Should You Take Collagen Supplements for Healthy Skin & Connective Tissue?
Did you know that gram-for-gram collagen is stronger than steel? Collagen is the building block that “glues” and strengthens all the tissues in your body.
Unfortunately, this protein is susceptible to damage from various factors such as toxins, oxidative stress, UV light, and more. On top of that, aging reduces collagen synthesis and your ability to maintain adequate collagen levels within the body.
This process of collagen breakdown can lead to joint pain, weakened bones, and signs of aging skin such as wrinkles and lack of skin elasticity.
Your options to make up for the reduced synthesis are increasing your intake of collagen-rich foods such as animal skin, bone broth, cartilage, and tendons or taking a collagen supplement.
In this article, you will discover the different types of collagen supplements, their benefits, and how to decide if a collagen supplement may be right for you.
What is Collagen?
Collagen is the most common type of protein in your body. More than 30% of your body’s vital proteins are collagen molecules (1).
The primary function of collagen is a building block that makes up your connective tissues. As you can guess from the name, this is the tissue that keeps everything in your body together.
Collagen supports the shape and structure of every human organ and keeps them healthy. Some body parts are made almost entirely of connective tissue - joints, tendons, bones, blood vessels, skin, nails, hair, etc.
Collagen is the “glue” that helps connective tissue bind together. It also gives it strength by forming triple helix structures called fibrils. According to some researchers, gram-for-gram, this structure is five to ten times stronger than steel (2).
Despite the strength of the collagen molecules, they eventually get damaged by various stressors such as active radicals, UV light, inflammation, and aging.
Thankfully, your body can replace the damaged molecules by producing all the different types of collagen. To do so, it uses the proteins and amino acids you consume in your diet.
Unfortunately, natural collagen production declines as you age. Thus, you can stimulate the process by consuming more collagen besides eating enough protein and essential amino acids.
That’s because your body breaks collagen into smaller chains of amino acids called peptides. The process of breaking down collagen into peptides is called hydrolyzation.
Using collagen hydrolysate instead of different amino acids, your body can produce new collagen faster.
Collagen supplements contain hydrolyzed collagen peptides that get digested much faster and help speed up your endogenous collagen production and connective tissue repair processes.
What are the types of collagen in your body?
Not all collagen molecules are created equal. Scientists have discovered 28 types of collagen which differ depending on their amino acid sequence and fibrillar structure (3). They are named using Roman numerals such as I, II, V, X, etc.
Type I collagen is the most abundant in your body (4). With less abundant types of collagen, such as type III and type V collagen, type I collagen plays a crucial role in the structure of your skin, blood vessels, tendons, ligaments, bone tissue, and gastrointestinal tract.
For example, type I, type III, and type V collagen all support the normal structure of your skin (5).
Normal collagen formation in the skin is also ensured by the protective effects of vitamin C, the primary antioxidant in human skin. Thus, increasing your vitamin C intake alongside collagen supplementation is essential for optimal skin health. Your need for vitamin C increases in case of high physical activity, tobacco smoking, etc.
Type I and type III also support the structure of tendons, internal organs (lungs, liver, intestines, etc.), and blood vessels such as arteries.
Type I collagen is also the main protein in your bones. It gives your skeleton strength, resilience, and elasticity. Type X is another type of collagen found in bone tissue. Its primary role is facilitating bone tissue formation and healing.
On the other hand, type II collagen can be found inside the joints, as it is the main structural component of cartilage. The role of cartilage is to cushion your bone surfaces, act as a shock absorber, and ensure frictionless motion. The rest of your joint comprises type I collagen, such as the capsule, fibrous cartilage, and ligaments.
Skin health and collagen supplements
Collagen is vital for your skin elasticity and texture. However, aging reduces your ability to synthesize it, leading to drier skin, reduced elasticity, and wrinkles.
That’s where supplementation can help. Taking type I collagen hydrolysate will give your body the building block to make new collagen faster and do wonders for skin elasticity and hydration.
Since aging skin also needs type III and type V collagen, taking a combination of peptides may increase the benefits for your skin integrity.
Most collagen supplements are “bovine-derived,” which means they contain bovine collagen produced from beef products.
Bovine collagen is an excellent source of type I, type III, and type V fibers. Bovine collagen is also used to produce gelatin in commercial products.
In addition, type I collagen supplements can also be derived from fish. This type of collagen is called “marine-derived.” Unfortunately, marine collagen may not be suitable for people with seafood allergies.
Several studies have shown that supplementing with hydrolyzed peptides containing type I collagen can help improve the skin’s elasticity and reduce wrinkles.
For example, a trial in 64 women compared the effectiveness of collagen peptides against a placebo for 12 weeks and reported significant improvements in skin hydration, elasticity, and wrinkling (6).
Another study also reports that 8 weeks of supplementation was sufficient to boost the collagen formation in the skin of 114 middle-aged women (7).
The collagen peptides promoted a statistically significant 20% reduction in eye wrinkle volume compared to the placebo. Faster collagen production can also improve the quality of your hair and nails.
Animal experiments report that supplementation with hydrolyzed collagen peptides can increase the production of hyaluronic acid inside the skin (8). The higher hyaluronic acid levels can improve skin hydration and elasticity (9).
Furthermore, the peptides can stimulate the growth and migration of fibroblasts (10). Those progenitor cells play a crucial role in skin healing and repair after damage. Thus, supplementation may speed up skin healing after injuries and trauma.
Your tendons and bones will also benefit from supplementation with collagen peptides.
Unfortunately, your skeleton loses a significant amount of collagen content as you age. This process reduces the bone density and the elasticity of your bones, making them more prone to breaking in the case of trauma. Low bone density also leads to osteoporosis.
According to clinical research, supplementation with type I collagen peptides may slow down or even reverse the decrease of bone density in patients with osteoporosis (11). This scientific report showed 12 months of supplementation led to a 7% bone mineral density increase in 102 postmenopausal women.
Type II collagen
Type II collagen is the primary type of collagen that makes up the cartilage in your joints. Therefore, supplementing can help your joints' integrity and repair processes for better joint health.
Supplemental type II collagen is usually “chicken-derived,” It comes in two forms - either collagen hydrolysate or unmodified type II collagen. The latter is also known as denatured collagen since it is not broken down into peptides.
Hydrolyzed type II collagen peptides
Type II collagen peptides can speed up your joints' extracellular matrix, collagen, and hyaluronic acid production.
This can help slow down and alleviate the symptoms of cartilage wear and tear in people with osteoarthritis. Osteoarthritis is a degenerative joint disease caused by progressive cartilage breakdown (12).
According to a 2009 study, supplementation with 10g of type II collagen peptides for 6 months was significantly more effective than placebo in reducing symptoms of osteoarthritis in 250 older adults (13).
The benefits of improved joint comfort and pain reduction were the highest in those participants who consumed little or no meat in their diets.
A 2017 study on young and athletic individuals also reported a significant reduction in joint pain after 12 weeks of supplementation (14).
As a result, the intervention significantly reduced the patient’s use of pain medications such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).
In addition, scientists also report that collagen peptides can stimulate the production of hyaluronic acid inside the joint (15). Hyaluronic acid is a component of the joint fluid that helps lubricate and cushion your joints to reduce friction.
Previous research also supports the effectiveness of type II collagen peptides in reducing joint pain and improving mobility in individuals with osteoarthritis (16).
Undenatured type II collagen
Undenatured or native are used to describe collagen that has not been hydrolyzed and broken down into peptides or amino acids.
Scientists are investigating undenatured type II collagen for its potential benefits against autoimmune conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis. This type of collagen may help reduce inflammation and protect joints in patients with the disease.
The native collagen protein may work by reaching the intestines before becoming denatured, allowing it to interact with the immune cells (17).
Since your intestinal tract also functions as an immune system organ, this process can increase your immune tolerance toward the type II collagen in your joints and reduce the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis (18).
Indeed, lab experiments report that native type II collagen can help reduce cartilage breakdown and improve joint health (19).
Clinical research also reports that at least 3 months of supplementation can significantly reduce the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis (20).
Furthermore, a previous trial revealed that daily doses as low as 40 mg of undenatured type 2 collagen were sufficient to improve knee joint pain, function, and comfort in 28 patients with rheumatoid arthritis (21).
Always consult your doctor before taking any supplement for a medical condition. Clinicians warn that patients must continue their regular treatment alongside supplementation to minimize the risk for disease progression.
Can you take too much collagen?
Since collagen is a dietary protein, the effects of taking a higher dose of a supplement are not going to be any different than eating more meat, animal cartilage, or drinking extra amounts of bone broth.
But overeating with proteins, in general, can be stressful for your digestive system and result in gastrointestinal problems.
People who have taken a higher dose of collagen supplements than recommended report that they have experienced unpleasant taste, feeling overly full, or other stomach complaints (22).
If you want to increase your collagen intake, start small and slowly increase your dosage to ensure that your gastrointestinal system can tolerate it.
Also, consult with your doctor if you have any chronic digestive problems or have to restrict your protein intake due to another condition.
Note: This article is for informational purposes only and not intended for use as medical advice. Always consult your healthcare provider before starting any dietary supplement.