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Wander through almost any supplement shop or health food store and you’ll likely come across a number of products created with collagen. Protein powders, gummies, cosmetic products—they all contain collagen.

Many cultures even view collagen as a tool to reach the fountain of youth. In its infancy, collagen was used more as a cosmetic tool for lip injections; but recently, it has also became a dietary supplement staple.

Now, there’s an increasing number of health benefits being realized from taking collagen regularly. A consumer report from 2018 estimated that users spent over $122 million on collagen products, a 30% increase from the previous year.Nutrition2018

Even though collagen is widely found in nearly every store, few people understand what it is and how it actually works. Let’s take a deep dive into collagen and what makes it so unique from other forms of protein.

What is Collagen?

Collagen has risen in consumer marketplace popularity in recent years, but the truth is, you’ve had collagen in your body since you were in the womb. As the most abundant protein in the human body, it is a connective tissue that can be found in all body parts including tendons, ligaments, skin, and even muscles.Lodish2000

Collagen is composed of essential amino acids such as glycine, proline, hydroxyproline, and arginine. Nearly every physiological attribute of your body contains collagen—muscles, skin, blood, bones, cartilage, and ligaments. There’s also collagen in places that might surprise you. including your blood vessels, corneas, and even your teeth. Although collagen is a protein, it’s not the same as the whey protein you might drink after a workout.

An illustration of a woman with different colored bubbles on her body, showing where, in the body, you can find collagen

There are a few different types of collagen, but the most common ones are types I, II, III, and IV.RicardBlum2011 Let’s take a closer look at which types of collagen and what roles they play within the body.

  • Type I: As the most common form of collagen, type I accounts for nearly 90% of the body’s total collagen. It’s made up of fibers that form the structural and mechanical composition of bones, skin, tendons, cornea, blood vessels, and other important tissues. As the key structural part of several human tissues, it’s also considered a predominant component of the interstitial membrane.Henriksen2016
  • Type II: This type of collagen makes up the majority of the different proteins found in cartilage. As you may already be aware of, cartilage is the connective tissue that helps to form and cushion joints. If you suffer from knee or other joint pain, using a supplement that contains type II collagen may benefit you.Bakilan2016
  • Type III: This form of collagen is involved with various immune-related pathologies and also helps support the interstitial matrix. It’s a gel that contains salts, fluids, tissues, and other chemicals found in the extracellular matrix (this is the tissues that surround your cells). It can also be found in the connective tissues of the lungs, liver, kidney, skin, and vascular system.Nielsen2016
  • Type IV: This type of collagen is contained primarily in the skin and microvessels, helping form the basement membrane (a highly specialized extracellular matrix) which influences cellular behavior. It sometimes works with type II collagen to support bone and joint health.Abreu2012

If you’re wondering what types of collagen are found in common supplements, they generally contain type I and III—that is, if you purchase from a reputable company that uses high-quality products made from from grass-fed and pasture-raised animals.

Although collagen is a naturally-occurring protein in the body, production slows down as we age.

The scientific basis for why this happens is not fully understood, but some believe it is influenced by age-related changes.

Collagen type I and III production begins to decrease in our 20s and gradually reduces with age.Marcos2014 The thickness associated with skin-related collagen also declines, likely from increased production of degrading molecules in the extracellular matrix.Marcos2014

Collagen type II fibers lose their elasticity and strength as we age due to a higher production of proteolytic enzymes which cause collagen fibers to degrade.Garnero2007 Collagen type I and III fibers play a critical role in supporting our skin making it be both firm and elastic.

Because of collagen’s ability to help add some bounce back into our skin, this is why you’ll see it included in many skin supplements.

Natural collagen decreases with age, causing the skin to become weaker. In turn, the skin can appear to be sagging and wrinkled. This is due to a reduction in both the quantity and quality of collagen fibers. A degradation of type II collagen can also lead to decreased mobility and joint pain as a side effect.Garnero2007

Collagen type IV increases with age. Although this can appear to be a benefit from the outside, it's actually not. Increased production of type IV collagen fibers can cause a thickening of microvessels. They have also been linked to incidences of hypertension, Parkinson’s disease, and even Alzheimer’s disease.Ucar2018 The good news is type IV collagen generally is not included in most collagen supplements.Kalaria1995,Farkas2000,Uspenskaia2004

Although age is the main determining factor in decreased collagen production, lifestyle choices can also play a role.

  • Poor diet: diets that happen to be high in refined sugars and carbs can deplete natural collagen levelsDanby2010
  • Sun exposure: ultraviolet radiation can cause the body’s natural collagen to decreaseBosch2015
  • Smoking: smoking can decrease the synthesis rates of type I and III collagenKnuutinen2002

Keeping your collagen levels within a healthy range is critical to a number of bodily functions. Let’s take a look at the different benefits associated with collagen.

Health Benefits of Collagen

As the most abundant protein in the body, collagen is a major building block involved with a number of bodily functions, as well as being structural material for bones, skin, muscles, tendons, ligaments, and more.

As such, collagen can provide a number of different health benefits it’s properly maintained.

Here are some of the most profound benefits of collagen.

Easing Joint Pain

As we’ve already discussed, type II collagen makes up the majority of our cartilage. That’s why a decrease in collagen (associated with aging) can lead to stiff, achy joints. One way to address this issue is by taking collagen supplements regularly.

A 2009 study on 52 participants followed a type II collagen supplementation regimen over the course of three months with regular assessments performed every month. The results of the study showed that participants had a 40% decrease in arthritis symptoms and the severity of the symptoms also went down by 33%.Crowley2009

A woman in weightlifting gear, sitting on a bench at the gym, showing the benefits of collagen for easing joint pain

Another study from 1993 also looked at collagen type II supplementation on 60 patients. A type II collagen supplement created with chicken necks (which are high in collagen) was followed and four of the patients had a complete remission from the disease.Trentham1993 The same group also noted a decreased number of joint problems from taking collagen supplementation.Trentham1993

There are other studies on collagen and/or gelatin supplements showing a decrease in osteoarthritis, joint mechanics, and joint pain.Bello2006,Shaw2017,Clark2008,Kumar2015 The types of collagen fibers in the supplements wasn’t specified but since most of the supplements contain only types I and III, it’s likely they will help with joint health.

All of the studies suggest collagen can be a useful tool for treating and preventing severe joint pain.

Skin Health

Collagen is vital for healthy skin, and if collagen levels are kept to adequate standards, you may see youthful, clearer skin as a result.

Not only does collagen affect the visual appearance of skin, it can help the skin look more youthful by lessening the appearance of wrinkles.Bauza2004 That’s why as we age, its especially important to up your collagen intake; it’s also important to take it while we’re young as a preventive measure.

A double-blind study on 69 women between the ages of 35 and 55 analyzed if collagen could help decrease signs of aging. The participants of the study were given either 2.5g or 5g of collagen hydrolysate or a placebo over the course of eight weeks.Proksch2014

A number of objective measures were used to determine skin elasticity, skin moisture, transepidermal water loss, and skin roughness prior to the study and every four weeks thereafter.

The results of the study showed skin elasticity of the collagen groups were statistically improved compared to those taking a placebo.

Interestingly, there was no difference in appearance between the group given 2.5g and the group given 5g. Additionally, an even greater improvement in skin appearance was seen in women over the age of 50.

A secondary study looked at 114 women between the ages of 45 and 65 who received either a bioactive collagen peptide or a placebo over eight weeks.Proksch2014 The group that took collagen experienced significantly reduced eye wrinkle volume.

As research has indicated, collagen can be an effective form of skin care helping it to look youthful and wrinkle-free.

Helps Build Muscle

You just finished a workout. Now it’s time to refuel with protein. You’re scanning the list of proteins in the supplement aisle. You see the standard types of whey—but did you know, collagen can also help with muscle growth?

Collagen contains a specific amino acid known as glycine which helps produce creatine. Supplement junkies may already be aware that creatine can help you recover from workouts faster and aid in strength and endurance.Cooper2012

A 2015 study on 53 male participants completed a double blind, placebo-controlled study and underwent a 12-week resistance training program while taking either collagen peptides or a placebo.Zdzieblik2015

After the training program was completed, participants increased fat-free mass and bone mass while also losing fat. The data suggests that collagen supplementation, along with a well-structured workout plan, can help improve total body composition.Zdzieblik2015

Unfortunately, since the control group used a non-protein or amino-acid containing placebo, it cannot be concluded that it was the collagen itself or the ingestion of some amino acids that improved body composition. To the best of our knowledge, there isn’t a study that has compared the effects of whey protein supplementation and collagen supplementation on fat-free mass, body composition, and/or muscle strength while adhering to an exercise routine but this does leave some room for exciting studies and results to hopefully come in the near future.

While you may not reach for collagen as your first protein source, it can help increase muscle mass while also providing a few of the additional benefits mentioned above.

Improved Digestion

Collagen can also help with your digestion. It’s found in the gut’s connective tissue and can strengthen your digestive tract. It can help to avoid leaky gut syndrome which can cause food particles, bacteria, and harmful toxins to enter the bloodstream.

This in turn can cause gut irritation, discomfort, and inflammation.Arrieta2006

A study was conducted on 170 patients who were dealing with inflammatory bowel disease and researchers found that these individuals had lower levels of serum collagen.Koutroubakis2003 Those with low levels of collagen were more prone to gut inflammation. Therefore, it is possible that by increasing collagen intake, the gastrointestinal tract can become strengthened to prevent inflammation from occurring; although studies are needed to confirm this.

Ways to Increase Collagen

Naturally produced collagen decreases with age—that’s a fact. The good news is there are steps you can take to help change that.

Here are some easy ways of increasing your collagen levels:

  • Eat food rich in collagen: all protein-rich meat sources such as chicken, beef, turkey, pork, and fish contain high levels of collagen.
  • Bone broth: created through an extraction process which absorbs vital nutrients from bones, it contains a high amount of collagen and can be used in soups, stews, and goods such as rice and quinoa.
  • Collagen Powder: choose a reputable supplement. A key consideration would be if it contains pure C8 MCT oil powder (the most ketogenic MCT) while also being keto-friendly with zero net-carbs.
  • Collagen gummies: they generally contain type I and III collagen peptides that are easily digestible and great for improving hair growth, joint health, and revitalizing skin.

There’s a number of different ways to supplement collagen and improve your health. Just choose the choice that best fits your individual lifestyle.

Making Collagen Supplementation a Habit

An image of H.V.M.N. Keto Collagen+ and MCT Oil Powder, which can work to build collagen and compliment a keto diet

Collagen levels are bound to decrease with age, therefore it’s crucial to supplement our normal diet.

Decreased joint pain, improved digestive health, and better skin elasticity are just a few of the benefits you can expect to enjoy. Try adding some collagen to your diet and enjoy a better life today.

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