If you think collagen is only for the skin, then you might want to think again.
For a compound that makes almost 30% (1) of the protein bank in our bodies, there’s certainly more to it than just improving the appearance of your skin. And believe it or not, it’s one of the main components that aid your overall health. Confused?
Well, don’t be, as we are here with all the necessary details you need to know about collagen and its benefits. We will also talk about the different collagen supplements and how they may help you live a healthier life without experiencing major side effects.
So, let’s get straight into it!
What Is Collagen?
Collagen is the most abundantly found protein in the body and the primary component of the connective tissues. These tissues, in turn, make up other body parts, like the skin, muscles, tendons, and ligaments.
Not only that, but it also serves other vital purposes, such as taking care of your bone health and rendering a structure to maintain optimum skin health. Although there are 28 types of collagen that can be found from various sources, four out of them are required the most by the human body, namely:
- Type I: the most common variant that’s found in the connective tissues
- Type II: occurs in the intervertebral discs (spine cushions) and joints
- Type III: makes up the reticular fibers present in the blood vessels and skin
- Type IV: found in the inner ear, eye lens, and kidney
Where Does It Come From?
Collagen is found naturally in the connective tissues of animals, meaning food (2), such as the skin of chicken and pork, fish, and beef. Hence, it’s thought that consuming such food can complement the natural collagen production by the body. However, more research is required to determine if they have the same benefits that you get from taking collagen supplements.
When you cook such food, you essentially cook the “cartilaginous” parts, which creates gelatin (a form of collagen). As a result, foods that contain gelatin, like bone, can also prove to be a good source for collagen production.
Here, we should mention that vitamin C (3) is an essential compound that helps with the proper synthesis of collagen in the body for optimum absorption. That’s why you should consume green vegetables like broccoli, bell peppers, and citrus fruits to aid the breakdown process.
Other than that, collagen is directly extracted from human body parts, which have been donated or left behind during operations. This type is mainly used for medical devices and treatments, as it has a low chance of being rejected by the body the collagen extract is being used for.
However, collagen supplements are arguably your best bait to boost the natural presence of collagen in your body.
Types Of Collagen Supplements
Before we dive more into the types of collagen supplements, let us tell you why the supplement form is easy to use.
Irrespective of the form you opt for, most of them contain the compound in its hydrolyzed form, which means that it has already been “broken down” for your body to absorb it better. That’s why collagen supplements work faster and more effectively as compared to consuming “raw” collagen from food sources.
Depending on the brand and formula you choose, the supplement may contain one or more types of collagen. Hence, you should go through the ingredients list to determine if the product will suit your requirements. For instance, if you want to alleviate joint pain, then going for a supplement that has more of the type II collagen should be on your priority list.
On that note, the most common and popular types of collagen supplements on the market include:
This form of oral supplementation is usually found in the powdered form and may contain any of the collagen types mentioned above. As such, collagen protein powders can be used to receive a wide variety of health benefits, like better skin and joint health, as well as faster wound healing. One study has also shown that the regular oral consumption of type I hydrolyzed collagen can help reduce osteoarthritis pain.
Furthermore, there are some studies (4) that suggest oral collagen supplements, in general, aid skin elasticity, resulting in improved skin texture. Not only that, but collagen powders also contribute to your weight loss process by controlling cravings and regulating blood sugar levels.
Now, if you’re wondering how to consume these powders, then let us break it down for you. Simply add the recommended dose to your favorite beverage (like coffee, juice, smoothie, etc.) or foods like pancakes or cupcakes. This is a great way to avoid leaving any unwanted aftertaste.
Given the importance of collagen for the skin, it’s only natural that you find topicals like collagen creams on the market. And it doesn’t come as a surprise that most of them have type I collagen as the primary ingredient. They reduce the appearance of wrinkles and fine lines, thereby making the skin look younger in the long run. Aside from that, they help improve skin hydration.
The collagen compound used for making collagen skin creams is often obtained from animals like fish and cows, which contain numerous beneficial amino acids, such as hydroxyproline, proline, and glycine.
Since creams aren’t digested by the body, they aren’t actually a great way to supplement or boost collagen production. Nevertheless, topical collagen treatments involving the application of such creams are often used in dermatology to improve the look of aging skin and reduce cellulite.
Liquid collagen is yet another “all-rounder” that has multiple benefits for enhancing skin elasticity, reducing the signs of skin aging, and contributing to muscle mass, among other things. Besides, some manufacturers of liquid collagen supplements claim that their products can render shiny hair, strong nails, and joints.
When you dilute collagen powder with coffee or water, you’re essentially creating liquid collagen. Such powders come in different flavors and dissolve well in warm liquids. But not all users may want to taste “hot collagen.” So, if you too are one of them, then here’s a pro tip: dilute the powder well using a small amount of warm water and add the mix to your favorite juice or smoothie to enjoy it cold.
However, we prefer the “pre-made” drinks, which come in a diluted form. Again, these supplements also almost always contain collagen from animal sources and can be added to other foods or drinks or consumed as is.
It goes without saying that capsules are one of the easiest ways to include collagen consumption in your diet. Their “ready to consume” form means you don’t have to go through the hassle of diluting them- just swallow with an adequate amount of water, and you’re ready to go. And just like the collagen inside, the capsule coating can be made of animal extracts.
All you have to do is take the required number of capsules and swallow them with water according to the dosage.
Collagen peptides are essentially made of hydrolyzed collagen and come in different forms, like powder, pills, liquids, and even bars. If you purchase a collagen supplement that has the word “peptides” written on it, it simply means the protein is fully broken down into smaller amino acids. Hence, it will make it easier for the body to perform collagen synthesis, helping it extract the full range of benefits from the compound.
Collagen supplements come in different forms for oral consumption and topical application. If you’re new to using supplements, then ready-made products (like drinks or capsules) will save you the trouble of measuring and mixing ingredients.
Why Should You Take Collagen?
Now, you may be wondering that despite being the most abundant protein in the human body, why should you consume it separately? The answer is the natural aging process.
Collagen levels usually start declining during the mid to late 20s. And it’s during this time that you may need to boost your collagen intake with the help of the supplements and collagen-rich foods mentioned above.
That’s why we thought it’d be a good idea to discuss in detail the multiple health benefits of collagen in the below sections.
1) Promotes Better Skin And Reduce Wrinkles
From improving the skin’s structure to eliminating wrinkles and maintaining the right hydration levels, collagen can do it all. Less collagen production (primarily due to age) can affect the human skin physiology, causing wrinkles, skin dryness, and sagging skin.
In the absence of any blood or hormonal test to detect collagen levels, sagging skin becomes a crucial symptom that indicates low collagen production.
Collagen peptide supplementation (or other supplements containing collagen) promotes healthy skin and inhabits skin aging by preventing dryness and the formation of wrinkles. Likewise, collagen hydrolysate, in particular, reduces oxidative stress on the body to reduce the appearance of wrinkles and lines.
While some supplements may work to stimulate collagen production, others may increase the production of proteins that promote good skin structure. These mainly include fibrillin and elastin.
And although there’s no hard scientific evidence as of yet, some studies suggest that collagen may also treat acne (5) and other similar skin conditions.
2) Strengthens Hair
Aside from working to improve skin health, collagen can increase natural production of proteins that play an important role in hair growth. It also supports the growth of stronger hair follicles and prevents graying of hair strands.
Not only that, but some collagen supplements also help improve the appearance and texture of dry and brittle hair by maintaining the right moisture levels.
3) Toughen Nails
If you have noticed that your nails have become brittle or are splitting off without any physical injury per se, then these symptoms may be caused by a lack of collagen. Collagen peptide supplements contain an amino acid called arginine, which is considered necessary for the growth of healthy nails.
4) Boosts Brain Health
Although there’s no connective tissue in the brain, collagen can still be beneficial for your brain health, as it’s mainly a protein, and the brain needs protein to “survive.” However, you may have to take very high amounts of collagen to see any significant improvements in this regard.
Other than that, it helps reduce anxiety and has mood-elevating properties.
5) Reduces Joint Pain
Collagen is a key component that helps maintain the structure and density of cartilage, which is the soft, rubber-like tissue protecting your joints. But with a decrease in collagen production, the cartilage tissues also start losing their form, making you more susceptible to conditions like osteoarthritis and knee pain.
However, such problems can be prevented with the help of proper collagen supplementation, as this can stimulate the body to produce more collagen. As a result, you may experience reduced joint pain, inflammation, and mobility.
6) Prevents Bone Loss
In case you didn’t know this, your bones also contain collagen, which provides them with structural strength. And as the collagen levels decline in your body, the bone mass takes a hit, making you vulnerable to fractures and low bone density-related diseases, such as osteoporosis.
Moreover, the regular consumption of collagen can lead to an increase in BMD (bone mineral density) or the measure of important bone minerals like calcium. The higher the BMD, the stronger are your bones.
7) Aids Muscle Growth
Various studies have pointed out that collagen can increase muscle mass, especially for people who lose it due to aging. Not only that, but specific bioactive collagen peptides also promote the synthesis of important muscle proteins like creatinine and boost muscle growth post-workout.
8) Other Health Benefits
Some researchers are of the opinion that the regular use of collagen supplements can be beneficial for heart health. This is because collagen renders the right structure and flexibility to the arteries that carry blood away from the heart to the other parts of the body.
Low levels of collagen can cause the arteries to narrow down, eventually causing a stroke or even heart attack. Plus, the protein may increase the levels of good cholesterol (HDL), which can prevent many heart conditions.
Aside from that, it aids gut health, as some people believe that some collagen supplements can treat conditions like leaky gut syndrome. Likewise, they contribute to metabolism for promoting faster and more effective weight loss. However, there isn’t enough medical evidence to support these claims.
Regular collagen intake can provide you with different benefits for better-looking skin, stronger hair and nails, as well as joints. Not only that, but it may also reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases, alleviate anxiety, and help lose weight.
Best Food Sources For Collagen
As we have already stated before, the connective tissues of living beings are full of collagen, which is why the skin of chicken, pork, and tough cuts of meat are rich sources of this protein. Bone broth (or soup) is another such food that is said to be a good source of collagen.
It’s usually prepared by simmering animal bones in water mixed with a little vinegar from anywhere between 4 and 24 hours. This helps in the optimum release of collagen by dissolving the bones, but the amount of protein you will get will depend on factors like the type of bone and the exact cooking process.
Other than that, we’d suggest consuming a healthy diet containing fish, eggs, dairy, soy, and legumes, as these foods contain proteins (glycine, hydroxyproline, and proline), which enhance natural collagen production.
Similarly, the zinc and vitamin C compounds found in shellfish, wholegrains, nuts, seeds, leafy vegetables, tomatoes, etc., are essential for collagen synthesis.
Remember that collagen fibers, in their whole form, are difficult for the body to digest and use. However, these supporting compounds can help break the protein into smaller amino acids to facilitate easy absorption.
Collagen For Vegetarians And Vegans – What To Know?
If you’re a vegan, vegetarian, or don’t consume meat for health reasons, then you can eat fruits and vegetables that promote the production of collagen. These include:
- Nuts (peanuts, walnuts, etc.) and nut butter
- Chia and flax seeds
- Whole grains (like quinoa, oats, etc.)
Scientists are also trying to create “vegan-friendly” collagen by genetically modifying yeast and bacteria and adding a certain digestive enzyme to them to replicate the structure of animal-based collagen. That said, most such products are yet to or have just hit the market, so you may want to wait for some time to understand more about the results.
You will find vegetarian supplements on the market, which mainly consist of one or more of the following active ingredients:
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin A, E
Irrespective of whether you prefer animal-based or plant-based collagen, there are some general healthy habits that you can adopt to slow down the decline of natural collagen.
Firstly, excess sun exposure can harm the collagen in your skin, so try to limit the time spent outdoors. And when you do, wear adequate amounts of a good-quality sunscreen, which will help the skin look younger for long.
Secondly, getting at least 7 to 9 hours of sleep and avoiding smoking can help preserve natural collagen levels.
High cortisol levels (associated with excessive stress) are considered to be the “enemy” of your natural collagen production. Hence, controlling stress can help maintain the right amount of collagen in your body.
People with a vegetarian diet can turn to fruits, vegetables, and whole grains for their collagen intake. Likewise, vegetarian-friendly collagen supplements are made from essential nutrients that supplement the natural collagen level. And adopting healthy practices like wearing sunscreen and getting a good night’s sleep can protect it.
Down Sides And Side Effects Of Collagen Supplements
Given the fact that collagen is the most abundant protein in the human body, you may think that the unregulated consumption of collagen supplements (6) may not be an issue. But the truth is too much collagen can cause some side effects, like:
A. Kidney Stone
Most collagen supplements contain hydroxyproline (amino acid), which can increase the amount of a waste product called oxalate. And oxalate may cause kidney stones, especially in people already at risk of developing them. Hence, they should avoid collagen supplements altogether.
B. Liver Damage
Certain proteins found in collagen supplements can bind to the liver cells, thereby hindering the repairing process of the liver itself. Besides, they keep the cells from dividing, which ultimately impacts the process of new cell generation.
Both oral and topical collagen supplements (especially the ones meant to improve skin health) can cause itchiness, rashes, and skin sensitivity.
How Long Does It Take To See Results With Collagen Supplements?
Each body composition is different, meaning it’s difficult to predict the exact time that these supplements will take to show positive effects. Some people may see effects within the first 4 weeks, while others may take 12 to 14 weeks on average.
Most experts will suggest taking them continuously for at least 8 weeks if you’re looking to improve your skin and joint health. However, you may need to consume them longer, for about 12 weeks to get stronger bones.
Collagen Intake- Before And After
According to a 2015 study published in the Cosmetic Dermatology journal (7), collagen supplementation showed significant improvements in skin health. Aside from reducing lines and wrinkles, it increased the skin’s natural moisture retention and decreased the general signs of aging.
Likewise, a study conducted in 2013 (8) proved that the consumption of type II collagen can reduce joint pain (resulting from accidents or injuries) in around 120 days for people. And arthritic patients reported lower pain levels within just 90 days.
Other than that, a 12-week trial (9) conducted to review the effects of collagen supplements on hair health showed that participants had smoother and manageable hair texture by the end of week 8. Eczema patients also reported an improvement in their condition by 10% as well as reduced hairfall.
Are There Any Alternatives To Collagen?
Collagen Vs. Gelatin
Gelatin is a form of collagen, usually extracted by heating collagen-rich foods, such as fish and meat. Hence, both these compounds have a similar nutritional composition and effects on your health, working to improve your skin, bones, joints, etc.
Since gelatin undergoes a little hydrolyzation during the extraction process, it’s easier to digest than raw collagen. But as mentioned above, collagen supplements are hydrolyzed from the get-go, so they are easier to digest than gelatin.
Unlike collagen, gelatin dissolves only in hot water and forms a thick gel-like substance when cooled down and is also sold in sheet form, especially for cooking purposes.
Collagen Vs. Biotin
The main difference between biotin and collagen is that the former is a vitamin B (or vitamin H) compound, while the latter is a type of protein. Moreover, biotin is essentially a coenzyme that contributes to the metabolism of fatty acids and cell growth.
How Much Collagen Should You Take?
Taking anywhere between 2.5 and 15 grams of collagen per day should help you reach your desired goal without any significant side effects. However, we’d strongly recommend seeking professional medical advice to determine the right dosage.
Another thing to note is that many supplements contain ingredients derived from eggs, shellfish, peanuts, dairy, and soy, which can cause allergies in some users. Besides, very high doses of collagen may cause:
- Digestive symptoms like upset stomach and bloating
- Nausea or dizziness
Q. Does Collagen Work Differently For Men And Women?
Collagen works the same way for both males and females, although men may have different reasons for using it. For instance, some male users may use collagen supplements to increase muscle mass and improve joint and bone health.
On the other hand, female users tend to use collagen supplements to improve the texture of skin, hair, and nails.
Q. How Does Collagen Enhance Skin Elasticity?
Collagen is responsible for providing strength and firmness to your skin, which, in turn, maintains its elasticity for prolonged periods. If achieving optimum skin elasticity is your primary goal, then we’d suggest using a combination of topical collagen-boosting creams and oral supplements for the best effects. The former is especially effective for “spot treatment” around the cheeks and forehead.
Sources Of Collagen – Where To Get It?
As collagen is found in both store-bought supplements and the natural food sources, it all boils down to your specific requirements. If your body isn’t making enough of this protein, then a combination of collagen-rich food and supplements may help you tackle the problem.
But keep in mind that without other supporting vitamins and minerals that help with collagen synthesis, you may not see all the benefits. So, make sure to include the other vital components that will promote the growth and circulation of the protein.
With that, it’s time for us to wrap up this comprehensive guide. Hopefully, our efforts have helped you understand the importance of collagen, and more importantly, the need for collagen supplements.
So, if you have been experiencing the symptoms of collagen loss, now is a good time to think about collagen supplements. But before you start using one, make sure to consult a doctor and purchase a good-quality product that can best serve your needs.
At the same time, maintain a healthy diet and lifestyle to experience the all-round benefits of this compound. And we will see you next time with more such content. Till then, take care!