Collagen is an essential fibrous protein that makes up for 30 percent of all the body’s proteins. It makes up around 90 percent of our connective tissue, 90 percent of our organic bone mass and 70 percent of our skin. Unfortunately, the production of this essential protein slows down when we are in our twenties. This slow-down leads to wrinkles, joint stiffness, weaker bones and thinning hair. So, it is imperative for us to take collagen in supplement form.
Health benefits of collagen include improved skin health, relief from joint pain, promotes heart health, boosts liver health, help in the prevention of hair loss, etc.
Let us learn in detail what is collagen and its health benefits.
What is collagen?
Collagen is amongst the most important proteins in the body. This long-chain amino acid helps build our skin, connective tissue, and bones. Collagen is found in many other parts of the body including corneas, teeth and blood vessels.
The word ‘colla’ comes from the Greek word κόλλα (kolla) which means glue. Its primary job is to hold our body together, like glue, providing firmness and strength.
Endogenous collagen is natural and is synthesized by the body. Exogenous collagen is synthetic and comes in the form of supplements. Exogenous collagen has gained popularity on the recent years as a supplement and is used for cosmetic purposes.
Different types of collagen
There are 16 different types of collagen, and these include type I, II, III, IV, V and X. However 90 percent of them belong to type I, II, and III. They all have specific roles in the body (1).
This collagen is made up of densely packed fibers. Almost 90 percent of the collagen found in the body is type I. They provide structure to skin, bones, tendons, fibrous cartilage, connective tissue, and teeth.
This is fibrillar collagen. This collagen is made up of more loosely packed fibers and is found in elastic cartilage that provides a cushion to joints. It helps in preventing age-related joint pain and symptoms of arthritis.
This collagen is abundant in reticular fibers that are a part of the connective tissue. This type supports the structure of muscles, organs, and arteries.
It also forms blood vessels and tissue in the hear and this is why the deficiency in type III collagen is linked to higher risk of ruptured blood vessels.
This collagen forms the basal lamina which is found in the endothelial cells that form the tissue that surrounds the organs, muscles and fat. This collagen is located in the layers of the skin, and it helps with filtration.
This collagen makes the surface of the cells, hair strands and tissues found in women’s placentas.
This type of collagen helps in the formation of bones and articular cartilage. It is beneficial for bone fracture healing.
Health benefits of collagen
Collagen supplements have become quite popular in the recent years. Thanks to their various health benefits. Here are some science-based benefits of collagen.
1. Improves skin health
Collagen plays a vital role in strengthening skin and maintaining its elasticity. However, when we age our body produces less and less collagen which makes our skin dry and causes wrinkles.
Supplements containing collagen and collagen peptides help slow down the aging of the skin by reducing wrinkles and dryness (2).
During a 2014 trial, scientists observed that women who took 2.5 to 5 grams of collagen hydrolysate for eight weeks found a significant improvement in their skin elasticity, skin moisture, transepidermal water loss and skin roughness (3).
Collagen supplements also help in reducing cellulite and stretch marks.
When we take collagen supplements, it also stimulates the body to produce more collagen on its own. It promotes the production of elastin and fibrillin, proteins that help structure your skin (4).
2. Helps relieve joint pain
When we lose collagen in the body, our tendons and ligaments start moving with difficulty and this lead to stiffness and swollen joints. We lose collagen as we grow old, and this increases our risk of developing joint disorders like osteoarthritis (5).
Collagen supplements can help relieve joint pain and improve the symptoms of osteoarthritis.
During a 2008 study, when 74 athletes were given 10 grams of collagen hydrolysate over a period of 24 weeks, they experienced a decrease in joint pain (6).
According to researchers at Harvard’s Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, type II collagen supplements can help patients of rheumatoid arthritis as it decreases swelling in tender joints (7).
If you suffer from painful joints, you must take collagen hydrolysate supplements with a dosage of 8 to 12 grams daily (8).
3. Prevents bone loss
Bones are made up of collagen which keeps them healthy. However, aging can lead to a decline in bone mass which can cause osteoporosis.
Hydrolyzed collagen has been found to help reduce bone loss and restore bone density in postmenopausal women.
During one study, one group of women took five grams of collagen along with calcium and the other group took only collagen over a period of 12 months.
At the end of 12 months, the group who took collagen along with calcium had significantly lower levels of proteins that lead to bone loss (9).
Another recent study found that women who took 5 grams of collagen over a period of 12 months increased their bone mineral density by 7 percent (10).
4. Boosts metabolism and muscle mass
Collagen helps boost metabolism as it helps to add lean muscle mass to the body. Glycine, one of the most abundant amino acid in collagen, helps form muscle tissue by converting glucose into energy.
Muscle mass is also essential for maintaining proper posture and bone health.
Collagen supplements are also useful in boosting muscle mass in people with sarcopenia (11). During one study when 27 men with sarcopenia took collagen supplements over 12 weeks, they gained significant amounts of muscle mass and strength.
5. Promotes heart health
Collagen contains amino acids like proline and arginine which are essential for heart health. Proline helps the artery walls to release fat buildup in the bloodstream and thus minimizes fat accumulation. It helps control blood pressure and aids in tissue repair in the joints and arteries.
Since it helps prevent plaque build up in the arteries, it helps prevent arteriosclerosis. During one study, 30 volunteers were given 16 grams of collagen for six months.
The results showed a significant decrease in artery stiffness at the end of the six months. Their levels of HDL (good cholesterol) also increased by 6 percent. (12).
Arginine, another amino acid present in collagen, aids nitric oxide production, which helps in the widening of arteries and relaxation of blood vessels and muscle cells.
6. Help treat the leaky gut syndrome
Irritable bowel syndrome and leaky gut syndrome are painful conditions where the digestive tract and stomach lining become inflamed and irritated.
Collagen can be very helpful in such circumstances as it helps break down proteins and soothes the stomach lining, healing damaged cell walls. Collagen can help heal the protective lining of the gastrointestinal tract.
Studies have also shown that patients with irritable bowel syndrome have a low concentration of type IV collagen (13). Because it is the amino acids in collagen that build the tissue that lines the colon, collagen supplement is essential for patients with IBS.
7. Boosts liver health
Collagen supplements that contain protein can help maintain a healthy liver. Collagen contains many amino acids that are great for liver health.
Glycine, one of the primary amino acids present in collagen, can synthesize glutathione. Glutathione aids in detoxification and protects cells and body tissues.
Studies have also found that glycine, present in collagen is helpful in reducing alcohol-induced liver damage and other types of liver injuries (14).
8. Can prevent the onset of Alzheimer’s
Researchers have discovered that collagen VI can protect brain cells against amyloid-beta proteins, which are widely thought to cause Alzheimer’s disease (15). Amyloid-beta is an amino-acid that clumps together to form a plaque in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients.
When you increase your intake of collagen, you create a form of protection for your brain that combats amyloid-beta proteins which are known to attack neurons and cause Alzheimer’s disease.
9. Prevent brittle and broken nails, hair and teeth
Collagen is an excellent supplement for strengthening hair, nails, and teeth.
In another study, 25 participants took 2.5 grams of bioactive collagen peptides once daily for 24 weeks. When the results were assessed four weeks after discontinuation of the treatment, the physicians observed an increase of 12 percent in the nail growth rate and a decrease of 42 percent in the frequency of broken nails (17).
Over to you on what is collagen
Now that you know what is collagen, you must have understood that it is one of the most vital proteins your body needs to function. It is highly beneficial for the whole body.
It protects brain cells, promotes heart and liver health, improves skin health and even protects nails, teeth, and hair. Collagen supplements are considered safe for use.