Collagen is one of those poorly understood ingredients, the true health benefits of which are much more than skin deep. Contrary to popular belief, skin elasticity is far from being the only way our body utilizes collagen. As a matter of fact, collagen is the most common protein in the human body, making up the connective tissue in your skin, ligaments, tendons, and muscles, which renders it a crucial ingredient for the maintenance and improvement of health in general.
With age, the level of collagen in the body tends to drop, which results in decreased skin elasticity, muscle loss and poorer lubrication in the joints, to name a few. There is scientific evidence suggesting that a higher collagen intake may slow down these destructive processes and even improve certain age-related conditions. In this article, we’ll focus on 5 proven health effects of collagen and explain how a higher intake or supplementation of collagen can benefit aging adults.
1. Improves Skin Elasticity and Hydration
Collagen is primarily associated with skin benefits, and that isn't surprising at all given the abundance of scientific evidence suggesting that it can strengthen the skin, reduce the appearance of wrinkles, improve skin elasticity and make it more plump and hydrated. This is because collagen is one of the important building blocks of the skin.
Interestingly, however, none of these articles discuss the effect of collagen-containing skincare, such as creams and serums, on the skin, but the results regarding collagen supplements are quite promising. Studies show that ingesting collagen helps stimulate collagen production in the body, as well as increases the production of other proteins associated with skin firmness and hydration, namely elastin and fibrillin.
This means that consuming more collagen with food or taking a collagen supplement will benefit those who suffer from dry skin and signs of skin aging, such as wrinkles and crepey skin.
2. Prevents Bone Loss
Human bones are primarily made of collagen, and as we age and the production of collagen decreases, bones tend to slowly lose their density, ultimately contributing to the development of osteoporosis. Research shows that this degenerative process can be slowed down when a person takes a collagen supplement.
In one study, a 5-gram daily dose of collagen combined with calcium significantly prevented bone degeneration in menopausal women, a category with an especially increased risk of bone fractures. Apart from that, taking collagen supplements may also help strengthen the bones by preventing demineralization.
This loss of minerals, such as calcium, from the bones is one of the leading causes of osteoporosis, and according to one article, taking collagen daily helps re-mineralize the bones by 7% over a course of a year. Thus, collagen supplementation promotes strong bones and slows down the development of osteoporosis.
3. Helps You Gain and Retain More Muscle
Collagen is one of the essential components of muscle tissue, and some researchers believe that age-related muscle loss (sarcopenia) may be partially caused by a reduction in collagen production. One study researched the effect of a collagen supplement on men past the age of 65 suffering from sarcopenia by creating a 12-week exercise plan for the participants and either giving them 15 grams of collagen peptide powder daily or a placebo.
The group that took the supplement ended up building significantly more muscle mass and strength than those who took the placebo, suggesting that collagen supplementation may help build muscle mass by promoting the growth of muscle proteins, such as creatinine. Still, it's the only known study on the topic and it would certainly be interesting to find out whether the same effect would be replicated in women and younger adults.
4. Supports Heart Health
One more role collagen plays in our body is to give structure to the arteries, and the lack of the protein can make one's arteries weaker, more fragile, and more susceptible to atherosclerosis. One study suggests that a 16-gram daily intake of collagen supplements over the course of 6 months improved artery stiffness in healthy adults.
The supplement also helped increase the level of the "good" HDL cholesterol levels in the participants' blood, which is a good marker, since HDL cholesterol helps prevent cardiovascular issues. Needless to say, it would be excellent to hear of more studies to confirm these claims.
5. Relieves Joint Pain and Osteoarthritis
It seems like joint pain is so common, and the older we get, the worse it becomes. This is mostly due to the wear and tear our joints experience through the years, and the spongy cartilage that protects our bones from rubbing together and the tendons that stabilize the joints are the most susceptible to damage.
Collagen is an essential ingredient in connective tissue, and tendons and cartilage are no exception, so it makes perfect sense that taking a collagen supplement can slow down or restore damage brought about by osteoarthritis. What IS surprising, however, is that just 8-12 grams of a hydrolyzed collagen supplement daily has also been proven to reduce joint pain.
In one article, adults suffering from osteoarthritis took 2 grams of collagen every day for 70 days, which resulted in a significant reduction in pain and an increased ability to engage in physical activity. Similar results in pain reduction were replicated in athletes who took 10 grams of collagen for 6 months, which is very promising, especially given that athletes suffer from a lot more joint damage than most people.