Collagen is having a moment in the spotlight. From powders to chocolate bars to lattes and beyond, people seem to be going collagen-crazy. But, does eating collagen every day offer any benefit to your body, or is it just a buzzy ingredient that sounds too good to be true?
Well, first, it’s important to know that collagen is a protein in the body made up of the amino acids glycine and proline, and it plays a major role in building your bones, skin, muscles, tendons, and ligaments. Unfortunately, as you age, your body makes less and lower-quality collagen. (Related: The One Vitamin Doctors Are Urging Everyone to Take Right Now.)
However, collagen can be found in the connective tissue of certain animal foods: chicken skin, bone broth, meat on the bone, and gelatin (which is made from the skin, cartilage, and bone of animals). Of course, there’s also collagen powders as well.
“When you eat collagen, like all proteins, it must be broken down in order to be absorbed,” Erica Julson, MS, RDN, a registered dietitian and founder of Functional Nutrition Answers, explains. “Because of this, eating collagen doesn’t directly increase collagen levels inside the body. Instead, it supplies your body with the building blocks needed to create its own collagen.”
That said, the collagen in supplements has already been broken down, or hydrolyzed, which is why it’s thought to be absorbed more efficiently than the collagen in foods.
So, what can you expect to see when you take collagen supplements or powders on a consistent, daily basis? Here are 8 things that you may experience. Just keep in mind that more studies that focus on the benefits of collagen supplements are needed, as many of these claims are not based on the strongest data.
If you are strength training and taking collagen, you may see better results than simply lifting weights sans collagen. In one study, men who participated in resistance training in combination with collagen peptide consumption resulted in a more pronounced increase in fat-free mass, body mass, and muscle strength compared to resistance training alone. (Related: 3 Healthiest Workout Habits for a Flat Belly.)
Many people look to collagen as the fountain of youth, and one study backs that view. In conjunction with acerola fruit extract, vitamin C, zinc, biotin, and a vitamin E complex, taking 2.5 milligrams of collagen daily for 12 weeks resulted in significantly improved skin hydration, elasticity, roughness, and density when compared with a placebo. (Related: 25 Healthy Foods That Give You Glowing Skin.)
In another study, women who took a supplement containing 2.5–5 grams of collagen for 8 weeks experienced less skin dryness and a significant increase in skin elasticity compared with those who did not take the supplement.
Bone loss becomes a concern as we age, and losing too much bone mass increases the risk of bone fractures and osteoporosis. Since collagen supplements have a potentially positive effect on increasing bone mineral density, taking in this protein can help keep your bones healthy.
In one randomized, placebo-controlled double-blinded trial, bone mineral density increased significantly when postmenopausal women took a collagen supplement when compared with a placebo.
Up until 2020, heart disease was the leading cause of death in the U.S. (surpassed by COVID-19 as of December 2020). It’s estimated that 1 in 4 deaths are a result of heart disease, and it affects many people around the world.
Although the data is limited, research suggests that taking collagen may support your heart health. In one small study that looked at the development of atherosclerosis, an artery disease, healthy individuals, subjects who took 16 grams of collagen daily for 6 months had a significant reduction in measures of artery stiffness and an increase in HDL cholesterol. The authors concluded that collagen supplementation can contribute to the prevention and treatment of atherosclerosis.
If you have nails that appear rough, ragged, and peeling, taking collagen supplements may help offer some improvement, although the available data on this is extremely limited.
In one small study, participants who took 2.5 grams of collagen peptides daily for 24 weeks experienced an increase of 12% nail growth rate and a decrease of 42% in the frequency of broken nails. (Related: 21 Foods for Stronger Hair and Nails.)
If you take collagen in conjunction with vitamin C, you may notice that your locks are longer than usual. According to one study, daily intake of collagen after 90 days resulted in increased hair growth in women with temporary hair thinning. (Related: 30 Best & Worst Foods for Your Hair.)
As people age, the pops and cracks become more frequent and joints can begin to ache. Since collagen helps maintain the health of your cartilage between your joints, having an adequate amount in your body can act as a bone “buffer.”
In fact, as the amount of collagen in your body decreases as you age, your risk of developing conditions like osteoarthritis increases. The good news is that a growing body of evidence suggests that consuming collagen provides an improvement in some measures of pain and function in those with arthritic conditions (like osteoarthritis).
Protein has been shown to be one of the most important nutrients to support satiety. Without adding a protein source, you won’t have as much staying power to help you feel satisfied. Since collagen is a protein, consuming it in adequate amounts may help you feel fuller longer, and in turn, may help you with your weight management goals.
Although data is preliminary, consuming collagen peptides derived from a certain jellyfish has been shown to speed the wound healing process.
Collagen is made up of certain amino acids, one being glycine. Since glycine is linked to improved sleep quality, taking in glycine-rich collagen may help you catch some restful zzz’s.
For more on collagen, read this first-person account of what happened when a woman took it every day for two weeks. And study up on these 10 foods that are better than collagen supplements.