What Is Collagen?
Collagen is a type of protein. Certain foods, such as animal skin and ligaments, are rich in collagen. Collagen is also available as a supplement.
Many people hoping to support the health of their skin, joints, and hair pop collagen supplements daily or add collagen powder to their morning coffee, tea, or smoothie.
Even though the use of collagen supplements and other collagen products is on the rise, most people don’t know what collagen actually is or what it does in the body.
What is collagen and why is it important?
Collagen is a type of protein. In fact, it’s the most abundant structural protein in animals. A structural protein is one that makes up the structure or framework of your cells and tissues.
e 28 known types of collagen, with type I collagen accounting for 90% of the collagen in the human body.
Collagen is composed mainly of the amino acids glycine, proline, and hydroxyproline. These amino acids form three strands, which make up the triple-helix structure characteristic of collagen.
Collagen is found in connective tissue, skin, tendons, bones, and cartilage. It provides structural support to tissues and plays important roles in cellular processes, including
- tissue repair
- immune response
- cellular communication
- cellular migration, a process necessary for tissue maintenance
Connective tissue cells called fibroblasts produce and maintain collagen. As people grow older, their collagen becomes fragmented, fibroblast function becomes impaired, and collagen production slows.
These changes, along with the loss of another key structural protein called elastin, lead to signs of aging such as sagging skin and wrinkles.
Your body naturally produces collagen, and you can consume it through dietary sources such as chicken skin and fish skin as well as collagen supplements.
Oral and topical collagen products like supplements and face creams are popular for treating signs of aging such as wrinkles, loss of skin hydration, and joint pain.
You can buy collagen in powder, capsule, and liquid form.
You can take it as a supplement or add it to beverages — both hot and cold — and foods such as oatmeal, yogurt, and energy balls.
Healthcare professionals also use collagen and collagen-based materials in the medical field, including in treating wounds, burns, and diabetic ulcers.
Additionally, cosmetics companies use collagen in products like moisturizers and serums because of its moisturizing and humectant properties.
What causes collagen loss?
As you age, your collagen production naturally declines. Additionally, collagen becomes fragmented and more loosely distributed.
These changes lead to the characteristic signs of aging, such as wrinkles and dry, sagging skin. The integrity of the collagen found in the skeletal system decreases with age as well, leading to reductions in bone strength..
While collagen loss and damage as you age are inevitable, certain dietary and lifestyle factors can accelerate this process.
For example, smoking cigarettes is known to degrade collagen and cause skin aging, wrinkles, and loss of elasticity.
Excessive drinking has also been shown to accelerate skin aging by reducing collagen production and damaging skin repair mechanisms.
Additionally, following a diet high in added sugar and ultra-processed foods can lead to premature aging by contributing to a process called glycation, which reduces collagen turnover and interferes with collagen’s ability to interact with surrounding cells and proteins.
Excessive sun exposure degrades collagen production as well, so wearing sunscreen and avoiding excessive sun exposure can help prevent signs of premature skin aging.
Studies have shown that taking collagen supplements may offer a few benefits.
Potential skin benefits
One of the most popular uses of collagen supplements is to support skin health. Research suggests that taking collagen supplements may improve certain aspects of skin health and appearance.
A review of 19 studies that included 1,125 participants (95% women) between the ages of 20 and 70 found that taking hydrolyzed collagen improved skin hydration, elasticity, and wrinkles compared with placebo treatments.
Hydrolyzed collagen is a common type of collagen used in supplements that is created using a process called hydrolysis. This process breaks down the protein into smaller pieces, making it easier for the body to absorb.
A number of studies have shown that taking collagen supplements may improve skin hydration and elasticity and reduce the appearance of wrinkles.
However, keep in mind that many of these studies were funded by companies that manufacture collagen products, which could have influenced the study results.
The doses of collagen shown to be effective for improving skin health in research studies vary, though most studies have used 2.5–15 grams per day for 8 weeks or longer.
Potential benefits for bones
In addition to improving some aspects of skin health and appearance, collagen supplements may offer a few other benefits.
One study looked at the effects of taking collagen supplements in 102 women in postmenopause who had reduced bone mineral density (BMD).
Those who took 5 grams of collagen peptides per day for 1 year had significant increases in BMD in their spine and femur (a bone in the lower leg) compared with participants who took a placebo.
A follow-up study in 31 of these women found that taking 5 grams of collagen daily for a total of 4 years was associated with a progressive increase in BMD.
The researchers found that participants’ BMD increased by 5.79–8.16% in the spine and by 1.23–4.21% in the femur during the follow-up period.
These findings suggest that taking collagen supplements long-term may help increase bone mineral density in people in postmenopause, who are at a greater risk of developing osteopenia and osteoporosis.
What’s more, one review article concluded that taking oral collagen supplements reduced participants’ symptoms related to osteoarthritis, including stiffness.
Collagen supplements may provide other health benefits as well, such as improving body composition in certain populations when combined with resistance training.
It’s important to note that studies observed these beneficial effects of taking collagen mainly in older women with low bone mineral density.
Therefore, collagen supplements may not have the same effects in other populations, such as men, those who are younger, or those who don’t have low bone mineral density.