Why Collagen Should Be on Your Wellness List

Beauty

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When you’re walking through the aisles of your local The Vitamin Shoppe, what are you looking for? Maybe something that can make your body resilient and your skin look smoother? Or, ideally, a product that can do both?

That multi-faceted product for you could be collagen.

Collagen is the most abundant naturally occurring protein in the body. It gives strength and elasticity to our skin, bones, muscles, and tendons. Our bodies make enough to keep our skin looking supple and to support our skeletal and muscular systems—that is, until we reach our 30s. At that point, our production of collagen starts to slow down, and as a result, wrinkles start to appear and joints begin to stiffen a bit.

Exactly What Is It?

Collagen is a type of protein that is widely distributed in tissues throughout the body and is a major component of bone, cartilage, muscle, skin, and tendons. There are 28 types in the body, in multiple families that, depending on their molecular makeup, contain different peptides or amino acids. This means two things: 1) collagen doesn’t provide all nine essential amino acids our body needs; and 2) certain types of collagen have specific functions. Overall, the protein helps make our tissues strong and able to withstand stretching.

“We make collagen in the body from our existing amino-acid pool, which comes from what we eat and also how our body puts together the building blocks,” says Wendy Bazilian, DrPH, a registered dietitian and owner of Bazilian Health, based in San Diego. “With time and age, our production of it becomes a bit harder and slower,” decreasing 1 to 1.5 percent every year starting in early adulthood, according to a 2021 paper outlining collagen production, structure, and function throughout life’s stages. “So many people turn to nutrition techniques through foods and supplements to help support collagen production in the body and potentially slow age-related decline.”

This is why supplementing with collagen could be a good idea. Collagen supplements tend to contain the most digestible forms—hydrolyzed collagen or collagen peptides, Bazilian says. In addition, she suggests looking for a quality brand that has a third party confirming its ingredients.

Here is some of the background on what we know about collagen supplementation and our bodies, and why you might want to add it to your wellness routine.

Collagen Could Help Your Joints

Collagen supplementation’s effect on joints is well studied. “Dietary collagen may improve joint health by providing us with the amino acids (proline, glycine, and hydroxyproline) that our bodies use to create collagen, which is what makes up the connective tissues in our joints,” says Stephanie Hnatiuk, RD, a registered dietitian based in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

A 2023 review of studies on the subject concluded that hydrolyzed collagen may contain the biologically active peptides that provide protection against narrowing of the joint space that is characteristic of aging joints, and also help improve their biomechanical functioning.

Collagen Might Help Improve Your Strength

While most of the research around collagen supplementation and its effects on body composition has been done in men, science is starting to look at how collagen could specifically help women, especially those who weight-train.

In a preliminary study of 77 women between the ages of 18 and 50 who completed a 12-week strength training, those who supplemented with 15 grams of specific bioactive collagen peptides daily saw more gains in fat-free mass and grip strength than those randomly placed in the control group. In addition, the collagen-supplementation group lost more fat and gained more leg strength. While these findings need to be confirmed in larger randomized trials, they suggest that supplementing current training efforts with collagen may have positive effects on muscle mass.

Collagen May Fight Wrinkles

Besides maintaining muscle mass and joint function, supplementing with collagen could deliver better looking skin, according to a 2021 meta-analysis of data around the subject. Researchers looked at 19 studies with a total of 1,125 participants between 20 and 70 years and found that consuming hydrolyzed collagen for 90 days was effective in reducing “the appearance of wrinkles.”

Ultimately, if you decide to add collagen to your diet, Hnatiuk suggests drinking it. “To get a large enough dose—similar to the amount used in research studies—taking it in powder form, dissolved in a beverage or in a smoothie, is likely easiest and most cost-effective,” she says. “You can consume collagen in either hot or cold beverages; the temperature of the liquid it is dissolved in will not impact the outcomes. The collagen peptides used in many supplements are already broken down and highly bioavailable.”

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