Collagen supplements: do they work?
What are collagen supplements and are they worth it? Registered nutritionist Nicola Shubrook explores the different types of collagen and health benefits, and shares our top collagen-supporting recipes
What is collagen?
Collagen is the most abundant protein in your body, for it is found in our bones, skin, muscles and tendons. It's also involved in essential roles such as helping our blood to clot.
There are five different types of collagen in the body:
- Type 1 – which is the most abundant and makes up about 90% of the body’s total collagen. This type provide structure to the body including the skin, connective tissue, tendons, teeth and bones
- Type 2 – is found in cartilage around the joints
- Type 3 – has a structural role and supports the muscles, organs and arteries
- Type 4 – sits in the layers and membrane of your skin
- Type 5 – is found in hair and also the placenta in pregnancy
Your body effectively makes collagen from two different amino acids in the body, namely glycine and proline. It's important to therefore ensure your diet contains adequate levels of proteins to get both these and other amino acids that are needed to make collagen, and because the amount of collagen in our body does decrease with age. These proteins include meat, chicken, turkey, fish, seafood, dairy products such as milk and yogurt, eggs, legumes and tofu.
Foods that contain gelatine are also a good source of collagen, for gelatine is essentially cooked collagen. This also means that, in theory, bone broth is a source of collagen as it contains gelatine, but at the moment the research suggests that perhaps consuming bone broth may make not necessarily result in increased collagen levels in the diet compared to a supplement.
What about collagen supplements?
There are a few different types of collagen supplements available: animal (which is normally bovine sourced) and marine (from fish). and there are even some vegan brands also coming onto the market that are made from vegan proteins such as chickpeas.
You can buy collagen as a powder, which can easily be added to smoothies or your morning coffee, or in capsule form depending on your preference. You may also see words such as hydrolysed collagen and collagen peptides when looking at supplements, but they are effectively the same thing.
Benefits of collagen supplements
1) It can improve skin health
This is probably the biggest driver of collagen supplement sales, as collagen is involved in our skins integrity, elasticity and hydration, offering the potential therefore to help slow down the skin’s natural ageing process. One study on 72 women aged 35 years and older, saw significant improvement in skin hydration, elasticity, roughness and density after taking collagen peptides, together with vitamin C and zinc, after 12 weeks compared to a placebo group.
2) It may help relieve joint pain
Collagen is naturally found in bones as well as cartilage and muscles surrounding our joints, so it makes sense that taking collagen supplements may help with joint pain and age-related conditions such as osteoarthritis.
One study in particular gave patients with osteoarthritis 2g or collagen every day for 70 days, and found there was a significant reduction in pain and improvement in physical activities compared to the placebo group
3) It may help protect bone density
Collagen makes up the majority of our bones, but as we age, we naturally begin to lose this bone density and can see an increased risk of conditions such as osteopenia and osteoporosis. Some studies have shown that taking collagen supplements can conserve this bone mass and offer osteoprotective properties.
4) It may help support a healthy heart
A 2017 animal study found that supplementing collagen helped to reduce high blood pressure, which may in time offer human benefits for those with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. Collagen does play a role in maintaining the structural integrity of our organs and arteries, including the heart, although more research is needed.
5) It can help support muscle mass
A 12-week study in 2019 showed that combining collagen supplements with resistance training (e.g. lifting weights) increased both body mass in the 25 men who participated, compared to placebo. Now this is a very small sample size but, muscle mass does decline with age and it could be beneficial for those sarcopenia or for post-menopausal women where there can often be a decline in muscle mass. More research is needed to understand collagen’s role in this area.