What is Collagen, its Benefits and potential Side Effects
Recently, collagen and its supplements have gained tremendous popularity among health – conscious people and experts equally. It is not only consumed as a nutritional supplement, but now it is also widely utilized as an essential ingredient in cosmetics and personal care products such as shampoos, lotions, makeup items and bath products.
Since collagen and its supplements have become an important part of our life and lifestyle choices, we thought we should explain to our readers –
- what is collagen,
- its uses and benefits,
- collagen supplements, and
- potential side effects or risks associated with taking collagen supplements.
What is Collagen?
Collagen is the most abundantly found protein in the human body and accounts for around one – third of its protein composition.
Collagen is hard, insoluble and fibrous proteins that are packed together to build long and thin fibrils. It is the main structural protein present in the connective tissues throughout your body. In other words, it is a glue that holds your body together. Hence, it is one of the primary building blocks of skin, muscles, bones, ligaments and tendons. It is also present in several other body parts, including blood vessels, corneas and teeth.
Collagen has various essential functions, such as providing structure to your skin, help tissues to withstand stretch, and giving strength to your bones. It also means that these are those proteins that give strength and elasticity to your skin.
Consuming adequate amounts of collagen can offer numerous health benefits, such as improving skin health, promoting bone and muscle health and relieving joint pains. There are several foods, such as bone broth, pork skin, chicken, fish, egg whites, citrus fruits, and berries, that can elevate your collagen intake. Besides these foods, having collagen supplements are also a good way to increase collagen levels in the body. Most collagen supplements are hydrolyzed – it means that the collagen is broken down into smaller particles, making them simpler for the body to absorb (Collagen supplements are explained below in this blogpost).
After the age of 60, a considerable decline in collagen production is deemed normal by experts. Also, women after menopause experience a dramatic reduction of collagen production in their body.
Types of Collagen –
There are 16 types of collagen found in the human body. However, 80 to 90 per cent of its total amount belongs to only four types.
These four types of collagen are –
- Type – I
- Type – II
- Type – III, and
- Type – IV.
Type – I Collagen: Type – I collagen fibrils account for almost 90 per cent of your body’s collagen. It is formed of densely packed fibers. It gives structure and strength to skin, bones, tendons, fibrous cartilage, connective tissues and teeth. This type of collagen is particularly capable of being stretched. When compared gram for gram, Type – I collagen is even stronger than steel.
Type – II Collagen: Type – II collagen is formed by loosely packed fibers. It is the main collagenous component of elastic cartilage that covers and cushions your joints.
Type – III Collagen: Type – III collagen provides support to the structure of your muscles, arteries and organs.
Type – IV Collagen: Type – IV collagen is present in the layers of your skin and assists in filtration.
Exogenous Collagen – The quantity and quality of collagen production decline as individual ages, along with other factors, such as constant exposure to UV light, smoking, poor diet and bad lifestyle choices. The reduction of collagen production in the body results in the aging of the skin and the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles on it. In addition, the skin becomes less firm and supple as it ages. The cartilages also become weak due to the aging process.
It is the reason that more and more people are opting for exogenous collagen nowadays. Exogenous collagen is synthetic and needs to be consumed from an outside source, such as supplements.
Exogenous collagen is also widely utilized for medical and cosmetic purposes, such as repairing body tissues.
What does Collagen do in the Human Body?
Even though collagen is synthesized by various cells, it is primarily secreted by the connective tissue cells. Collagen is constituted of amino acids that bond together to build a triple helix structure of elongated fibril known by the name collagen helix.
Collage is found in the extracellular matrix present in the body’s connective tissues. Extracellular matric is an extensive and intricate network of macromolecules that decide the physical properties of the tissues in the body.
In the middle layer of the skin, named the dermis, collagen creates a fibrous network of cells known as fibroblasts, upon which new cells can develop. As a result, it plays a crucial role in replacing and restoring dead skin cells and healing wounds.
Some collagen provides protective coverings for vital and delicate internal organs of the body, such as the kidneys.
Collagen is highly crucial for the structural integrity of the skin. It provides strength, elasticity and firmness to it.
Many people consume collagen supplements to increase their collagen intake in the diet. Collagen supplements come in the form of powder, tablets and capsules.
Collagen supplements are constituted of different types of peptides or amino acids. Most of them contain hydrolyzed type – I collagen derived from bones, hides or fish scales. Hydrolyzation is the process in which the manufacturer break down the chains of amino acids in the collagen of the supplements into smaller units, peptides, to make it simpler and easier for the body to absorb them and use.
The effectiveness of collagen supplements may vary from person to person and depends on what a person uses them for. The alleged benefits of collagen supplements are not thoroughly studied and understood by scientists yet.
Collagen Powder vs Pills
Collagen supplements are available in both pill and powder form. It has very little to do with collagen and majorly to do with the way people can consume it.
The powder form of collagen supplements is typically the most preferred option by people. Collagen powder supplement comes in loose form. You can blend it with several food items and beverages like smoothies, juices or water. It is prepared from bovine, porcine, chicken and marine sources. You can get both unflavored and flavored versions of collagen powder supplements in the market. Usually, most people prefer the unflavored collagen powder supplement to mix it in their drinks and foods.
The collagen pills or capsules are more suitable for those people who do not want to mix collagen in their foods or drinks. It is easier to take collagen in pills form than in powder form – just take a collagen pill with a glass of water. Collagen pills are filled with collagen powder. Hence, they provide the same health benefits as the collagen powder form. However, collagen pills may present a minor issue if you experience troubles in digestion. It may be a little difficult for your digestive system to break down a pill than powder. Aside from this minor con, collagen pills are just as good an option as the collagen powder supplement.
Top Benefits of Collagen
Collagen is the most abundant protein in mammals, including humans. It plays a vital role in various biological functions in the body, such as providing structural support to connective tissues, muscles and skin. It is responsible for providing elasticity and firmness to the skin. It is also vital for maintaining joint and bone health.
Let’s understand the top benefits of collagen –
- Collagen Benefits for Skin Health
Collagen is a substantial component of your skin and constitutes around 75 per cent of its dry weight. It plays a significant part in the strengthening of your skin, its hydration and maintaining elasticity.
However, with age, your body slows down collagen production, and the inner layer of your skin starts losing collagen. As a result, your skin becomes less supple, more vulnerable to dryness, wrinkle formation and other damages.
Most people who take collagen through foods or supplements are looking to receive its benefits for skin health. It improves the look and overall quality of the skin by adding moisture to it and improving its elasticity. It slows down the appearance of several signs of aging on the skin, such as dullness of the skin, uneven skin tone, skin dryness, age spots, fine lines and wrinkles.
The credit of wrinkle – lessening effects of collagen supplements can be awarded to their ability to stimulate the body’s ability to build collagen on its own. In addition, collagen supplements also promote the production of other proteins, such as elastin and fibrillin, that help structure the skin. Some also claim that collagen supplements can help in preventing acne and other skin conditions, but these claims are not backed by scientific evidence.
A study in the journal Skin Pharmacology and Physiology revealed that women who consumed a collagen supplement for eight weeks noticed a significant decrease in skin dryness and increased skin elasticity compared to those who did not have the supplement.
Another study in the Journal of Medical Nutrition and Nutraceuticals showed that women who drank a beverage mixed with a collagen supplement every day for twelve weeks experienced improved skin hydration and a substantial decrease in the depth of their wrinkles as compared to those in the control group.
- Collagen Promotes Joint Health
Collagen can promote joint health by maintaining the integrity of the cartilage. Some pieces of evidence suggest that collagen helps by preventing deterioration and restoring the cartilage in the joints. Cartilage is the rubber – like padding that protects the joints.
As a person gets older, the amount of collagen lowers in his body, which increases the risk of degenerative joint disorders, such as osteoarthritis.
Studies suggest that collagen supplements can ease the symptoms of osteoarthritis and relieve joint pains.
A study involving 73 athletes showed that those who took around 10 grams of collagen every day for 24 weeks experienced a substantial reduction in joint pains while walking and other activities compared to the group who did not have it.
Researchers believe that collagen supplements assist by accumulating in cartilage and stimulating the tissues to produce collagen. They also indicated that this might lead to decreased inflammation, better joint support and increased pain relief.
- Collagen Limits Bone Loss
The main constituent of bones is collagen. Collagen provides structure and strength to the bones.
As collagen production slows down and collagen decreases in the body when a person ages, the bone mass also deteriorates and bones become weaker. It can cause conditions, including osteoporosis, leading to lower bone density and a higher risk of bone fractures.
Studies have shown that consumption of collagen supplements can substantially inhibit the bone breakdown that results in osteoporosis.
A study involving 66 women revealed that those who consumed 5 grams of collagen for one year had an increase of up to 7 per cent in their bone mineral density (BMD) compared to women who did not have collagen.
The results of collagen in promoting bone health are promising. However, more studies are required to confirm the role of collagen in improving bone health.
- Collagen Improves Muscle Mass
Muscle tissues are also composed of collagen. The protein is essential for providing strength and proper functioning of muscles. Some evidence indicates that collagen supplements can help improve muscle mass. Some studies also suggest that consuming collagen can help people with sarcopenia, which is associated with the loss of muscle mass as age increases.
A study was conducted in which male participants took 15 grams of collagen every day along with exercising for 12 weeks. At the end of the study, it was found that men who took collagen with regular exercising had a significant gain in their muscle mass and experienced increased strength compared to those who exercised regularly but did not consume collagen.
Researchers believe that collagen help stimulates the synthesis of muscle proteins, such as creatine, that promote muscle growth.
Though the results of investigations to confirm that collagen can boost muscle mass are promising, more research is required in this area.
- Collagen Boosts Heart Health
Researchers believe that taking adequate collagen can promote cardiovascular health and lower the risk of heart – related diseases. This is because collagen supports the structure of arteries that transport blood from the heart to other parts of the body. With the deterioration of collagen, arteries may become weak and feeble. It can result in atherosclerosis, a condition characterized by narrowing of the arteries. Atherosclerosis can lead to a heart attack or stroke in people.
A study was conducted in this area in which 30 healthy adults consumed 16 grams of collagen every day for six months. By the end of the study, these adults saw a significant decrease in artery stiffness and reduction of low – density lipoprotein, or bad cholesterol. The decline in stiffness of arteries can help in boosting heart health.
- Other Health Benefits of Collagen
Some people claim that having sufficient collagen may provide additional health benefits. However, there are no extensive studies to support these claims.
Other potential health benefits of collagen may include –
- Hair and Nail Growth – Collagen can stimulate the growth of hair and nails in people. It can also promote the strengthening of nails and prevent them from becoming brittle.
- Healthy Gut – Collagen supplements can be used to promote gut health and treat intestinal permeability or leaky gut syndrome.
- Mental Health – Adequate levels of collagen in the body can improve mood and ease the symptoms of anxiety.
- Weight Loss – Collagen supplements can promote a faster metabolism and speed up the process of weight loss in people.
Factors that lead to Collagen Decline in the body
There are several factors that can deplete collagen levels and lead to collagen decline in the body. By avoiding these, you can keep your skin beautiful and your body healthy for a longer time.
These factors include –
- High Consumption of Sugars –
High consumption of sugars or high – glycemic foods can cause the insulin levels in the body to spike, which can lead to a burst of inflammation. Inflammation forms enzymes that can break down collagen and deplete its levels.
The digested sugars attach themselves to the collagen through the process of glycation to produce new molecules known as advanced glycation end products (AGEs). AGEs destroy proteins, lower collagen levels and make collagen weak, dry and brittle.
- Smoking –
Many experts advise not to smoke to avoid premature aging and several other chronic health issues.
The chemicals found in tobacco smoke can substantially destroy the collagen and elastin proteins present in the skin. In addition, nicotine can also narrow the blood vessels located in the outer layer of the skin. As a result, it can compromise skin health by decreasing nutrients and oxygen delivery to the skin.
- Exposure to Sunlight –
It is proved that ultraviolet (UV) radiations in the sunlight damage, destroy and deplete collagen levels in the skin. Exposure to UV rays can rapidly break down collagen, harm collagen fibers and lead to the building of abnormal elastin.
Upon damage caused by UV radiations to the collagen in the dermis layer, the skin incorrectly redevelops, leading to the appearance of lines and wrinkles on it.
- Genetics –
Genetics can also influence your collagen levels. It determines the amount of collagen that your body makes or breaks. So, the chances of you having great – looking skin are high if your parents and grandparents have good skin too.
- Autoimmune Disorders –
Some autoimmune diseases, such as collagen vascular disease, can target and destroy collagen in the skin, tissues and organs.
- Aging Process –
In most cases, collagen production begins to dip when people are in their late teens or early 20s. The process of depletion of collagen is inevitable and outside of anyone’s control. Therefore, collagen lowers in your body naturally as you age.
- Menopause –
Menopause in women can affect their skin by quickly decreasing their collagen levels. Studies reveal that most women lose around 30 per cent of their skin’s collagen in the first five years of menopause.
Potential Side Effects of Collagen Supplements
There are only a few side effects or risks associated with taking collagen supplements. However, consuming them as directed by a healthcare professional is usually considered safe. You should always consult a doctor before beginning any new collagen supplements or increasing the dosage of an existing supplement.
The potential side effects or risks of taking collagen supplements are mild. These may include –
- Most people report that collagen supplements can leave a lingering bad taste in the mouth.
- Collagen supplements can cause digestive issues in some people, such as a feeling of heaviness in their stomach, heartburn and diarrhea.
- It can also cause rashes in some people.
- Some collagen supplements are prepared from common food allergens, including fish, eggs and shellfish. Those who are allergic to these foods should avoid collagen supplements formed from these ingredients to avoid any allergic reaction.
Other than these, collagen supplements do not pose any major health risk and seem to be safe for most people.
The Bottom Line
Collagen and its supplements are famous for promoting the vitality, elasticity and overall health of your skin. It also supports other areas of your health, including bone, muscle and heart health.
Collagen is a vital protein that provides structure and strength to your skin, muscles and bones. There are several foods and supplements that can stimulate the synthesis of collagen protein in your body.
Collagen is associated with several health benefits. It can promote strengthening, hydration and elasticity of your skin. It can decrease dryness and slow down the signs of aging, such as the formation of lines, age spots and wrinkles on the skin. Collagen can also support the increase of muscle mass, prevention of bone loss and relief from joint pains.
Taking collagen supplements do not pose any significant health risks or side effects. You can purchase collagen supplements from any local or online stores.