What is collagen?

Collagen is one of the most common proteins found in the human body. In general, there are no major risks of using collagen supplements.
Collagen is one of the most common proteins found in the human body. In general, there are no major risks of using collagen supplements.

Collagen supplements are often sold with the claim that they can improve skin, boost joint health, burn fat, and build muscle mass. However, there's currently not enough research to prove that taking collagen supplements can directly help reduce joint pain or slow down the effects of aging on the skin. In general, you can boost your collagen naturally just by having a balanced diet and following a healthy lifestyle. 

Collagen is one of the most common proteins found in the human body. It makes up 25% to 35% of your body's proteins. It has a fiber-like structure, which allows it to provide structural support to the skin, bones, muscles, and various other tissues in the body. 

Your body produces collagen naturally by combining various amino acids — the building blocks of protein — consumed in your food. However, once you reach your 20s, collagen production starts decreasing by 1% to 1.5% every year.

In women, hormone fluctuations also lower collagen levels in the body. As a result, collagen production falls by roughly 30% within the first five years after menopause. Moreover, smoking, pollution, and UV rays from the sun break down the skin enzymes needed for making collagen. This further lowers the collagen levels in the body.

What are collagen supplements?

Collagen is a big protein. Your body can't absorb it unless it's broken down into smaller amino acids. So, oral collagen supplements contain absorbable fragments of collagen, such as hydrolyzed collagen and collagen peptides. Some supplements also contain zinc, biotin, and vitamin C — nutrients needed for maintaining healthy skin and hair.

Does taking collagen supplements really work?

Many people buy oral collagen supplements with the hope of improving the health of their skin, bones, and joints. While companies may claim that these supplements can increase the collagen levels in your body, there's no proof that they can. 

Once the collagen peptides reach your stomach, they're broken down into amino acids. These then join a bigger pool of amino acids that create proteins most needed in your body. Those resulting proteins may or may not be collagen.

Collagen pills may also not be helpful if you take them for a specific purpose, like burning fat or improving your skin's elasticity. This is because after the amino acids are released from the pill, it's up to your body to decide how and where to use them. This means the collagen from your supplements could end up in your muscles, even if you took them for your skin. 

Are there any risks of using collagen supplements?

In general, there are no major risks of using collagen supplements. Keep in mind that supplements are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), so there are no guidelines when it comes to how much collagen is considered safe to consume. 

Collagen supplements are mostly made from the bones and tissues of chickens, pigs, cows, and fish. This means there's a chance that they may contain toxins and heavy metals that could harm your body. 

Some collagen products contain eggs or shellfish. If you are allergic to either of these foods, your body could have a reaction to the supplement. According to some studies, people can develop mild side effects like nausea, diarrhea, and upset stomach after taking these oral supplements.  

Collagen supplements provide anywhere between 2.5 to 15 grams of collagen, similar to what you can get by simply adding protein-rich foods to your diet. Keep in mind that excess protein can negatively affect your kidneys and cause other chronic problems. 

Can you boost collagen naturally?

Most protein-rich sources of food have amino acids that can help your body boost its collagen levels naturally. These include both plant and animal-based proteins, like:

  • Bone broth
  • Egg white
  • Chicken
  • Beef
  • Spirulina
  • Poultry
  • Nuts
  • Whole grains
  • Beans 

However, just like with collagen supplements, the amino acids released from these protein-rich items will be used by your body to build any protein, which may or may not be collagen. Therefore, simply eating protein-rich foods may provide you with amino acids, but not necessarily those needed for making collagen. 

The key is having a healthy, balanced diet that gives your body a variety of amino acids to meet all of its protein needs. 

Also, to maintain healthy collagen levels, there are some lifestyle factors that could affect collagen production in your body. These include: 

  • Exposure to the sun's UV rays breaks down skin collagen, which can lead to wrinkles.
  • Smoking affects collagen production and can lead to premature aging.
  • A high-sugar diet can cause the collagen in the skin to stiffen and speed up the aging process.
  • Lack of sleep prevents collagen production and repairing of the skin.

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Is taking collagen supplements worth it?

Currently, there's limited unbiased research to prove that collagen supplements are effective. Despite being costly, supplements offer no guarantee that you can increase your collagen levels or improve the health of your skin, hair, nails, bones, or joints.

To boost collagen naturally, make healthy lifestyle choices and eat a balanced diet to ensure you get the nutrients you need, including the amino acids required for making collagen and other essential proteins. If you're still curious about taking oral collagen, talk to your doctor.

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Medically Reviewed on 6/20/2022
References
SOURCES:

American Academy of Dermatology: "CARING FOR YOUR SKIN IN MENOPAUSE."

Current Medical Research and Opinion: "Collagen hydrolysate for the treatment of osteoarthritis and other joint disorders: a review of the literature."

Harvard School of Public Health: "Collagen."

International Orthopaedics: "Effect of collagen supplementation on osteoarthritis symptoms: a meta-analysis of randomized placebo-controlled trials."

Journal of the American Society of Nephrology: "The Effects of High-Protein Diets on Kidney Health and Longevity."

MD Anderson Cancer Center: "Should I take a collagen supplement?"

Nutrients: "Animal, Plant, Collagen and Blended Dietary Proteins: Effects on Musculoskeletal Outcomes," "Significant Amounts of Functional Collagen Peptides Can Be Incorporated in the Diet While Maintaining Indispensable Amino Acid Balance."

Plastic and Aesthetic Research: "Skin collagen through the life stages: importance for skin health and beauty."

Reid Health: "What are the benefits of collagen."

Skin Pharmacology and Physiology: "Oral supplementation of specific collagen peptides has beneficial effects on human skin physiology: a double-blind, placebo-controlled study."

VersusArthritis: "What is collagen?"