Collagen is the most abundant type of protein found within the human body and is commonly regarded as the ‘scaffold protein’ for its vast contribution to physiological structure and function. You may have heard of collagen for its role in maintaining skin elasticity, but it also repairs body tissues, helps build healthy cells, strengthen bones, and is even involved in circulation. We have a few different types of collagen within the body, but the following make up the clear majority:
Type 1 collagen: found predominantly in the skin, bones, tendons, cartilage and connective tissues.
Type 2 collagen: mostly located within joint cartilage.
Type 3 collagen: you’ll find this type of collagen within the muscles, organs and blood vessels.
Collagen production in the body naturally declines with age at an estimated rate of 1-2% from our 20s. Some common signs of collagen loss include wrinkle formation, delayed wound healing, joint pain, decreased flexibility and reduced muscle mass. Lifestyle choices such as smoking, excess UV exposure, and a poor diet may increase the rate of collagen loss.
With increasing recognition of the role of collagen, and in a bid to delay or decrease the effects of collagen loss, many people now turn to collagen supplements to bolster their natural production. Let’s take a closer look at what the research says regarding this popular nutraceutical.
Firstly, what exactly are collagen supplements? Collagen is typically available in the form of a powder that can be added to water, juice, smoothies or other liquids. The most common forms of supplemental collagen are either marine sourced (fish scales or skin), or bovine sourced (cow hides or bones). There are some vegan collagen supplements now emerging on the market, however, there is little scientific evidence available at present regarding their application and effectiveness. You may see collagen supplements referred to as either collagen peptides or hydrolysed collagen – these two terms really mean the same thing. Put simply, it means that the collagen proteins have been broken down into smaller molecules to aid in their absorption by the body.
So, what are the benefits of collagen supplementation? Research has found the following:
Studies have indicated that collagen supplementation may improve skin health, particularly hydration and elasticity, as well as wound healing. Additional benefits are reported for nail and hair strength.
Collagen supplementation may be beneficial for individuals with osteoporosis and osteoarthritis, potentially helping to provide symptomatic pain relief, protect joint cartilage, promote bone formation, and reduce bone density degradation.
A rich source of amino acids, collagen supplementation may also increase lean muscle mass and muscle strength by supporting muscle protein synthesis.
It may be helpful in preventing and or treating cardiovascular disease in otherwise healthy individuals by promoting healthy blood vessel structure and promoting a healthy cholesterol ratio.
The type of collagen you might choose to buy depends on a couple of different factors. Marine collagen is particularly rich in type 1 collagen and is the most beneficial collagen for decreasing the signs of aging and improving the skin’s quality and appearance; think fewer wrinkles and more hydrated skin. It is also known to benefit nail and hair quality, as well as wound healing. For this reason, marine collagen is particularly useful if skincare is your major motivator for supplementing. Bovine is also a source of type 1 collagen, but it additionally contains type 3 collagen, and so it may have additional benefits for muscle, tissue and joint health. Looking at the source and quality of the supplement is also important. Because marine and bovine collagen contain fish and beef, respectively, dietary requirements and preferences should also be considered.
Existing research has found benefits for between 2.5g to 15g of collagen per day, however, recommended doses vary between brands and desired outcome; lower doses of marine collagen have shown improvements in skin health, whereas, for improved outcomes in joint health, larger quantities are required. Collagen is generally regarded as a safe supplement with no adverse events reported, however, some individuals may experience mild effects from supplementation such as an upset stomach. If you have any existing medical conditions or allergies, it is recommended you speak with an Accredited Practising Dietitian or your medical doctor prior to commencing any new supplement. Finally, it is important to remember that supplements are intended to do just that, supplement, not replace, a healthy and balanced diet.