Do collagen supplements actually work?

Avleen M.
Avleen M.Published on 19 July 2021

Collagen is enjoying some time in the spotlight when it comes to ‘must-have’ beauty products for 2021. Many social media feeds have been peppered with ads promising that drinking collagen or popping collagen pills will earn you young, radiant skin, a happy gut and better joint health. But is shelling out the bucks on edible collagen really worth it? We answer 7 common collagen questions to find out.

A bowl of collagen powder besides a wooden spoon with a collagen scoop

What is collagen?

The word ‘collagen’ comes from the ancient Greek word kolla, which means glue. That’s because collagen is essentially the glue that holds the body together, giving it structure like scaffolding.

Collagen is also the most abundant protein in the human body. It’s found everywhere that has connective tissues, including the skin, bones, tendons and ligaments, cartilage, organs, blood vessels and digestive system.

Where does collagen come from?

Collagen is naturally produced by the body when it has the right 3 amino acids: glycine, proline and hydroxyproline. It gets these through nutrients from food, which usually come from animal proteins like beef, chicken, fish, eggs and dairy. Bone broth is another popular choice, made from simmering animal bones in water to get the minerals, amino acids and other nutrients from bones and connective tissue.

If you’re veg, foods high in the 3 amino acids include tempeh and tofu, black beans, kidney beans, chickpeas, sunflower and chia seeds, and nuts like pistachios and peanuts.

To make collagen, the body also needs foods rich in Vitamin C, zinc and copper.

You can also take a vegan collagen booster - a supplement that contains amino acids and the right minerals and vitamins in concentrated form. This booster can kickstart your body into making more collagen.

At what age does collagen production decrease?

Dermatologists tend to say that in your late 20s, collagen production starts to drop. From around 30, you’ll lose about 1% of collagen per year. Collagen production is also affected by changing hormone levels, excessive exposure to UV rays, eating a lot of sugar and refined carbs, and smoking.

Do I have a collagen deficiency?

It’s not possible to measure whether you’re deficient in collagen, through a blood test or otherwise. However, there are some telltale signs you might start to see when your body isn’t producing enough of it. These are: weak muscles, joint pain, stiff tendons and ligaments, wrinkles or papery-feeling skin, and inflammation in the gut, which causes bloating and other digestive issues.

What are collagen supplements?

Cue collagen supplements - the potential solurion for getting more collagen when you think your body isn’t producing enough on its own.

Collagen supplements include any type of edible collagen, also called oral or ingestible collagen. They include collagen tablets as well as powdered collagen, which dissolves into your beverage of choice - smoothie, shake or even coffee. You can even buy collagen protein bars.

What is collagen made of?

Edible collagen contains collagen peptides, which are short strings of amino acids that come from animal bones, nerve tissues, hides and hooves. Collagen has a number of animal sources, including bovine collagen, chicken collagen, egg collagen, and marine collagen, which comes from fish scales.

Collagen is only found inside bodies, not in plants. As a result, products that contain real collagen are never vegan, as they’re only ever animal-derived.

Should I take collagen supplements?

Even though there’s still pretty limited scientific research on the effectiveness of collagen supplements so far, there have been some studies with small sample sizes of people who’ve used collagen, with positive results.

To see the benefits of collagen supplements, make sure you choose a hydrolysed collagen supplement. Collagen is a large protein, and hydrolysing it into small peptide chains makes it small enough for your body to digest.

If you’re over 30 and you want to maintain smooth, wrinkle-free skin

Taking collagen can help skin retain moisture and keep it elastic - which is what keeps skin looking young. This study showed that taking 10 grams of hydrolysed collagen per day, for at least 2 months, can help improve skin aging, and boost skin elasticity and hydration. The study also found that the collagen density in the skin increased. This can be complemented by taking hyaluronic acid and staying well-hydrated throughout the day.

If you have activity-related joint pain

Some studies have shown that taking 10 grams of liquid hydrolysed collagen a day, over 6 months, can reduce pain in the joints caused by activity. The 147 subjects in the study were all athletes. A similar study was conducted with 139 young adult athletes with functional knee joint pain. Taking 5 grams of bioactive collagen peptides every day for 3 months was found to significantly reduce joint pain.

There are also studies that show collagen can help recover lost cartilage tissue, and strengthen tendons and ligaments.

If you need help with healing a wound

The same study that showed the benefits of oral collagen to skin aging also found that supplementing with collagen can speed up wound healing. This can be helpful if you’re healing after a burn, trauma, accident or skin surgery.

If you’re losing bone mineral density

This may be especially helpful for postmenopausal women or women who have osteoporosis. This trial was conducted on 131 women who had age-related loss of bone mineral density. Those who took 5 grams of specific collagen peptides per day for 12 months enjoyed increased bone formation and reduced bone degradation.

If you’re looking to increase body mass and muscle strength

This study was conducted on 77 women taking 15 grams of collagen peptides per day and doing resistance training 3 days a week, for 3 months. It found that doing resistance training while taking collagen peptides resulted in an increase of fat-free mass, increased leg strength and increased hand grip strength.

If you have a grumpy gut

While there’s not much scientific research to back this up, reviews, like those for the Happy Mammoth Prebiotic Collagen Protein, show that collagen can help people with gut issues.

Collagen is often reported to help heal, or reduce the symptoms of, leaky gut and IBS. It contains amino acids like glutamine that can thicken the intestinal lining - and seal and heal the gut. Collagen may also help with bloating and inflammation.

Is collagen safe?

Collagen is usually safe, with studies showing that taking 2.5g-15g of collagen per day is safe and doesn’t exceed the maximum level of collagen that you can safely add to your diet.

Collagen isn’t always guaranteed to be safe, though. Since it’s made from parts of animals like hooves, bones and nerve tissues, there is always a risk that it can carry animal diseases or contaminants.

The most risky one is bovine collagen, which can rarely but potentially cause CJD (the human variant of mad cow disease). Marine collagen can contain heavy metals but is generally considered the safest kind of collagen, especially if it’s from wild-caught, deep sea fish.

There can be other collagen side effects, like getting a rash, and in rare cases, developing liver problems. Also consider if you have any allergies to the ingredients in the product. Either way, it depends on the person and the product, so take care selecting the right one for you.

Here's what collagen can’t do

Collagen isn’t an instant fix for health problems or beauty concerns. You’ll probably need to take collagen every day for at least 2-3 months to start seeing results.

Also keep in mind that even if you’re taking collagen for a specific purpose like improving skin, the collagen you take won’t always be used by your body for that purpose.

Your body will use the extra dose of collagen protein for whatever needs it most. For example, if you have a wound, the body will probably use the collagen to help heal the wound before it’s used for your skin. In this way, you can’t guarantee that you’ll see results for the specific purpose you bought the collagen for.

Wrapping up

In conclusion, taking a collagen supplement could be helpful to your health or for specific concerns. It can help with wrinkles, joint pain, wound healing, bone density, and increasing muscle, tendon and ligament strength, and gut issues.

There are plenty of collagen supplements on the market today, so it’s more likely you’ll find one that’s in your price range. A lot of collagen drinks are colourless and tasteless, making them more palatable than they once were. If you’re vegan, there are collagen booster supplements that may be a good substitute worth trying.

Since there aren’t usually side effects, trying out an affordable, daily hydrolysed collagen supplement can help with certain health and beauty concerns and it doesn't hurt to give one a go.