You Should Be Taking Collagen

If you haven’t heard about collagen, then you haven’t been reading enough beauty or anti-aging articles lately. There is a reason that it was a $4.1 billion market in 2014, and it is expected to grow to $9.4 billion by 2023, according to a report by Transparency Market Research. Collagen is the most abundant protein in the body. It gives strength and elasticity to our skin, bones, muscles and tendons.

Our bodies make enough collagen to keep our skin looking supple and to support our skeletal and muscular systems—that is, until we are in our 30s. It is in that decade that our bodies’ production of this powerful protein starts to slow down. In addition, stress and illness also negatively affect the body’s ability to produce collagen. The results of this slowdown include wrinkles and stiff joints.

What is collagen?

There are 16 types of collagen in the body, and 80 to 90 percent of those are Type I, Type II or Type III. And these different types contain different peptides or amino acids. This means two things: 1) Collagen is not a complete protein; and 2) certain types of collagen form skin and tendons and cartilage. This last point makes choosing a collagen supplement a bit more difficult because you need to figure out why you are taking it and then which type is best. The latter is more difficult to determine because there isn’t a definitive answer.

There are three common collagen supplements: hydrolyzed Type I collagen—made with animal bones or hides, or fish skin; undenatured Type II collagen (UC-II)—made from chicken cartilage; and Marine—made by fish scales and fish skin. Eating meat, fish and poultry also provides the body with more collagen. The body breaks these down in the GI tract and makes its own collagen.

Knowing this, can supplementing with collagen help make up the difference and help the body age easier? Here’s what the science says.

Collagen and joint health

Look at the research done on collagen: The scientific money is shakily on skin benefits but more firmly on helping your joints. It isn’t completely clear how collagen helps feed your body’s ability to grow cartilage and possibly work as an anti-inflammatory.

And this theory could be one worth experimenting with if you suffer from joint pain. A prospective, randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind study published in “Current Medical Research and Opinion” looked at 97 athletes who were experiencing joint pain. Penn State researchers found that athletes who supplemented with 10 grams of collagen hydrolysate for 24 weeks experienced significant improvement in five pain markers compared to the group that took the placebo. These included:

This was the first clinical trial to show improvement of joint pain in athletes who took the dietary supplement collagen hydrolysate. As a result, the researchers concluded that their study shows that collagen supplementation could possibly support joint health and possibly reduce the risk of joint deterioration.

Collagen and arthritis

While the previously mentioned study looked at healthy subjects who were at high risk for joint pain because of their activity level, other studies examined how collagen supplementation could possibly help relieve the symptoms from different forms of arthritis. One such study published in the “International Journal of Medical Sciences” compared the abilities of UC-II collagen and the supplement combination of glucosamine and chondroitin to alleviate symptoms of osteoarthritis—a degeneration of joint cartilage and the underlying bone—of the knee. After 90 days of supplementation, the collagen treatment was more efficacious than glucosamine and chondroitin. Collagen produced a significant reduction in all assessments that include pain, stiffness and physical functioning of the knee, measured using the Western Ontario and McMaster Osteoarthritis Index (WOMAC) score. After 90 days of treatment, collagen reduced the WOMAC score by 33 percent as compared to 14 percent that the glucosamine and chondroitin did.

These results are upheld by a double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized trial with collagen peptides isolated from pork skin and bovine bone sources that was published in the “Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture.” Indian researchers wanted to study the effectiveness of orally supplemented collagen peptide for 13 weeks to control the progression of osteoarthritis in patients diagnosed with knee osteoarthritis. What they found was that there was a significant decrease in WOMAC and increase in quality-of-life scores in those who supplemented with collagen compared to those who took the placebo. These researchers also concluded that collagen could be seen as “a potential therapeutic agent for managing osteoarthritis and maintaining joint health.”

Collagen and body composition

Sarcopenia is the loss of muscle tissue as a natural part of aging. When we look at how collagen supplementation could affect those with this condition, we may understand what it can do for our active body now and help preserve it as we get older.

German researchers explored how protein supplementation with collagen after strength training affects muscle mass and muscle strength in 53 elderly men with sarcopenia compared with a post-exercise placebo. In this randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study, all the subjects participated in a 12-week, three-times-a-week, guided resistance-training program and either consumed 15 grams of collagen or a placebo. The results published in the “British Journal of Nutrition” showed that all subjects experienced increases in muscle mass, bone mass, quadriceps strength and sensory motor control with significant decreases in fat mass. However, the effect was significantly more pronounced in the collagen supplementation group.

And isn’t this part of the many reasons we stay active—to increase muscular mass and strength and to decrease fat? This research suggests that supplementing with collagen with our current training efforts may have positive effects on our body composition.

Ultimately, if you want to take collagen to help maintain joint health, the science supports that decision. It is deemed a safe supplement, and as with everything, it will be up to you whether it works.

Photo credits: SFIO CRACHO, Adobe Stock; marekuliasz, Thinkstock; fresnel6, Adobe Stock; ChesiireCat, Thinkstock; Ingram Publishing, Thinkstock