Collagen is a main structural protein in connective tissues of bone (1, 2), skin (1, 3, 2), tendons, ligaments (4, 2) and cartilage (2). Collagen forms a matrix which is responsible for the elasticity, firmness (4) and structural integrity (3) of those tissues.
The peptides in collagen contain large amounts of the amino acids hydroxyproline, glycine and proline (3).
Types of collagen supplements
Collagen supplements are usually sold as hydrolysed collagen (a.k.a. collagen hydrolysate or collagen peptides. As its name implies, the peptides in the collagen have been broken down for easier absorption. They come in liquid, powder and capsule form. These supplements are easily digested and have good bioavailability (5, 2, 4). A common dose is 10gr per day (5, 2).
Collagen can also be found as UC-II, a product that contains a patented form of undenatured type II collagen.
Sources of collagen supplements
Collagen supplements are commonly derived from bovine, porcine and fish tissues, such as skin, bones and scales (in the case of fish (1, 3).
UC-II collagen and collagen hydrolysate have shown improvements in joint range of motion and pain (6, 5, 4, 2). Thus, collagen supplements may be useful for athletes and patients with osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis.
Some studies suggest that intake of collagen may improve bone density, especially in subjects with calcium deficiency (5).
Collagen hydrolysate may help reverse UV-B damage on skin. It can also improve skin qualities such as hydration, elasticity and density (5). Marine collagen, in particular, may help prevent skin ageing and wrinkling, presumably due to its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties (1). Collagen supplements have also been reported to improve the appearance of cellulite (7).
It is important to note there is no strong evidence supporting the use of collagen supplements for skin health (3).
Collagen supplementation may help alleviate musculoskeletal pain, such as the one experienced by fibromyalgia patients (5).
Collagen peptides may help preserve muscle mass in individuals with poor protein intake and low muscle mass, such as elderly people (5).
On one hand, collagen breaks down into amino acids and peptides, which are used for tissue collagen synthesis. In addition, the presence of these amino acids and peptides stimulate collagen synthesis (5, 4). In the skeleton, collagen stimulates the production of osteoblasts, the cells that build bone (1).
Besides supplementation the body also requires loading of the connective tissue (via acute exercise) to stimulate collagen synthesis to occur (4, 2).
Finally, vitamin C may act as a cofactor to increase collagen production (2).
How to take collagen
Collagen can be dissolved in any liquid, from water to smoothies or tea. It can be also added to yoghurt, soups or stews. I recommend buying the unflavoured powder version. Popular brands are Great Lakes, Vital Proteins and Sports Research (we use this brand). You can find them in my collagen list at iHerb.com.
There are also some protein bars (such as Primal Kitchen and Bulletproof) that include collagen and some bone broths are a decent source of collagen.
- Venkatesan J et al. Marine Fish Proteins and Peptides for Cosmeceuticals: A Review. Mar Drugs. 2017 May 18;15(5). pii: E143.
- Shaw G et al. Vitamin C–enriched gelatin supplementation before intermittent activity augments collagen synthesis. Am J Clin Nutr 2017;105:136–43.
- Spiro A, Lockyer S. Nutraceuticals and skin appearance: Is there any evidence to support this growing trend? Nutrition Bulletin. 2018;43(1):10-45.
- Dressler P et al. Improvement of Functional Ankle Properties Following Supplementation with Specific Collagen Peptides in Athletes with Chronic Ankle Instability. J Sports Sci Med. 2018 Jun; 17(2): 298–304.
- Figueres Juher T and Basés Pérez E. Revisión de los efectos beneficiosos de la ingesta de colágeno hidrolizado sobre la salud osteoarticular y el envejecimiento dérmico. Nutr Hosp. 2015;32(Supl. 1):62-66.
- Lugo et al. Undenatured type II collagen (UC-II®) for joint support: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study in healthy volunteers. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2013 Oct 24;10(1):48.
- Schunck M et al. Dietary Supplementation with Specific Collagen Peptides Has a Body Mass Index-Dependent Beneficial Effect on Cellulite Morphology. J Med Food. 2015 Dec;18(12):1340-8.