From skin creams to supplements, collagen is a popular ingredient. Is it just a beauty buzz word? Definitely not.
Collagen is a protein found throughout the body: tendons, blood vessels, digestive system, skin, bones, and muscles. Its high tensile strength and elasticity, especially type one collagen, literally holds us together. You might often hear it called the body’s “glue.”
Many of the most common signs of aging—wrinkles, thinning skin, and joint pain, for example—are caused by the natural decrease in the amount of collagen our bodies produce as we age. Lifestyle factors can compound this by interfering further with collagen production and absorption.
The good news is that studies shown that consuming collagen supplements and collagen-rich foods can help offset the natural and lifestyle factors that deplete our collagen levels.
So what can collagen do for you?
Collagen is closely linked with heart health (1) as a key component of muscles and arteries and a vital part of tissue repair. Collagen also helps control blood pressure and keep your arteries clear of dangerous plaque buildup. A component of collagen helps release fat from the artery walls into the bloodstream, minimizing the fat accumulation that is linked to atherosclerosis (2). In addition, another collagen component aids the production of chemicals that relax blood vessels and muscle cells, which promotes better circulation.
When your body produces less collagen, you see it in the mirror as more winkles and less elasticity in the skin. But increasing collagen levels through the collagen-rich foods and supplements can help supply the difference.
A noted double-blind study (3) found that oral collagen supplements demonstrated a beneficial effect on skin. Skin elasticity, skin moisture, and skin roughness were all improved, with no side effects, over the course of the study. Collagen also improves the appearance of cellulite and stretch marks—that dimpling is more evident when skin is thinner and less elastic.
Splitting nails and dull, thinning hair are other highly visible signs of aging, and they may also be connected to collagen. Collagen protein is the primary building block of teeth, fingernails, and hair. Adding collagen to your diet can help keep your nails and teeth strong and healthy.
Furthermore, it may aid in reversing hair loss. One study found “essential relationships between extracellular matrix (ECM) and hair follicle regeneration, suggesting that collagen could be a potential therapeutic target for hair loss and other skin-related diseases.” (4)
Does it take you a while to warm up and shake out stiffness when you get moving? You might joke about getting older, but a loss of collagen could be to blame here, too. Collagen acts like lubrication for your joints, tendons, and ligaments, helping all your moving parts work together smoothly. Without enough of it, you may notice that your joints feel stiff and swollen, and your movement may be restricted. A recent study supported collagen for treating osteoarthritis and other forms of joint pain. (5)
Supplementing with type two collagen has been shown to significantly improve joint function and comfort, both for inflammatory conditions like rheumatoid arthritis and more common forms of joint pain. Patients in one study found their quality of life improved by collagen because of less pain in daily activities like taking the stairs and sleeping comfortably. (6,7)
You’ve probably heard that building muscle helps burn fat. And collagen, once again, plays a key role in building that fat-burning muscle. Glycine, one of collagen’s components, helps boost metabolism by converting glucose into energy to build and feed muscle cells. Retaining lean muscle mass as you age helps support posture and bone health as well. Collagen also supports the digestive and nervous systems, boosts the body’s muscle and wound repairing functions, and helps feed key nutrients and chemicals to our cells.
Research consistently shows that consuming collagen can help improve the body’s appearance and function as we age – our very cells need it to work properly. There is every reason to include collagen as part of your nutrition plan. (8,9)