Collagen accounts for 30 to 40 percent of the protein in your body. But as you get older, the natural production of collagen decreases as part of the natural aging process and due to other things like poor diet and chronic stress.
Although you can't prevent the natural loss of collagen, you can reduce or eliminate the outside causes of collagen loss and add the protein to your diet in the form of a supplement. A collagen supplement may benefit everything from your skin and nails to your bones and muscles. But always talk to your doctor before talking collagen or any other supplements.
What Is Collagen?
Collagen is the most abundant protein in the human body. It's found in your bones, skin, muscles, blood vessels, intestinal lining and tendons. It quite literally holds your entire body together. Without collagen, you wouldn't be able to stand, walk or move at all.
Several different amino acids come together to make collagen, but the ones that contribute the highest percentage are:
What Affects Collagen?
Your body makes its own collagen, but as you age, the natural production slowly decreases. Collagen can also be damaged in other ways, including:
- Exposure to the UV rays of the sun
- A high sugar intake
- Autoimmune diseases
When collagen decreases, the elasticity and structural integrity of your skin diminish. As a result, wrinkles start to form. Because collagen is such a huge component of cartilage, the decrease in production can also lead to weakened joints.
Supplementing With Collagen
The collagen that your body naturally produces is categorized as endogenous collagen, which means it comes from within. Collagen is also available in supplements that you can take in powdered or pill form. This type of supplemental collagen is categorized as exogenous collagen.
Exogenous collagen often comes in a form called collagen peptides (also referred to as hydrolyzed collagen), which are a form of collagen that have been broken down through a process called hydrolyzation. Hydrolyzation is a fancy term that means "to break apart with the addition of water."
When collagen is hydrolyzed, it breaks down into smaller molecules that are more easily absorbed by your body. Collagen peptides are water-soluble, so they completely dissolve in both hot and cold liquid, and they're tasteless (unless you choose a flavored variety). You can stir them into your water or blend them into your protein smoothies without affecting the taste or texture.
Collagen vs. Gelatin
You probably know gelatin as the dessert that you could cut into cubes and jiggle, but as a supplement, gelatin is an amino acid-rich protein. It's closely related to collagen peptides (they have the same amino acid profile), but the way it works in food and drinks is vastly different.
Unlike collagen, which is water-soluble, gelatin doesn't dissolve in liquid. Instead, it thickens the liquid and, in certain quantities, turns the liquid gel-like. Although both can be used as a supplement for the same benefits, you cannot mix gelatin into your drinks without changing the texture.
Collagen Benefits for Skin
As you age, your body naturally produces less collagen. In fact, after the age of 20, you lose collagen at a rate of about 1 percent per year. As a result, your skin may become drier and less elastic, which leads to wrinkles and other signs of aging. Collagen supplements may combat these signs of aging by improving skin elasticity, hydrating the skin and improving the skin's texture.
Researchers tested the effects of collagen supplements on aging skin by giving oral collagen supplements to participants for eight weeks. The results of the study, which was published in the Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology in 2015, showed that collagen supplementation improved both skin density and hydration.
But more than that, the results didn't stop when supplementation did. Participants experienced lingering positive effects on their skin for 12 weeks after the collagen supplementation stopped.
Read more: 9 Ways to Keep Your Skin Looking Great
Collagen Benefits for Hair
Collagen makes up a large percentage of a structure called the extracellular matrix in your hair follicles. That's why supplemental collagen has benefits for hair. In animal studies, lack of adequate amounts of collagen in the extracellular matrix is associated with lack of hair growth and delays in normal hair cycling.
In a study published in The Journal of Investigative Dermatology in 2015, researchers reported that collagen supplementation may help with hair regrowth and reversing hair loss.
Collagen Benefits for Nails
There are numerous collagen benefits for nails. The protein can help make nails stronger and less prone to breakage, and may even help them grow longer and faster.
In one study, published in the Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology in 2017, participants were given a collagen supplement every day for 24 weeks. Researchers reported that the collagen supplements helped promote nail growth by 12 percent and decreased the frequency of broken nails by 42 percent.
Even four weeks after collagen supplementation stopped, 88 percent of participants still noticed an improvement in appearance and strength.
Other Collagen Supplement Benefits
In addition to helping your hair grow, improving skin texture and appearance and promoting healthy nails, there are other collagen supplement benefits that extend beyond beauty. Collagen may:
Where Does Collagen Come From?
Most commercial collagen supplements come from four major sources:
- Cow (bovine)
- Fish (marine)
Specifically, collagen is made from the hides and connective tissue of the animals. During normal meat processing, these parts are simply thrown away. But supplement manufacturers have stepped in and turned them into a valuable supplement instead.
Read more: How to Drink Collagen for the Skin
How Much Should You Take?
Although the exact amount of collagen you need differs depending on your specific needs, you can ask your doctor where to start or follow the manufacturer's instructions regarding dosage. Choose a collagen supplement that's made from organic, grass-fed cows that are humanely treated.
That way, you know you're getting a supplement with high-quality ingredients and a healthy amino acid profile.
- Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology: Oral Supplementation With Specific Bioactive Collagen Peptides Improves Nail Growth and Reduces Symptoms of Brittle Nails
- Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology: 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
- Applied Physiology, Nutrition and Metabolism: Improvement of Activity-Related Knee Joint Discomfort Following Supplementation of Specific Collagen Peptides
- The British Journal of Nutrition: Collagen Peptide Supplementation in Combination With Resistance Training Improves Body Composition and Increases Muscle Strength in Elderly Sarcopenic Men: A Randomised Controlled Trial
- Skin Pharmacology and Physiology: Oral Supplementation of Specific Collagen Peptides Has Beneficial Effects on Human Skin Physiology: A Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Study
- Journal of Medicinal Food: Dietary Supplementation With Specific Collagen Peptides Has a Body Mass Index-Dependent Beneficial Effect on Cellulite Morphology
- The Journal of Investigative Dermatology: Lack of Collagen VI Promotes Wound-Induced Hair Growth
- Medical News Today: Collagen: What Is It and What Are Its Uses?
- Scientific American: Why Does Skin Wrinkle With Age? What Is the Best Way to Slow or Prevent This Process?
- DrKellyann.com: Where Does Collagen Come From, and Is It a Protein?
- Harvard Bionumbers: Percent of Protein in Body That Is Collagen
- DrAxe.com: What Is Collagen? 7 Ways Collagen Can Boost Your Health