#collagen. It’s trending. You can find it in creams, powders, supplements, protein bars and even in water! But what exactly is collagen and what are the benefits? Is bumping up your levels via collagen supplements a smart move? Dr Linia Patel takes a look.
Collagen is the most abundant protein in the body. Think of it as the stuff that ‘glues’ your body together. You’ll find it in your bones, muscles, teeth, skin, tendons, cartilage, hair and nails, blood vessels and even the gut! Is it time to start using collagen supplements?
What happens to collagen as we age?1,2
As we age, the production of collagen slows down and we also produce lower quality collagen. This process starts in our late 20s and is probably most noticeable in our skin as fine lines and wrinkles begin to appear. Other noticeable signs of collagen degradation include less agile and achy joints (as the cartilage degrades), brittle hair and nails, digestion issues and perhaps more pronounced cellulite. Aside from ageing, a poor diet is probably the next reason for low collagen levels. If your body doesn’t have the necessary building blocks, it is not able to make collagen. In addition, eating too many refined carbohydrates appears to interfere with collagen’s ability to repair itself. Just as the body can make collagen, it can also break down collagen from spending too much time in the sun (without sun protection) and smoking. Things like air pollution and stress reduce collagen thickness and strength.
Collagen science – do collagen supplements work?
The first thing to point out is that, as collagen is a new topic of study, the research on it is fairly limited. Most research on collagen supplements is related to joint and skin health1,2,3. Human studies are lacking, but some recent randomised controlled trials have found that collagen supplements improve skin elasticity. What is important to note is that the supplements given in this study included other nutrients like vitamin C, zinc, biotin and vitamin E, so it could have been the collagen peptides or all the nutrients together having a positive effect on the skin. What’s more, it is still very unclear what dose of collagen is optimal. It also seems to be that, once you pop collagen supplements, to keep the benefits you must keep popping!2,3,4
Other trials have found that supplements can improve joint mobility and decrease joint pain such as osteoarthritis5,6,7. A randomised trial (good-quality research) looking at people with knee osteoarthritis found that taking a type II collagen supplement leads to a significant decrease in pain and stiffness, even if only in the short term. Although the review noted that the quality of studies pooled was low and there was no long-term evidence available, other studies have shown that collagen is important in helping reduce inflammation, a key issue in joint pain6,7. Some other human studies suggest that doses of 10-40mg of undenatured collagen per day may also improve joint health5,6,7.
In summary, when looking at the science, it’s helpful to remember that, while the evidence to date does look promising, it is still inconclusive. A lot of the research that does exist is also industry funded (which one would expect to an extent); however, in the scientific world, this links it to a higher degree of bias. More research is needed to fully understand the benefits. Collagen is a safe supplement to take, with no recognised upper limit. If you choose to take a collagen supplement, ensure you invest in the very best.
Choosing a collagen supplement1,2,3,4
Not all collagen is created equal. Since collagen is a product derived from animals, I recommend choosing collagen from a reputable source. For example, look for collagen that comes from grass-fed, pasture-raised animals or sustainably sourced fish. The fewer additional fillers and additives the supplement has, the better.
Liquid collagen vs collagen powder
When it comes to the world of collagen supplements, you have a number of choices. There’s liquid, power and even powder in capsule form. While some manufacturers claim that liquid collagen is the most bioavailable type of collagen, there is currently no evidence suggesting that one form is more superior than the other. The choice of which collagen supplement to take for now can be based on personal preference.
How much to take?
Currently, there are no official guidelines regarding how much collagen to take per day. To determine the correct dosage for you, work with a dietitian or nutritionist to ensure you match the collagen type and amount to the reasons you want to take it. This way you will maximise its potential benefits.
When to take it
You may have heard some people swear by taking collagen in the morning on an empty stomach. Yet others love taking it in pill form before bed. The reality is that no studies have shown that one time of the day will provide better results than another, with or without food. The most important thing is that you are taking collagen within a routine that is easy for you to remember, as you will need to take it daily for at least eight to 12 weeks for a noticeable result. And oh, if you’re looking for long-lasting effects, get ready to take them for a lifetime.
Collagen is a key nutrient that your body needs, especially as you age. Diet comes first, always. Real food is always better; however, a supplement may be a convenient help. Finding the right one makes a big difference.
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Dr Linia Patel has a BSc degree in biochemistry and physiology and has recently achieved a PhD in public health. Linia is a leading dietitian and sports nutritionist. Her passion is translating nutritional science into easy-to-digest and practical advice.
- Liu D, Nikoo M, Boran G, Zhou P, Regenstein JM. Collagen and gelatin. Annu Rev Food Sci Technol. 2015;6:527-557Choi FD, Sung CT, Juhasz ML, Mesinkovsk NA. Oral collagen supplementation: a systematic review of dermatological applications. J Drugs Dermatol. 2019;18(1):9-16.
- León-López A, Morales-Peñaloza A, Martínez-Juárez VM, Vargas-Torres A, Zeugolis DI, Aguirre-Álvarez G. Hydrolyzed collagen-sources and applications. Molecules. 2019;24(22):4031.
- Bolke L, Schlippe G, Gerß J, Voss W. A Collagen supplement improves skin hydration, elasticity, roughness, and density: results of a randomized, placebo-controlled, blind study. Nutrients. 2019;11(10):2494.
- Laing S, Bielfeldt S, Ehrenberg C, Wilhelm KP. A dermonutrient containing special collagen peptides improves skin structure and function: a randomized, placebo-controlled, triple-blind trial using confocal laser scanning microscopy on the cosmetic effects and tolerance of a drinkable collagen supplement. J Med Food. 2020;23(2):147-152.
- Lugo JP, Saiyed ZM, Lane NE. Efficacy and tolerability of an undenatured type II collagen supplement in modulating knee osteoarthritis symptoms: a multicenter randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study. Nutr J. 2016;15:14.
- García-Coronado JM, Martínez-Olvera L, Elizondo-Omaña RE, et al. Effect of collagen supplementation on osteoarthritis symptoms: a meta-analysis of randomized placebo-controlled trials. Int Orthop. 2019;43(3):531-538.
- Dressler P, Gehring D, Zdzieblik D, Oesser S, Gollhofer A, König D. Improvement of functional ankle properties following supplementation with specific collagen peptides in athletes with chronic ankle instability. J Sports Sci Med. 2018;17(2):298-304.