Health tips

5 scientifically backed health benefits of collagen intake


Collagen is a major structural protein in the human body. Collagen makes up 25-35% of the total protein in the body – it builds skin, connective tissue and bone. It also protects organs, promotes the growth of new cells and contributes to normal blood circulation.

What is collagen?

Collagen is the most abundant protein in the body. Like the reinforcement of a building, collagen provides structural support and protection. It is a fiber composed of three polypeptide chains. Each chain is composed of extremely strong bonds between the amino acids glycine, proline, and hydroxyproline.

How does our body produce collagen?

Our body produces collagen naturally. Humans and animals produce collagen through specialized cells in connective tissue called fibroblasts. Physical or chemical stimuli activate the fibroblast to produce collagen.

Because collagen is a protein, its building blocks are amino acids. As mentioned above, the main amino acids are glycine, proline, and hydroxyproline. In order for the body to properly assemble collagen, amino acids and sufficient nutritional cofactors (such as zinc, vitamin C, and copper) are needed.

Types of collagen

To date, research has found 28 different types of collagen chains. These are the five most common types:

  • Type I collagen is the most common type and makes up 90% of the collagen in the body. It is flexible but strong and is found in connective tissue, tendons, ligaments, bone, skin, corneas and dentin.
  • Type II collagen provides stability and builds cartilage in joints and intervertebral discs.
  • Type III collagen builds the connective tissue of organs, skin, blood vessels and muscles.
  • Type IV collagen is more of a network found in the basal laminae of epithelial and endothelial cells.
  • Type V collagen supports the eyes, some layers of skin, hair, and placental tissue.

5 scientifically supported health benefits of collagen intake

1. Skin and nail health

Maintaining skin health is considered one of the main benefits of collagen. As we age, the breakdown of our collagen increases. Although this process is inevitable, collagen intake can support healthy aging. A randomized, triple-blind, placebo-controlled study from 2020 showed that consuming 10 grams of collagen powder from freshwater fish counteracted the effects of aging by improving skin elasticity and reducing wrinkles. 

2. Gut health

Collagen can help treat increased intestinal permeability. A 2012 study found that collagen protects the gut from the pro-inflammatory molecule lipopolysaccharide. Studies have shown that it prevents the breakdown of intestinal mucosa. In addition, collagen can help reduce bloating and mild digestive upset.

3. Joint pain

Collagen breakdown may also be associated with osteoarthritis (OA). A 2019 meta-analysis found that collagen intake significantly improved OA symptoms such as pain and stiffness. Another study showed that collagen supplementation improved activities of daily living and quality of life in patients with moderate to severe osteoarthritis. Collagen also has an impact on rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Collagen has an impact on the immune and inflammatory mechanisms of RA through its ability to reduce anti-collagen antibodies.

4. Bone density

Bone is composed of 70% minerals, 20% organic matter and 10% water. Of the organic portion, about 80% is collagen. A study conducted among postmenopausal women over 12 months showed that the use of specific collagen peptides contributed to increased bone mineral density by stimulating bone formation and reducing bone breakdown. 

A systematic review of research also shows that collagen hydrolysate can potentially increase bone density, protect articular cartilage and reduce pain.

5. Body composition and metabolism

Collagen supplementation can help boost metabolism by reducing body fat and supporting muscle mass. In a study of non-exercising middle-aged men, collagen combined with resistance training showed a statistically significant change in strength and muscle mass building 

How do we lose collagen?

Our body’s ability to produce collagen slows down with age. Thus, typical signs of aging are loose skin, wrinkles and joint pain. Besides age, here are the factors that affect collagen synthesis the most:

  • Severe stress – Cortisol inhibits type I collagen production. Similarly, taking collagen peptides can be effective in inhibiting stress-related collagen breakdown.
  • Smoking – Smoking influences collagen production and the balance of extracellular matrix turnover in smokers.
  • Exposure to sunlight – Exposure to sunlight can cause skin damage that can lower total collagen content by up to 20% compared to skin that has not been exposed to the sun.
  • Sugar – Excessive sugar intake causes glucose to bind to collagen, creating AGEs or advanced glycation end products. AGEs have been linked to mechanical changes in collagen as well as multiple chronic diseases.
  • Nutrient deficiencies – Insufficient intake of vitamin C, essential fatty acids and antioxidants interfere with the ability to carry out healthy collagen synthesis.
  • Genetic mutations – Conditions such as Ehlers-Danlos syndrome and osteogenesis imperfecta result from genes that incorrectly build collagen.

Symptoms of collagen deficiency

  • Wrinkled or sagging skin
  • Pain or stiffness in the joints
  • Gastrointestinal problems
  • Circulatory problems

How to increase collagen levels naturally

Bone broth

Bone broth is an excellent source of collagen as it is high in protein and other healthful nutrients. This product is obtained by slowly cooking bones, cartilage or skin from cattle, chickens or fish. The process gently extracts minerals and collagen into the liquid bone broth, which can be eaten alone or as an ingredient in other dishes.

Collagen-rich foods

Collagen is only found in animal products. Foods rich in collagen include parts of meat that are rich in connective tissue, such as brisket, roasts and offal. Regular consumption of meat and eggs provides the necessary amino acids that allow our bodies to synthesize collagen.

Foods that support collagen synthesis

Although plants do not contain collagen, they are extremely useful sources of amino acids that are necessary for collagen synthesis in the human body. Foods such as spinach, various types of kale, cauliflower, squash, bananas, kiwi, alfalfa sprouts, beans and carob seeds are rich in these amino acids that support collagen renewal. Besides these, animal products such as chicken and beef, fish, eggs and dairy products are also good sources of collagen-forming amino acids.

Collagen-supporting nutrients

Amino acids provide the building blocks for collagen production, but some essential cofactors are also needed to ensure the overall synthesis process.

  • Vitamin C regulates collagen synthesis and stabilizes its helical structure. Foods high in vitamin C are: citrus fruits, black currants, guavas, strawberries and peppers.
  • Copper is a necessary cofactor for several important enzymes, including lysyl oxidase, an enzyme involved in the stabilization of collagen and elastin in connective tissue. This is essential for maintaining tissue strength and elasticity. Good sources of honey are sunflower seeds, lentils, dark chocolate and cashews.
  • Manganese supports collagen synthesis. This trace element can be found in chickpeas, brown rice, adzuki beans, rye and teff.

Food supplements

Collagen supplements are available as powders, liquids or capsules. Some supplements contain only one or two types of collagen, while others offer a mixture of different types.

Collagen supplements are usually sold as collagen peptides or collagen hydrolysate, as these two forms are designed to make collagen more easily absorbed by the body.

Hydrolyzed collagen is considered to be the most easily absorbed by the body because it is in its most degraded protein form. This means that the collagen molecules have been broken down into smaller fragments, making their assimilation by the body easier and faster.

  • Bovine collagen contains collagen types I and III
  • Marine collagen contains collagen types I and II
  • Chicken collagen contains type II collagen

In conclusion

Collagen plays a key role in the health of skin, joints, bones and gut by providing necessary structure and support. In order to maintain effective collagen synthesis and turnover in the body, it is important to lead a lifestyle that actively promotes these processes. Our diet should be rich in protein and specific nutrients that meet our individual needs to maintain optimal health.

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