Collagen supplementation has been proposed to help with sorts of health-related matters. Some of its benefits are well-supported by the science and other are more hype than bona fide fact. Let’s review some of the most popular collagen claims.
Collagen Improves Joint Health, and Collagen Decreases Joint Pain
This one is true. Collagen proteins in the human body are highly concentrated in the joints as several different tissues including bone, tendon, ligament, and cartilage.
Hydrolyzed type II collagen supplementation has been found to be quite effective for reducing joint pain, theoretically by restoring and strengthening the tissues in joints. The good news is this is true for both young athletes playing college sports and older individuals with osteoarthritis and joint pain.
Collagen Heals the Gut
This one is maybe true but very much exaggerated. Part of the problem with evaluating collagen and gut health is that the science isn’t settled on how to define what is a healthy or an unhealthy gut. We have some good indications, but there is still much to learn on the gut and the microbiome.
Low concentrations of collagen are associated with intestinal diseases, such as inflammatory bowel disease. Associated does not imply causation, so this should be taken with a huge grain of sea salt but adding more collagen into the diet may restore some of the “missing” intestinal collagen.
However, that may do nothing in terms of disease severity. We simply don’t know, and not enough research has looked at gut health in response to collagen supplementation.
Collagen Makes Hair, Skin, and Nails more Beautiful
This one is true. Beneath the skin and other epithelial tissues, there is a lattice-pattern of collagen. As old skin cells die and fall off (which happens quite often), new skin cells rise to the surface. If these skin cells are rich with healthy and abundant collagen, they can help “lift” the valleys of fine lines, wrinkles, and cellulite, but not fissures (creases, e.g., most males’ foreheads).
One study has verified that UVB radiation damage is reduced with a collagen peptide supplement, and another found collagen to reduce skin water loss (moisturize), improve elasticity, and decrease wrinkle size vs. placebo.
Collagen Improves Metabolism and Body Composition, Decreases Toxicity, and “Protects”
We can’t definitively say that these claims are untrue, but we believe them to be unlikely, exaggerated, and/or nonspecific to collagen. These claims are mostly based on the fact that collagen contains certain amino acids, often glycine, because collagen supplements have not been studied for these effects.
Glycine, and other amino acids, are abundant in many proteins – not just collagen. However, collagen provides some unique peptides, such as proline-hydroxyproline dipeptide, that are less common in other proteins, and this may be a major reason collagen supplements help with joint and skin health.
Collagen may contain some other peptides that are of interest, but again, they have not been researched for the claims above. It is unlikely collagen is even as efficacious as most other proteins for improving metabolism and body composition, as that is largely predicated on the amino acid, leucine, but collagen is a low-leucine protein.
Likewise, it cannot be ruled out that, versus another protein, a greater concentration of glycine, glutamine, or another amino acid present in collagen or collagen supplemented on a low-protein diet may help with some of these health matters.
How Much Collagen Should I Take Daily?
Hydrolyzed (collagen peptides) collagen should be taken in 10-gram dosages a day for skin and joint health. This dose should be taken with meals to increase absorption.
Undenatured collagen can be taken in lower doses…generally 40-50mg a day on an empty stomach before breakfast.
It’s important to note that an ideal collagen supplement should have multiple sources (Type I, Type II, hydrolyzed) of collagen to provide all the benefits listed above.
Should I Take Other Supplements With Collagen?
The short answer is YES! Several research studies have demonstrated that combining collagen with chondroitin sulfate and hyaluronic acid can improve skin, hair, and joint health to a greater degree.
Are There Any Side Effects?
No studies have demonstrated that long term collagen supplementation has any negative side effects