Collagen supplements are becoming increasingly popular — but are they really a drinkable “fountain of youth?”
Many people have started adding a scoop of collagen supplements to their smoothies, soups, and even their morning coffee. These powder supplements work to encourage the health of your skin from the inside out. They’re also used to help support the health of the joints, as well as the digestive and circulatory systems.
Collagen is essential to keeping your skin and body healthy — so how does it work?
Nowadays, you might associate collagen with cosmetic procedures aimed to keep skin looking youthful and firm. After all, collagen is one of the main structural proteins that keeps skin radiant and smooth.
But if you were to take a look back at your notes from high school anatomy class, you’d find that collagen is a protein naturally produced by the body that’s integral to the health of multiple body systems.
You see, collagen comes from the Greek word “kolla,” which means “glue.” And indeed collagen is the glue — and framework — of your body. As the most abundant protein in your body, collagen provides the structure for skin, bone, and connective tissue. Collagen is essentially what holds the body together, keeping it firm and strong.
So what are some of the ways this collagen “glue” works specifically in the body? Here are a few:
A vast majority (75 percent) of skin is made up of collagen. It lives in the lower levels of the dermis and provides strength and a foundation for the skin.1 Skin that lacks collagen is prone to looking crepey and wrinkled, and it may sag too. A lack of collagen also contributes to the appearance of cellulite. Skin that is rich in collagen will look firm, elastic, smooth, and youthful.
The walls of arteries, veins, and capillaries are partially made up of collagen. This collagen gives blood vessels strength and flexibility, allowing them to effectively transport blood throughout the body.2
Collagen is part of the “glue” that helps hold bones together at the joints, and it also helps joints withstand tension and strain.3
Digestive System Lining:
Collagen helps form connective tissue, which adds a protective layer to the fragile walls of the gastrointestinal tract.4
Collagen fibers give your muscles strength and flexibility to move you through your day.5 These fibers also make up your smooth muscle tissue — found in areas like the heart and reproductive system.6
Collagen and a mineral called hydroxyapatite help make up your bones, providing structure, flexibility and strength.7
Adding Collagen To Your Body
As you age, your body’s collagen production rate naturally slows down — and this is partially due to the presence of free radicals.
What are free radicals? They’re unpaired molecules from sources such as sun exposure, smoking, and pollution. These unpaired molecules like to be paired with other molecules, and when they’re not — they scavenge the human body looking for a pair — this leads to the visible signs of aging,8 including a reduction in collagen.9
You can see the effects of decreased collagen in several ways. Your skin may begin to show visible signs of aging in the form of wrinkles, dullness, crepiness, and cellulite. You may also experience joint soreness — perhaps walking up the stairs isn’t as easy as it used to be.
But just because your own collagen production rates slow down, does that mean firm skin and healthy joints are out of the question? Not at all. You see, ingesting collagen can actually do a lot to add collagen to your body — and to encourage your body’s own production of collagen.
One way you can do this is by eating foods that contain the building blocks of collagen production. Foods high in vitamin C — bell peppers, strawberries, citrus fruits, and broccoli — can help boost collagen formation. Likewise, foods high in hyaluronic acid — like eggs and sea kelp — also contain components necessary for collagen formation.
There are also foods that are rich in bioavailable collagen. Eggs, fish, and bovine bone broth all contain ready-made collagen.
And antioxidant-rich foods like broccoli, spinach, blueberries, and pomegranate? Those are always a good idea, as they may help prevent unnecessary breakdown of collagen.
Now that you’re on board with eating bone broth and sea kelp, keep in mind that there is a drawback to getting your collagen from food sources. You see, collagen molecules from dietary sources can be too big for your digestive system to break down, making it more difficult for your body to absorb the collagen.
This is where collagen peptides — also known as collagen hydrolysate — come in. When collagen is hydrolyzed (or broken down), the molecular bonds between individual collagen strands are broken down into 19 amino acids.
These amino acids don’t have to be broken down by the stomach — they can be absorbed at a high rate directly through the gut into the bloodstream.10 As a result, the amino acids retain their potency. In short — this form of collagen is easy for your body to process and use.
The light molecular weight of collagen peptides also means they’re soluble in liquids. That means you can add a spoonful or two of collagen peptide powder (which happens to be tasteless) to your smoothie, yogurt, or oatmeal in the morning.
Another benefit of collagen supplements is that they contain multiple elements that help collagen work effectively.
For example, biocell collagen contains type II collagen, along with chondroitin sulfate, and hyaluronic acid.
Chondroitin sulfate is an element of cartilage that works with collagen to help keep joints strong and healthy. And hyaluronic acid is needed to bind collagen with elastin — another protein that helps your skin stretch and gives it an elastic quality. Hyaluronic acid also has hydrating qualities, which keep skin looking supple and smooth.11
Collagen Supplement Studies
Researchers have been studying how collagen supplements may affect the human body, and several studies have pointed to its benefits.
In a double-blind placebo-controlled study, women between the ages of 35-55 were given either 2.5 to 5 grams of hydrolyzed collagen supplements or a placebo each day for 8 weeks.
Women who’d taken the collagen supplements experienced significantly improved skin elasticity compared to those who had taken the placebo. Women who’d taken the collagen supplements also saw an improvement in skin moisture levels.12
In a 2015 clinical trial, collagen supplements were found to induce collagen production. The supplements were correlated with an increase in collagen density and a decrease in collagen breakdown — and skin was found to be more hydrated after 8 weeks of supplementation.13
Because collagen plays an integral role in bones and joint structure, scientists have studied the role of collagen supplements in helping maintain joint health. One trial studied a population that routinely puts high stress on their joints: athletes. These subjects were given collagen supplements or a placebo for 24 weeks. The athletes who received collagen supplements reported an improvement in joint pain in comparison to the athletes who received placebos.14
A Supplement to Snack On
If you’re looking to improve the texture and firmness of your skin — while also encouraging the overall health of your body — a collagen supplement may be the right choice. The small molecule size of collagen peptides make them easy for your body to absorb, and they’re a fantastic addition to any smoothie, soup, yogurt, or oatmeal.