Collagen is the most abundant protein in your body.
It is the major component of connective tissues that make up several body parts, including tendons, ligaments, skin and muscles (1).
Collagen has many important functions, including providing your skin with structure and strengthening your bones (1).
In recent years, collagen supplements have become popular. Most are hydrolyzed, which means the collagen has been broken down, making it easier for you to absorb.
There are also several foods you can eat to increase your collagen intake, including pork skin and bone broth.
This article will discuss six science-backed health benefits of taking collagen.
Collagen is a major component of your skin.
It plays a role in strengthening skin, plus may benefit elasticity and hydration. As you age, your body produces less collagen, leading to dry skin and the formation of wrinkles (4).
In one study, women who took a supplement containing 2.5–5 grams of collagen for eight weeks experienced less skin dryness and a significant increase in skin elasticity compared to those who did not take the supplement (7).
Another study found that women who drank a beverage mixed with a collagen supplement daily for 12 weeks experienced increased skin hydration and a significant reduction in wrinkle depth compared to a control group (6).
There are also many anecdotal claims that collagen supplements are helpful for preventing acne and other skin conditions, but these are not supported by scientific evidence.
Summary Taking supplements that contain collagen may be helpful for slowing the aging of your skin. However, stronger evidence is needed from studies examining the effects of collagen on its own.
Collagen helps maintain the integrity of your cartilage, which is the rubber-like tissue that protects your joints.
In one study, 73 athletes who consumed 10 grams of collagen daily for 24 weeks experienced a significant decrease in joint pain while walking and at rest compared to a group that did not take it (10).
In another study, adults took two grams of collagen daily for 70 days. Those who took collagen had a significant reduction in joint pain and were better able to engage in physical activity than those who did not take it (11).
Researchers have theorized that supplemental collagen may accumulate in cartilage and stimulate your tissues to make collagen.
They have suggested this may lead to lower inflammation, better support of your joints and reduced pain (12).
Summary Taking collagen supplements has been shown to reduce inflammation and stimulate collagen synthesis in the body. This may help promote pain relief for people with joint disorders such as osteoarthritis.
As collagen in your body deteriorates as you age, bone mass does too. This may lead to conditions such as osteoporosis, which is characterized by low bone density and linked with a higher risk of bone fractures (14, 15).
In one study, women took either a calcium supplement combined with 5 grams of collagen or a calcium supplement and no collagen daily for 12 months.
By the end of the study, the women taking the calcium and collagen supplement had significantly lower blood levels of proteins that promote bone breakdown than those taking only the calcium (16).
Another study found similar results in 66 women who took 5 grams of collagen daily for 12 months.
The women who took the collagen had an increase of up to 7% in their bone mineral density (BMD), compared to women who did not consume collagen (17).
BMD is a measure of the amount of minerals, such as calcium, in your bones. Low BMD is associated with weak bones and the development of osteoporosis (18).
These results are promising, but more human studies are needed before the role of collagen supplements in bone health can be confirmed.
Summary Consuming collagen supplements may help reduce the risk of bone disorders such as osteoporosis. They have the potential to help increase BMD and lower levels of proteins in the blood that stimulate bone breakdown.
Between 1–10% of muscle tissue is composed of collagen. This protein is necessary to keep your muscles strong and functioning properly (19).
In one study, 27 frail men took 15 grams of collagen while participating in an exercise program daily for 12 weeks. Compared to men who exercised but did not take collagen, they gained significantly more muscle mass and strength (20).
Researchers have suggested that taking collagen may promote the synthesis of muscle proteins such as creatine, and may also stimulate muscle growth after exercise (20).
More research is necessary to investigate collagen’s potential to boost muscle mass.
Summary Research has shown that consuming collagen supplements increased muscle growth and strength in people with age-related muscle mass loss.
Researchers have theorized that taking collagen supplements may help reduce the risk of heart-related conditions.
Collagen provides structure to your arteries, the blood vessels that carry blood from your heart to the rest of your body. Without enough collagen, arteries may become weak and fragile (1).
This may lead to atherosclerosis, a disease characterized by the narrowing of the arteries. Atherosclerosis has the potential to lead to heart attack and stroke (21).
In one study, 31 healthy adults took 16 grams of collagen daily for six months. By the end, they had experienced a significant reduction in measures of artery stiffness compared to before they started taking the supplement (22).
Additionally, they increased their levels of “good” HDL cholesterol by an average of 6%. HDL is an important factor in the risk of heart conditions, including atherosclerosis (22).
Nevertheless, more studies are needed on the role of collagen supplements in heart health.
Summary Taking collagen supplements may help reduce the risk factors associated with heart conditions such as atherosclerosis.
Collagen supplements may have other health benefits, but these have not been studied extensively.
- Hair and nails: Taking collagen may increase the strength of your nails by preventing brittleness. Additionally, it may stimulate your hair and nails to grow longer (23).
- Gut health: Although there is no scientific evidence to support this claim, some health practitioners promote the use of collagen supplements to treat intestinal permeability, or leaky gut syndrome.
- Brain health: No studies have examined the role of collagen supplements in brain health. However, some people claim they improve mood and reduce symptoms of anxiety.
- Weight loss: Some believe that taking collagen supplements may promote weight loss and a faster metabolism. There have not been any studies to support these claims.
Although these potential effects are promising, research is needed before formal conclusions can be made.
Summary Collagen supplements have been claimed to promote brain, heart and gut health, as well as to help control weight and keep hair and nails healthy. However, currently there’s little-to-no evidence for these effects.
More research is needed to determine if eating collagen-rich foods actually helps increase collagen in your body. There have not been any human studies on whether collagen-rich foods have the same benefits as supplements.
Collagen in food is broken down into individual amino acids and peptides by digestive enzymes.
The collagen in supplements has already been broken down, or hydrolyzed, which is why it is thought to be absorbed more efficiently than the collagen in foods.
Summary Several foods contain collagen, including animal foods and bone broth. However, their absorption is not as efficient as that of hydrolyzed collagen.
Currently, there are not many known risks to taking collagen supplements.
However, some supplements are made from common food allergens, such as fish, shellfish and eggs. People with allergies to these foods should avoid collagen supplements made with these ingredients to prevent allergic reactions.
Some people have also reported that collagen supplements leave a lingering bad taste in the mouth (13).
Additionally, collagen supplements have the potential to cause digestive side effects such as feelings of fullness and heartburn (13).
Regardless, these supplements appear to be safe for most people.
Summary Collagen supplements may lead to side effects such as a bad taste in the mouth, heartburn and fullness. If you have allergies, make sure to purchase supplements that aren’t made from collagen sources you’re allergic to.
Taking collagen is associated with a number of health benefits and very few known risks.
For starters, supplements may improve skin health by reducing wrinkles and dryness. They may also help increase muscle mass, prevent bone loss and relieve joint pain.
People have reported many other benefits of collagen supplements, but these haven’t been studied much.
Although several foods contain collagen, it is unknown whether the collagen in food has the same benefits as supplements.
Collagen supplements are generally safe, quite easy to use and definitely worth trying for their potential benefits.