Health Benefits of Collagen

Medically Reviewed by Jabeen Begum, MD on December 07, 2023
8 min read

Collagen is a protein responsible for healthy joints and skin elasticity or stretchiness. It's in your bones, muscles, and blood, making up three-quarters of your skin and one-third of the protein in your body.

Your body makes it naturally by combining amino acids, the building blocks of proteins found in food. To produce collagen, your body needs:

  • Proline: Found in egg whites, dairy, cabbage, mushrooms, and asparagus
  • Glycine: Found in pork skin, chicken skin, and gelatin and a variety of other protein-rich foods
  • Vitamin C: Found in citrus fruits and bell peppers
  • Zinc: Found in beef, lamb, pork, shellfish, chickpeas, lentils, beans, milk, cheese, and various nuts and seeds
  • Copper: Found in organ meats, cocoa powder, cashews, sesame seeds, and lentils

 

As you age, your existing collagen breaks down, and it gets harder for your body to make more. So, many people turn to collagen powder or other types of collagen supplements, such as capsules, gummies, and liquids.

Collagen provides your body with strength, structure, and support.

As you age, it's harder to keep up your natural collagen levels. This is particularly true after you've gone through menopause. It's because over time, your body increasingly struggles to absorb enough of the nutrients it needs to make collagen.

However, eating collagen-rich foods can help your body overcome some of this absorption problem. That helps keep your body stronger and healthier as you get older.

Collagen also:

  • Helps your blood clot

  • Helps replace dead skin cells

  • Creates a protective cover for your organs

  • Allows new skin cells to grow

Your body contains many types of collagen. Scientists have identified a total of 29 varieties, including these five main types:

  • Type I, which gives strength to your skin, bones, ligaments, and tendons
  • Type II, which makes up the flexible cartilage that helps support your joints
  • Type III, found in your internal organs, blood vessels, and muscles
  • Type IV, in some layers of your skin
  • Type V, which is present in your corneas and some layers of skin and hair

Collagen supplements

Most collagen supplements contain types I, II, and III, which account for most of the collagen found in your body. They contain a digestible form of collagen called collagen peptides or hydrolyzed collagen.

These supplements are made from the tissues of cows, pigs, chickens, or fish. You can also buy vegan collagen powder made of bacteria and yeast. But scientists don't know whether they have the same possible benefits as collagen from animal sources.

Collagen peptides

Because collagen can't be absorbed in its whole form, it has to be broken down into smaller amino acids or peptides. Collagen peptides are tiny pieces of animal collagen. It's what's in the collagen supplements you take and can come in many forms, including pills or powders. When you buy collagen, it'll be sold as collagen peptides or hydrolyzed collagen. Collagen peptides are soaked up through your gastrointestinal tract.

Collagen powder

Collagen powder has the same active ingredients as collagen capsules and gummies. But the dosages will vary depending on what form you use. Some people find it easier to add collagen powder to drinks or foods than to swallow several capsules. And you may not want the added sugar that's in collagen gummies.

Collagen liquid

You can also buy premade collagen drinks or packets of collagen to put in your choice of beverage. There are a variety of flavors and types to choose from. Many also have other beneficial ingredients.

Fourteen grams of collagen peptide powder contains:

  • Calories: 50
  • Protein: 12 grams
  • Fat: 0 grams
  • Carbohydrates: 0 grams
  • Fiber: 0 grams
  • Sugar: 0 grams

The same amount of collagen peptide also contains 29 milligrams of calcium, 44.9 milligrams of sodium, and 0.98 milligrams of potassium.

Because it makes up so many critical parts of our bodies, collagen is not only beneficial but also essential for maintaining good health. But scientists are still debating the benefits of collagen powder and other collagen supplements. While there's reasonable evidence that they help maintain hydrated skin and relieve osteoarthritis pain, we need more studies into less well-understood benefits, such as lowering blood pressure and blood sugar levels.

Here are some commonly cited benefits of collagen supplements:

Stronger bones. As you age, your bones become less dense and more brittle, breaking more easily and taking longer to heal. Some research has found that taking daily collagen powder could help make your bones denser, slowing the aging process that makes them brittle and helping your body produce new bone.

Skin elasticity and hydration. Collagen supplements have been shown to improve skin hydration and elasticity in older people. They might also help lessen wrinkles.

Thicker hair. While more men go bald, many women also have hair loss or thinning as they age. In one study, a group of women with thinning hair saw significant increases in their hair's quantity, scalp coverage, and thickness while taking daily collagen supplements.

Healthier nails. Some people's nails break more easily than others and don't grow as fast. One study in a group of women showed faster nail growth and fewer broken or chipped nails after only 4 weeks of daily collagen supplements.

Reduced osteoarthritis pain. For people with knee osteoarthritis, collagen supplements might act as a mild pain reliever and improve joint function. It may take about 3-5 months of daily treatment before you see these improvements.

Increased muscle mass. One small study found that men who took collagen peptide supplements during a 12-week strength training program saw more increases in muscle mass and strength than those who didn't.

Improved heart health. Collagen helps keep the shape of your arteries and blood vessels. When you lack collagen, your arteries may weaken. Fragile blood vessels increase the risk of atherosclerosis, which can lead to a heart attack or stroke. A small study done on healthy people found that collagen powder kept arteries healthier and helped reduce the risk of atherosclerosis.

Keep in mind that after you take a collagen supplement, your digestive system breaks it down into amino acids. Your body then puts these amino acids together to form new proteins. They may not contain the same amino acids that were in the supplement you took. So, no matter what the label may say, you can't target their benefits to certain areas like skin, hair, or joints.

Side effects of collagen powder, capsules, liquids, or gummies are rare. If you're pregnant or breastfeeding, you may want to hold off on taking a collagen supplement for now because there isn't yet enough research to come to any conclusions about their safety.

The FDA doesn't regulate collagen powder or any other type of dietary supplement. So, there's no guarantee that your collagen supplement contains the type or amount of collagen the label says it does.

There's also a chance it could be contaminated with pesticides, bacteria, or other substances. Because collagen powder and other supplements are usually made from animals, they might contain heavy metals or other toxins that can collect in animals' bones. Always make sure you buy supplements from a reputable source.

The effects of collagen powder and other supplements continue to be researched and debated. Instead of buying these supplements, you can always help your body make more collagen naturally by ensuring your diet is packed with healthy foods.

To produce collagen, your body puts the amino acids glycine and proline together with other amino acids including vitamin C, zinc, and copper. You can help your body make more collagen by eating lots of glycine- and proline-rich foods. For vitamin C, zinc, and copper, you should also be sure to eat foods like papaya, citrus fruits, tomatoes, leafy greens, broccoli, cauliflower, shellfish, nuts, and whole grains. Foods to add to your diet for more collagen include:

Bone broth. This is made by simmering animal bones and connective tissue for an extended period. The process extracts collagen from the bones and skin and puts it into the broth. Common animals used to make bone broth include chickens, cows, turkeys, and deer (venison).

Fish with the skin on. Fish is an excellent source of collagen from food, as long as you leave the skin on. That's because much of the collagen found in fish is stored in the skin. Other benefits of fish include omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin D.

Chicken. If you've ever prepared a whole chicken, you know there's quite a bit of connective tissue in the meat. This makes chicken a good option for adding more collagen to your diet. Chicken feet in particular, while not a common food in some parts of the world, are a good source of collagen.

Red meat. Tougher cuts of meat like pot roast, chuck steak, and brisket, which are full of connective tissue, are good sources of collagen. But keep in mind that red meat gives you other nutrients you may not want, like saturated fat.

Fruits and vegetables. For vegetarians and vegans, consider eating foods high in vitamin C. Eating foods rich in this nutrient encourages your body to make its own collagen and keep you healthy and strong.

Aloe vera. Low doses of aloe vera can boost the collagen in your dermis (which is the middle layer of skin). A study found that taking a 40-microgram aloe supplement a day can help with skin barrier function, elasticity, and moisture.

Other high-protein foods. Foods high in protein help collagen production because they have a lot of amino acids. These include eggs, dairy, and beans.

Research has shown that adults can safely consume between 2.5 and 15 grams of collagen a day. Read the label on your supplement to see how much it contains.

Many people take 1-2 tablespoons of collagen powder per day. You can take collagen powder by mixing it into smoothies, shakes, baked goods, soups, or even your coffee or tea.

Is there such a thing as too much collagen powder?

Because collagen is basically protein, you can't overdose on it. But excessive protein can eventually take a toll on the health of your kidneys. That's one reason you should tell your doctor before taking any type of supplement.

Collagen helps with healthy joints, skin elasticity, and more. Your body makes it naturally, and you can consume it. It's in certain foods, but you can also get it from drinks or supplements. Just make sure you get your supplements from a trustworthy and high-quality brand.

Is taking collagen every day good for you?

You can safely take 2.5-15 grams of collagen peptides per day. Studies show no side effects, and it may contribute to the health of your skin, joints, and muscles.

Does taking collagen really work?

Some studies show that collagen helps with the appearance of your skin. But more research is needed to confirm whether collagen supplements have other benefits.