What is collagen?
Collagen is the main structural protein in your body and it helps support your skin, bones, ligaments, tendons, and more. As you age, your collagen production begins to decline and other factors (like smoking and sun damage) can weaken the collagen in your body. As your collagen production is diminished and weakened through environmental damage, your skin starts to wrinkle and sag. Your joints and tendons may also be more prone to injury.
What are the benefits of collagen on your joints and bones?
Studies indicate that collagen can help reduce pain and wear and tear on joints, and that it can help reduce your risk of injury. There’s also research suggesting that a collagen supplement might reduce pain from osteoarthritis. In studies, people taking collagen reported better mobility and improvements in quality of life compared to people who were on placebo (fake) treatments.
For people with rheumatoid arthritis—which is an inflammatory form caused by an auto-immune response—research also hints that collagen supplementation may help alleviate symptoms, like morning stiffness and tender, swollen joints, though it never outperforms medications.
And for my over-40 friends who are worried about bone mineral density, collagen has been found to lead to more bone formation with less breakdown, which means you may net stronger bones by using a collagen supplement.
What are the benefits of collagen on your skin?
I’m swayed by science showing that collagen supplementation may lead to some beauty benefits. It may reduce roughness and wrinkling and lead to more skin moisture and elasticity. That means your skin looks more youthful and radiant.
What are the benefits of collagen on weight loss and muscle mass?
Though I think collagen has many impressive benefits, don’t expect any weight loss miracles, as I’ve said before. (If you want to check out my earlier blog post, you can find it here.) Unlike other forms of protein that help you feel full and give you a slight metabolic edge, researchers I’ve spoken with say that this form of protein is so available to your body, it doesn’t produce those same benefits. If you’re looking for muscle-building benefits, look past collagen. Despite the claims you may read, it’s not an adequate form of protein to help on that front.
What are collagen supplements made from?
Essentially, collagen is processed from animal products—the hides or scales and cartilage from sources, like cows, chicken, fish, and sharks. (Truth be told, I try not to think about this, but I’m trying to be thorough here!) Ultimately, it’s sold as a fine, dissolvable powder. There are both flavored and unflavored varieties.
Are there vegan sources of collagen?
No, all sources of collagen come from animals and fish, so steer clear of sources claiming to be vegan. Any manufacturer suggesting it has vegan collagen is not reputable.
Do I need a collagen supplement?
All the protein you eat (think: eggs, yogurt, beef, chicken fish, beans) gets broken down into amino acids—the building blocks of all protein, including collagen. There is no daily requirement for collagen (like there is for vitamins and minerals) so a supplement isn’t a necessity. That said, studies indicate that one of the top benefits of a supplemental form of collagen may be that it's especially available to your body, presuming that you’re also eating a healthy diet that’s rich in nutrients, since certain vitamins (such as vitamin C) are also involved in collagen production.
Are there any concerns with supplementing with collagen?
I should note that the research is inconsistent, meaning that there are studies that show no benefit to taking a collagen supplement. That means that supplements might turn out to be a waste of money. There are also different forms of collagen, and your supplement might contain a form that doesn’t provide the specific benefit you’re looking for (say, fewer wrinkles or a reduction in join pain).
Do you use collagen? If so, how?
I take collagen myself and I’ve recommended it to my active clients, family, and friends, since I think the potential benefits outweigh the possibility that it won’t prove useful. I'm all for this type of self-experimentation if it's safe (which I believe this is) and the research is promising. If I start seeing the research on collagen's benefits change directions (suggesting it's not as useful as I thought), you'll be the first to know!
Meanwhile, I enjoy it in my morning coffee—it’s easy to make a habit out of something that’s already a routine. (It dissolves completely and is totally tasteless.) But you can also add it to smoothies or oatmeal.
If you want to geek out on the science, references are below! : )