Collagen positively impacts your health in many ways, including improving your skin appearance, gut, brain, and heart health.
So, if you’re thinking of boosting your collagen levels, you have two options: Take an exogenous collagen supplement, such as a pill or powder, or eat foods that support endogenous collagen in your body.
This article explains everything about collagen, including its types, roles and benefits, and how to prevent collagen loss.
As the most abundant protein in the body, comprising one-third of your total protein, collagen provides shape, strength, and integrity to your tissues. This includes your skin, bones, tendons, blood vessels, and heart (*).
Collagen is made up of amino acids (its building blocks) which include glycine, proline, and hydroxyproline. Glycine is the smallest of these three amino acids and it adds stability to collagen’s triple-helix structure (*).
While collagen is more commonly used to boost skin elasticity and reduce the signs of aging, it also helps with brain function. This is because collagen is also present in our central nervous system, particularly in our neurons (*).
Due to the many roles that collagen plays, reduced collagen levels in the body will lead to various problems.
28 types of collagen have been identified in the body.
Type I is the most abundant and is the key component of many tissues. It’s also the best studied collagen in vertebrates, along with Types II and III collagen (*).
Type III collagen has the same molecular structure as Type I collagen. It’s an important component of your blood vessels and hollow organs (*).
If you’ve tried finding collagen supplements, you may have noticed Types I, II, and III as the most popular ones listed on the package.
Perhaps the most desirable benefit of collagen, especially among women, is skin appearance and health. Studies show that taking oral collagen peptides for over a period of 1 month to 6 months can lead to improved skin hydration, reduced wrinkles, and reduced cellulite (* , *, *).
Collagen also strengthens nails so that they don’t get brittle and are less likely to break. One study looked at the effects of a daily collagen peptides supplement in 25 participants. 4 weeks post-treatment, the researchers noted an increase in the participants’ nail growth rate and a reduced frequency of broken nails (*).
Those who are looking to preserve or grow their muscles may be wondering if collagen helps. According to a randomized controlled trial, combining collagen peptides with resistance training thrice a week results in better body composition, increased muscle strength, and fat-free mass (*). One of the ways collagen supports muscles is that its amino acid glycine has been found to offer protection from muscle wasting (*).
Another popular use of collagen is to experience relief from joint pain. Some people are prone to joint pain, such as athletes, individuals whose jobs require them to walk all day, and those who are sensitive to weather changes. A 24-week study found that collagen reduced joint pain while standing, lifting, and even at rest (*).
In addition to joint health, collagen can be used for gut health. Research has found that patients who are suffering from IBS and similar inflammatory conditions like ulcerative colitis (UC) and Crohn’s disease (CD) tend to be low in collagen IV. This means that collagen may offer intestinal mucosal protection and help the gut heal (* , *).
What about collagen for healthy brain function? Since collagen is present in our central nervous system, a lack of collagen may be linked to neurodegeneration. Neurodegeneration causes symptoms, such as memory loss, mood changes, anxiety, and depression (* , *). In other words, the presence of some types of collagen helps the brain function properly, repair itself, and prevent neurodegenerative diseases.
Consuming collagen positively affects your heart function. More specifically, it can improve levels of HDL cholesterol (which is your good cholesterol) and lower LDL cholesterol. Collagen may protect or help treat atherosclerosis or heart disease (*).
There are things that lead to low collagen levels, which you can and cannot control. Aging, for example, is inevitable, and causes your body to produce 1% less collagen after the age of 20 (*). Certain health conditions may also contribute to changes in collagen.
Some lifestyle habits also decrease collagen and unfortunately, not everyone is aware of these habits. Cigarette smoking, sleep deprivation, stress, excessive alcohol consumption, and a nutrient-deficient and high-sugar diet all deplete collagen (* , *, *, *).
UV irradiation, as a result of sun exposure, leads to collagen degradation and slows collagen production (*).
While it’s difficult to measure the collagen levels in your body due to collagen’s limited solubility, fortunately, you’ll be able to identify decreasing collagen (*). Watch out for these obvious signs and symptoms (*):
- Increased and deep skin wrinkles
- Fine lines
- Skin dryness
- Gut problems
- Reduced mobility
- Joint pain and stiffness (since collagen is a component of cartilage)
This is why it’s so important to support your collagen levels by adopting a healthier lifestyle, eating right, and taking collagen supplements. Note that some supplements, such as vegan collagen, provide only the nutrients that support collagen production — and not collagen itself.
Preserve your body’s collagen and produce more of it by following these easy strategies.
1. Eat collagen-rich foods.
By “collagen-rich,” we are referring to foods that provide high amounts of protein. Eggs, tuna, wild salmon, chicken, beef, bone broth, and pork are dietary sources of amino acids required to synthesize collagen in the body.
2. Eat foods that promote collagen synthesis.
Certain nutrients, such as vitamin C, vitamin E, copper, and omega-3 fatty acids, can aid collagen synthesis (* , *). These are found in foods like strawberries, shiitake mushrooms, almonds, hazelnuts, and fatty fish.
Vitamin C, which is often included in collagen supplements, works by activating two enzymes required for collagen synthesis (*). Furthermore, it releases enzymes that inhibit molecules that break down collagen.
3. Quit sugar.
Research shows that glucose and fructose trap the amino acids in collagen, which then prevents the skin from repairing itself effectively (*).
Unfortunately, most people consume excessive amounts of sugar. This does not only accelerate the aging process, but it also leads to other problems like weight gain, fatty liver, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease (*).
Try this: Break your sugar habit with our 7-day no sugar challenge. It’s a free challenge that will teach you how to recognize sugar, plus a healthy food and drink list.
4. Protect your skin from UV radiation.
Since sun exposure contributes to premature skin aging, safeguard your skin by using broad-spectrum sunscreen, wearing a hat or a long-sleeved shirt when you’re about to go outside. Additionally, if you do most of your activities outdoors, you may want to avoid going out when the sun is strongest — that’s about between 10:00 am and 4:00 pm (*).
5. Get good sleep at night.
Sleep deprivation has a negative effect on your skin and overall health. During sleep, your body’s cells undergo repair, so imagine how hard it can be to stay healthy and well when you lack sleep. One mechanism is that sleep plays a role in the immune response, which in turn affects collagen production (*).
Get a full night of sleep. Adults need around 7-9 hours of sleep each night while young children and teens need more hours to support their development (*). To promote sleep, make sure to have a relaxing routine, which includes turning off your devices before bedtime.
6. Avoid smoking and alcohol.
A study showed that tobacco use and a high alcohol intake are two factors that lead to skin changes. These substances generate free radicals, which can lead to signs of skin aging, such as wrinkling (*).
Ditching one habit can help you quit the other. Alcohol or tobacco is a trigger that increases your likelihood to engage in an unhealthy habit. Moreover, if you plan to drink, limit yourself to one drink (for women) and two drinks (for men).
People often turn to collagen supplements to restore or maintain collagen. However, it’s important to note that supplements are not required if you’re consuming a nutrient-rich diet. Here’s more about the pros and cons of supplementation:
The Potential Benefits of Taking Collagen Supplements
Collagen supplements will help you get collagen that has already been broken down, which is referred to as collagen peptides. By consistently taking a supplement, you can experience benefits, such as supple skin, stronger nails, muscle repair and growth, pain-free joints, and a healthier brain and heart.
In contrast, eating protein-rich food means that your body still needs to break that protein into specific amino acids to form new collagen.
Another advantage of taking collagen peptides is that you can do it outside mealtimes, which makes it convenient. Simply open your collagen supplement bottle, pop a pill, or blend the powder with water or your favorite drink!
The Potential Risks and Side Effects of Taking Collagen Supplements
Collagen supplements are safe in general. However, some supplements contain other ingredients — herbs, for example — that might interact with the medications you’re currently taking. To be on the safe side, it’s best to consult with your healthcare provider if you want to supplement with collagen.
Other than that, some people may be allergic to fish and shellfish, which are used in some collagen supplements. Signs of an allergic reaction include dizziness, itching, swollen lips and tongue, and trouble breathing.
Aside from checking with your doctor, make a habit of reading the ingredients list and knowing where a collagen supplement has been sourced.
Below are answers to common questions on collagen:
What are some medical uses of collagen?
Collagen is used in medical settings to treat serious wounds, burn injuries, and diabetic ulcers. In cosmetic surgery, collagen is administered as an injectable to reduce scarring, make the lips look fuller, and reduce wrinkles in certain areas of the face (*).
What exactly is collagen made of?
Collagen is made up of amino acids, which serve as its building blocks. The amino acids glycine, proline, and hydroxyproline are highly abundant in collagen.
What age should you start taking collagen?
While there isn’t an optimal age to start taking collagen, it’s a good idea to consider it in your 20s. This is because collagen levels begin to decrease after the age of 20. Collagen also becomes more important if you’re always stressed and are eating high amounts of sugar, which are some of the things that destroy collagen.
Does collagen tighten loose skin?
Yes, collagen minimizes loose skin after losing a lot of weight. Collagen works by increasing your skin’s elasticity. Taking collagen is best done in combination with other natural strategies for loose skin, such as exercising (especially resistance training) and avoiding sugar.
What foods are high in collagen?
The best food sources of collagen include egg whites, bone broth, red meat, chicken, and fish. These animal-based foods provide the amino acids needed to create collagen in the body. Plant-based foods, such as berries and leafy greens, provide vitamin C, which is a cofactor for collagen synthesis.
Our age, the foods we eat, and our lifestyle play a role in how our collagen levels change. So, while we have endogenous collagen, we can support it through strategies like taking a supplement, eating meat and vitamin C-containing foods, quitting sugar, among other health-promoting habits.
When it comes to supplementing, make sure that you’re aware of your allergies and ingredients that might interact with your current medications. This will help you choose the right collagen supplement. Try our keto-friendly grass-fed collagen with energy-boosting MCTs and zero artificial sweeteners today.
Asserin J et al. The effect of oral collagen peptide supplementation on skin moisture and the dermal collagen network: evidence from an ex vivo model and randomized, placebo-controlled clinical trials. 2015 September 12
Zdzieblik D et al. Collagen peptide supplementation in combination with resistance training improves body composition and increases muscle strength in elderly sarcopenic men: a randomised controlled trial. 2015 October 28