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What Is Collagen?

Collagen comes from the Greek word “kólla,” meaning “glue” and the suffix “gen,” meaning “producing.” 

True to its name, collagen behaves like a glue that holds your body together, which is why 30% of the total protein in your body is collagen[*].

Collagen in your body is most commonly found as part of the extracellular matrix(ECM). The ECM is a three-dimensional network of proteins and other molecules that supports and provides structure to  cells in every single tissue of your body.

In your body, there is always an interplay between protein breakdown and protein synthesis in tissues, called protein flux or protein turnover[*]. 

Protein turnover also occurs with your body’s collagen[*]. In other words, although collagen in your skin, joints, and other cells naturally breaks down, your body is constantly creating new collagen to take its place.

However collagen synthesis decreases as you age, which can lead to visual changes like wrinkles, as well as structural issues like osteoarthritis (a lack of cushioning cartilage in joints)[*][*][*].

Adding hydrolyzed collagen or collagen peptide supplements to your diet provides your body with the amino acids glycine, proline, alanine, and arginine, which may increase collagen production and help reverse the loss of collagen associated with normal wear and tear and aging[*][*][*].

9 Science-Based Benefits of Collagen

#1: Supports Skin Health and Appearance

For many, collagen protein may be synonymous with skin health due to the power of popular advertising.  Advertisements for “anti-aging” creams tout the benefits of collagen to reverse wrinkles and aging signs. However, such claims are not backed by research, and it would appear that collagen peptides are too large to absorb through the epidermis (outer skin layer)[*].

However, unlike topical application on the skin, oral consumption of collagen proteins does allow for absorption. 

Research shows that taking collagen supplements (such as collagen protein or bone broth)[*][*][*][*]:

  • Improves skin elasticity
  • Boosts skin hydration
  • Reduces wrinkles
  • Prevents early signs of aging
  • Diminishes roughness of facial skin
  • Increases the amount of collagen present in the skin
  • Prevents the breakdown of collagen
  • Increases the amount of procollagen produced
  • Decreases the appearance of cellulite

In one double-blind trial, 69 women received either 2.5g or 5.0g of a collagen supplement or placebo once daily for 8 weeks. At the end of the study, skin elasticity in both collagen groups was significantly higher in comparison to the placebo. After 4 weeks of follow-up treatment, elderly women had a significantly higher skin elasticity level[*].

Another double-blind trial comparing two types of collagen compounds found that a high collagen content significantly improved facial skin moisture, elasticity, wrinkles and roughness in comparison to the low collagen compound and the placebo[*].

#2: Keeps Your Nails Strong

Collagen supplementation may prevent brittle and broken nails and support nail growth. 

One study found that oral collagen supplements exerted the following effects on participants[*]:

  • Increased nail growth rate (up by 12%)
  • Lower frequency of broken nails (down by 42%)
  • Significant improvement in brittle nails (noted by 64% of participants
  • Experience of overall improvement in nail quality (88% of participants) 

Consuming gelatin — a form of collagen used in the food industry — may also improve nail quality[*].

#3: Supports Muscle Growth and Regeneration

Collagen production in your body is essential for the growth and healing of muscles. 

Evidence suggests that in combination with strength training, collagen supplementation may[*][*]:

  • Increase muscle strength and performance
  • Aid muscle regeneration
  • Reduce soreness

Additionally, a study of older individuals found that collagen supplementation in combination with resistance training increased fat-free mass and muscle strength while lowering fat mass[*].

#4: Support Healthy Connective Tissue

Collagen makes up a vast majority of the tissue in joints, tendons, and ligaments[*].

Therefore, any deficiencies may affect flexibility, range of motion, and cause or worsen symptoms of joint diseases like arthritis.

Supplementing with collagen peptides helps to:

  • Ease symptoms of osteoarthritis[*]
  • Decrease joint pain and swelling[*]
  • Support tendon repair[*]

In a randomized, double-blind trial involving 60 patients with severe rheumatoid arthritis, consuming daily collagen for 3 months decreased the number of swollen and tender joints, with 4 patients demonstrating a complete remission[*].

Another trial found that supplementing with collagen on a dose of 1200 milligrams per day significantly decreased joint pain in patients[*].

Collagen supplementation is especially helpful for osteoarthritis. One double-blind study concluded that possess therapeutic potential for the management of osteoarthritis and maintenance of joint health”[*].

#5: Strengthens Bones

During aging, your collagen network slowly breaks down, making your bones less resilient. 

However, your body can absorb and use oral collagen to make up for the natural collagen loss. Taking collagen supplements may[*]:

  • Reduce the risk of osteoporosis
  • Stimulate bone-forming cells
  • Provide anti-inflammatory and antioxidant benefits
  • Increase the capacity to resist fractures

In growing children, daily collagen intake may have positive effects on bone remodeling and formation[*].

#6: Promotes Tissue Repair

Natural collagen production plays an essential role in wound healing and scar formation[*].

If your body isn’t able to produce enough collagen, your ability to heal is adversely affected.

Studies show that ingesting collagen peptides can speed up or help with healing wounds that might not otherwise heal normally, such as pressure ulcers[*][*].

#7: May Promote Gut Health

Collagen is necessary for a healthy gut. 

Changes or disruptions of collagen in intestinal tissue are linked in scientific literature to chronic inflammation and inflammatory bowel disease[*][*].

A 2017 in vitro study found that collagen peptides may improve a dysfunctional or leaky intestinal barrier, but evidence is still preliminary[*].

#8: May Support Heart Health

Collagen plays a vital role in the integrity of your heart, and aging-related changes to cardiac collagen structure may affect heart function[*].

Although there’s no evidence yet that taking collagen supplements can prevent aging-related changes to collagen found in your heart, there is early animal evidence suggesting that it could reduce the adverse effects of high blood pressure and heart damage[*].

A 6-month human trial found that consuming 16 grams per day of collagen (in two divided doses) led to improvements in HDL and LDL cholesterol levels, which may prevent or treat atherosclerosis or cardiovascular disease[*].

#9: Supports a Healthy Brain and Cognitive Function

Collagen is present in neurons in the brian and central nervous system, and collagen deficiency in the brain is associated with:

  • Programmed cell death (apoptosis)[*]
  • Higher vulnerability to oxidative stress[*]
  • Impaired autophagy[*]
  • Impairment of motor and memory task performance[*]
  • Increased neurotoxicity[*]

In other words, the presence of some types of collagen helps the brain function properly, repair itself, and prevent neurodegenerative diseases[*].

According to a 2020 clinical study, consuming 5 grams of collagen for 30 days led to improvements in brain structure, world list memory, verbal associations, and language cognitive function in healthy adults aged 49-63.[*]