5 Fast Facts About Collagen
Collagen is a protein, and it’s essential to the healthy functioning of the human body. It is an important component of bones, tendons, and ligaments; collagen helps make bones strong and allows ligaments and tendons to stretch. Collagen also gives skin (and blood vessels) elasticity. There’s even collagen in your intestines.
You’ve probably already seen or heard ads for collagen supplements and creams. Before dropping your money on a potentially pricey product, review these collagen facts.
1Collagen decreases as you age.
The human body loses collagen as the years progress. Over time the tightly wound collagen fibrils fragment and unwind, causing loss of its natural elasticity and skin firmness. That’s why it’s next to impossible to (naturally) reclaim the taut, smooth skin of your youth once you’ve passed middle age—and why physical exertion is more likely to result in joint pain and injuries (which also take longer to heal).
Collagen loss begins in our mid-20s but is most pronounced at mid-life. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, collagen levels decline about 30% in women during the first five years of menopause. After that, women lose about 2% of their collagen every year.
2Your diet influences the amount of collagen in your body.
Your body makes collagen by combining amino acids it obtains from foods. The collagen-making process also requires plenty of vitamin C, zinc and copper. If you’re not getting enough of these essential nutrients, your skin, tendons, and blood vessels won’t be as flexible and healthy as they could be.
High-protein foods such as fish, chicken, beef, beans, nuts, eggs and dairy products contain essential amino acids; meats, nuts, and shellfish also contain zinc and copper. Whole grains also contain zinc, copper, and some amino acids. Peppers, tomatoes and citrus fruits are high in vitamin C.
3Collagen supplements are generally safe.
If you regularly eat a healthy, well-balanced diet, you don’t need to take a collagen supplement. There are no research studies suggesting that boosting collagen intake provides any measurable benefit to healthy humans, and no studies show that more collagen is better than “enough.”
However, there is little chance of harm if you decide to take a collagen supplement. Oral collagen supplements come in many forms, including tablets, capsules, powder and gummies.
4Collagen supplements may decrease joint pain.
A few small studies have found that adults with osteoarthritis of the knee report decreased pain and improved movement after a few months of collagen supplementation. One study treated 39 patients with 1500 mg/day of acetaminophen (Tylenol); half of the patients also received 10 mg/day of type II collagen. Those who received the collagen reported significant improvements in pain and quality of life after three months.
Another study compared the effectiveness of collagen and glucosamine/chondroitin in relieving knee osteoarthritis pain and stiffness. Those who received collagen reported less pain and improved movement than those who took glucosamine/chondroitin.
5Oral supplements may be better for the skin than collagen-containing creams.
You can buy collagen-containing skin creams, but don’t count on them to improve the elasticity or appearance of your facial skin. Dermatologists recommend choosing a cream or lotion that contains retinol or peptides instead, as these ingredients increase collagen in the skin.
Or you can choose an oral supplement. According to Penn Medicine, studies have shown that “collagen pill or powder supplements improve levels of skin elasticity after just four weeks—particularly in already-aged skin.”