Collagen supplements have become a significant contender in the protein supplement market and are quickly rising to the top of the list regarding what supplements people are buying.
Despite the rise in popularity, there are many questions around precisely what collagen supplements are, what they do, and whether they work or not.
This article will dive into the science of collagen and review whether or not collagen supplements are effective. You can also find relevant information on supplements within the NASM nutrition coach course.
Table of Contents
What Is Collagen
Collagen represents a family of proteins found in the body that provides most of our connective tissues' structural components: ligaments, tendons, cartilage, and skin. The collagen family of proteins comprises almost 33% of all proteins in the human body. There are several different collagen types, 16 to be exact, but nearly 90% of all collagen in the human body comes from types I-III.
Collagen is formed in the human body by "assembling" collagen fibrils from three amino acids: proline, glycine, and hydroxyproline. These fibrils are then bundled in larger groups, much like muscle tissue, to make collagen fibers. As such, collagen has a cable-like structure in that it is comprised of many smaller bundles of proteins that are bundled together, which gives it much of its physical properties, including great tensile strength.
Do Collagen Supplements Work?
While we can make the amino acids necessary to produce more collagen from other foods in our diet, consuming dietary collagen appears to be far more effective for replacing collagen than making collagen from other sources. The reason for this is that not only does eating dietary collagen provide more of the amino acids necessary when you consume collagen.
It also tells specific cells in your skin to make more collagen. This has been shown to work in humans when sufficiently large quantities of collagen supplements are consumed (around 15 grams). Collagen supplements have been studied over the last several decades, and there are two main areas where there is good evidence to support collagen supplementation: skin and joint pain.
With regard to skin and collagen, it is vital to understand how the skin works and how it maintains itself. Collagen is the most abundant protein in a component in the skin known as the extracellular matrix, which gives the skin much of its overall structure and is mostly responsible for the smooth, youthful appearance that skin has when one is younger.
As collagen is a protein, it is much like other proteins in the body in that it is in a state of constant turnover and needs to be replaced. Since collagen supplementation has been shown to increase the body's collagen production, it would make sense that collagen supplementation may improve skin quality and appearance.
Randomized trials have found that collagen supplementation can indeed help by improving hydration, elasticity, and wrinkling. Furthermore, systematic reviews have supported the use of collagen for several aspects of skin health. For example, one review found that supplementation with collagen helped improve skin elasticity and hydration. The same review also found that collagen supplementation helped with wound healing.
Collagen is one of the primary proteins in our joint connective tissue and another similar protein called elastin. Loss of collagen is one common reason for joint pain in some people. As such, it has been hypothesized that supplementation with collagen might be able to improve joint pain.
Several randomized trials have examined the efficacy of collagen supplementation on joint pain in a variety of different populations. One trial conducted in college-aged athletes found that 24 weeks of supplementation with 10 mg a day of hydrolyzed collagen improved joint pain, specifically knee pain, in a variety of different tests. Another randomized trial found that 13 weeks of collagen supplementation improved subjectively reported pain associated with osteoarthritis.
Systematic reviews and meta-analysis also support the use of collagen supplementation on joint pain, especially in regards to osteoarthritis. One meta-analysis found that there was a statistically significant and clinically meaningful decrease in joint pain associated with osteoarthritis following collagen supplementation.
However, the overall evidence does appear to be low, and making blanket recommendations for collagen supplementation in the treatment of osteoarthritis does not appear to be prudent at this time.
How Long Does it Take for Collagen Supplements to Work?
Based on the scientific literature, there is no universally accepted time frame for how long it takes for collagen supplementation to show efficacy. However, most studies show benefits on outcome measures between 4-8 weeks, suggesting that a 1-2 months time frame appears to be a rough time frame for collagen supplements to show efficacy.
Is it Safe to Take Collagen Supplements?
Collagen supplements in moderate doses (<30 grams per day) appear to be safe for humans. The LD50 for oral collagen supplements in rodents is around 5 grams per kg, which would equate to about 350 grams a day for a 70 kg human being.
Marine Collagen vs. Bovine Collagen Supplements
There are two primary forms of commercially available collagen supplements: bovine collagen and marine collagen. Both collagen supplements provide similar amounts and collagen types with minor differences; marine collagen provides type I and type II collagen while bovine collagen provides more type I and type III collagen.
The other main difference is how they are sourced, with marine collagen coming primarily from the skin, bones, and scales of fish, while bovine collagen comes mainly from cows' skin and connective tissue.
Collagen is one of the main structural proteins in the human body and represents around a third of all protein found in the body. Collagen provides much of the structure to the skin and supportive connective tissue in joints.
Supplementing with collagen has been shown to improve skin hydration and elasticity and may help with skin aging. It has also been shown to help reduce joint pain slightly in athletes and may improve pain associated with osteoarthritis. Dosing of 10-15 grams per day appears to be useful for both skin and joints and seems to be safe.
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