What Are The Benefits of Collagen Supplements?

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A measuring spoon with collagen powder

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Collagen supplements are often hyped up as the fountain of youth. But while we're still learning the ins and outs of collagen's benefits, promising research shows collagen supplements can likely improve skin, bone, and muscular health.

Collagen is a naturally occurring protein in your body that forms flexible fibers. These various fibers help support your cells and tissues. You’ll find most collagen in connective tissues in your body, such as tendons, bones, skin, ligaments, and muscles. 

Mainly, collagen provides structural support and elasticity to bones, tendons, skin, cartilage, and joints. But as you age, collagen production slows, and it’s harder for your body to produce more. As a result, some people turn to collagen supplements to help amp up their collagen production.  

Dietary supplements are minimally regulated by the FDA and may or may not be suitable for you. The effects of supplements vary from person to person and depend on many variables, including type, dosage, frequency of use, and interactions with current medications. Please speak with your healthcare provider or pharmacist before starting any supplements.

Why is Collagen Important? 

Collagen makes up the majority of the protein in your body. Researchers have found 28 types of collagen, but type I collagen — the kind in your connective tissue — is the most prominent. Type I collagen makes up 90% of your body’s total collagen, and it’s particularly important because:

  • It gives the connective tissues in your body structure
  • It helps cell communication that allows cells to grow and do their jobs 
  • It supports cell migration that helps wound healing and immune response

Other types of collagen in your body include:

  • Type II in your joints
  • Type III in your skin and blood vessels
  • Type IV in your kidneys, eye lens, and inner ear

You’ll also get additional collagen from eating food that contains animal connective tissue — like bones, skin, and ligaments — found in:

  • Chicken 
  • Pork  
  • Beef
  • Fish
  • Bone broth and gelatin-containing foods 

Your body also synthesizes collagen from amino acids, which can be found in non-animal sources such as quinoa, mushrooms, cottage cheese, and legumes and beans.

Benefits of Collagen Supplements 

Collagen supplements are available in powder, capsule, and liquid form. Collagen is typically sourced from collagen-rich animal parts, like bones, cartilage, and skin (usually from cows, chickens, and fish). Some supplements also contain eggs. Typically, collagen supplements are hydrolyzed, meaning the collagen is broken down in a way that makes it easier for your body to absorb than traditional food sources. The type of collagen found in your supplement will also vary. Some may contain one, two, or a handful of different collagens. 

Research is still fairly limited on how much collagen supplements benefit your body, but there are likely a few health perks to taking a collagen supplement. 

Rejuvenate Skin

As you age, you start to lose collagen, and it’s harder for your body to produce more. For your skin, this translates to dry, sagging skin and the onset of wrinkles.  

A 2019 review of 11 studies found taking collagen supplements for short and long periods helped wound healing and reverse some skin aging effects. Mainly, the research focused on people who took 2.5-10 grams of collagen daily for 8-24 weeks, or folks who took 3 grams daily for 4-12 weeks. The most significant skin benefits of taking collagen included:

  • Increased skin elasticity
  • Improved skin hydration
  • Improved collagen density in the skin

Collagen supplements may also help you produce more elastin, a protein that makes skin more elastic. That could mean tighter, more plump skin. However, there is limited research on the effectiveness of collagen supplements in this regard, and more research is needed.

However, we don’t know how specific types of collagen supplements work to improve skin or reverse skin aging. Studies all used slightly different kinds of collagen supplements. Researchers have also found topical collagen applied to the skin likely has similar benefits to oral supplements.  

Strengthen Bones

Collagen is the main component of your bones and helps keep your bones strong. So, supplementing collagen may help bone-related health issues and strengthen your skeleton. 

Like your skin, loss of collagen also affects your bones. As you get older, having less collagen can weaken bones and lead to a lower bone mineral density (BMD) – a measurement related to the number of minerals in your bones. Low BMD is often linked to bone conditions like osteoporosis that increase your risk of bone fractures.  

A small, 12-month study of post-menopausal women with low BMD found those taking calcium, vitamin D, and a 5-gram daily collagen supplement experienced less BMD loss than those who didn’t take collagen. Another small study of post-menopausal women with low BMD found similar results for the same duration and dosage, but without additional minerals and vitamins. In that 2018 study, folks who took collagen supplements also had a 7% increase in BMD. 

A 2019 meta-analysis also found collagen supplementation helped decrease osteoporosis symptoms like pain and stiffness.

Still, collagen bone-related research is mostly limited to post-menopausal women, a group at higher risk of osteoporosis. More research is also needed to understand how collagen can help strengthen bones long term. 

Improve Muscle Mass

Your muscle mass and strength may also decline with age, medically known as sarcopenia. Combining collagen supplements with exercise might help folks regain muscle mass related to aging. Researchers also theorize that collagen supplements can support muscle proteins, like creatine, that stimulate muscle growth after exercise. This may help folks of any age improve their muscle mass.

In a 12-week study of 27 elderly men with age-related muscle mass loss, those who took 15 grams of collagen daily and exercised gained more muscle mass and strength than those who didn't. 

Another 12-week study of 57 young men found those who took 15 grams of collagen per day — and completed resistance training three times a week — had improved body composition. However, overall, the placebo and collagen groups had similar strength results. 

Currently, there’s not quite enough research to prove collagen can boost muscle mass for everyone. Currently studies are small and we do not yet know the long-term effects. Collagen protein supplements also aren't likely to beat out whey protein to help your muscle gains. This is because whey protein has more amino acids that help muscle building than collagen.

Downsides to Collagen Supplements 

Limited human studies support the benefits of taking a collagen supplement. However, collagen supplements likely work in terms of helping boost collagen in the skin, bones, and muscles. Studies have also found taking a collagen supplement is generally safe, and few people have adverse reactions. However, some folks have reported side effects, like:

  • Diarrhea
  • Indigestion
  • Headache
  • Bad taste in the mouth

If you follow a plant-based diet or have food allergies to fish, shellfish, or eggs you will also want to avoid standard collagen supplements. This is because most collagen supplements are made from animal products. 

However, vegan collagen supplements made from modified yeast and bacteria are available. The name is a bit of a misnomer since vegan collagen doesn't actually contain collagen. Instead, these products contain amino acids that make up collagen and collagen-supporting vitamins, like Vitamin C, that tell your body how to make more collagen. 

Who Can Benefit From Collagen Supplements?

Collagen studies are limited to certain populations, so it’s not known if collagen supplements benefit everyone in the same way. However, research all points to collagen supplementing helping people who experience bone density loss, muscle loss, and skin aging effects.  

People who will most likely benefit from taking a collagen supplement include:

  • Post-menopausal people — a high-risk group for osteoporosis 
  • People with osteoporosis
  • People who want to improve skin hydration and elasticity (young and old)
  • People who want to improve muscle mass (with the addition of exercise)  

A Quick Review

Collagen is a protein found in bones, skin, tendons, ligaments, and muscles. Mainly collagen helps give your skin elasticity, strengthens bones, and maintains muscle fibers. It also helps your cells function to aid wound healing and immune system defenses.

You can get more collagen from eating a variety of protein sources, such as meat, fish, eggs, dairy, and plant-based proteins. Taking a collagen supplement can also help you boost your collagen, which may be better absorbed. 

Research shows collagen supplements may help folks rehydrate and plump skin, improve bone density, and increase muscle mass. However, research is mostly limited to aging populations. It's also not well understood if proactively taking collagen supplements gives everyone the same benefits. But since collagen supplements typically don't give people adverse side effects, trying a collagen supplement that doesn't work is likely just bad for your wallet. 

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Health.com uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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