Collagen is a type of protein, the main substance of your joints' connective tissues. If you're looking for a boost, these collagen-rich foods for joints may help.
Collagen’s Role in the Body
The word "collagen" comes from Greek origin and means "glue." This is because collagen is required for our bodies' structural support, and it holds our bodies together, notes a May-August 2016 review in the Journal of Oral and Maxillofacial Pathology (JOMFP).
"Collagen is the building block for muscles and tendons," says Emmanuel Loucas, MD, dermatologist and founder of Loucas Dermatology in New York City. "It is an integral part of creating a stable environment for your joints."
According to Cleveland Clinic, collagen is found in:
- Blood vessels.
- Intestinal lining.
Cleveland Clinic also mentions that as we age, collagen levels decrease due to our bodies being incapable of absorbing nutrients or utilizing them as efficiently. This decrease contributes to:
- Stiffer, less flexible tendons and ligaments.
- Shrinking and weak muscles.
- Joint pain or osteoarthritis due to worn cartilage.
- Gastrointestinal problems due to thinning of digestive tract lining.
Foods High in Collagen
Our bodies combine amino acids (nutrients from protein-rich foods) to create collagen, according to Cleveland Clinic. Zinc, copper and vitamin C are also needed for this process. An August 2017 study published in Nutrients states that vitamin C plays an important role in the production of pro-collagen, which is the body's precursor to collagen.
Dr. Loucas says that foods that are rich in collagen and boost collagen production include:
- Red bell peppers.
- Bone broth.
- Citrus fruits.
- Dark leafy greens.
Regardless of whether you eat chicken or beef or take a collagen supplement, your body is still getting those amino acids and using them as needed, according to the Arthritis Foundation. It also states that supplementation with "hydrolyzed collagen" may be more available to your tissues because it's broken down into smaller particles or "pre-digested."
Not every part of the body reaps the benefits of collagen though. "It is less certain whether oral ingestion of collagen has the same effect on helping cartilage," Dr. Loucas says. "Cartilage is avascular (not much blood supply), so creating an environment to promote cartilage production is very difficult." The Arthritis Foundation also confirms that no studies have found that collagen helps to repair or grow cartilage.
According to the JOMFP review, the body has at least 16 different types of collagen, but the most common types are 1, 2 and 3.
Collagen has gained so much popularity that it is also available in supplement and powder form, allowing people to add it easily to smoothies, yogurts, coffee and more. "Type 2 collagen, such as chicken collagen and bovine collagen, is from cartilage," Dr. Loucas says. "This type of collagen is what makes up the cartilage of the joints. These supplements may help joint pain and arthritic conditions in certain people."
A small June 2016 study published in the Eurasian Journal of Medicine backs that claim up. In the study, 39 patients with knee osteoarthritis were placed either in a group receiving only acetaminophen (an over-the-counter pain reliever), or in a group receiving acetaminophen and 10 milligrams of type 2 collagen each day. After three months, the group receiving both acetaminophen and type 2 collagen had significant improvements in joint pain, function and quality of life.
"Taking collagen supplements may reduce inflammation and stimulate collagen production," Dr. Loucas says. "In theory, this may help promote pain relief."
Just know that some people may experience stomach upset or diarrhea, the Arthritis Foundation notes. Always talk to your doctor about any supplements you're taking.
Is This an Emergency?
- Journal of Oral and Maxillofacial Pathology: “Enigmatic Insight Into Collagen”
- Emmanuel Loucas, MD, dermatologist, Loucas Dermatology & Laser Center, New York City
- Cleveland Clinic: “The Best Way You Can Get More Collagen”
- Nutrients: “The Roles of Vitamin C in Skin Health”
- Arthritis Foundation: “Are Collagen Supplements Helpful for Arthritis?”
- The Eurasian Journal of Medicine: “Effects of Native Type II Collagen Treatment on Knee Osteoarthritis: A Randomized Controlled Trial”