by purchasing it in powder form.
- Try out powdered gelatin
Gelatin is essentially the cooked form of collagen, and powdered gelatin can be a quick and convenient way to bump up your collagen consumption. It can be mixed into any liquid, including soups, stews, and broths. You can also enjoy it in a cup of keto coffee or use it to satisfy your sweet tooth by making homemade jelly or natural fruit snacks.
- Supplement with collagen peptides
Collagen peptides are another easy option to get your fix of this important amino acid. Most brands sell hydrolyzed collagen peptides, which means that the amino acids in collagen have been broken down so that they’re more easily digested and absorbed. Collagen powder can also be added to smoothies, hot beverages, or baked goods to pump some extra protein into your day.
What Science Says About Collagen
Whether or not taking additional collagen supplements will help your ails is up to your individual condition and lifestyle. Research appears to support collagen supplements for older people and people with conditions like arthritis, but an otherwise healthy person with a balanced diet may not see any benefits.
That said, there are also plenty of natural ways to get in your daily dose of this superstar nutrient each day. If you want to consume collagen naturally, eat a well-balanced, high-protein diet that includes animal products. Collagen is in beef, chicken, fish, and egg whites.
But you don’t want to eat too much protein, either. Your body doesn’t tell the collagen where to go. Instead, it distributes the collagen like it would any other nutrient. So taking collagen supplements works much like exercise — it’s difficult to target a specific need, but increasing your intake could still have benefits.