What Is Collagen? And 9 Science-Backed Health Benefits
Collagen is the most abundant protein in your body. It provides shape, strength, and integrity to many tissues, including your skin, muscles, bones, tendons, brain, and heart[*].
In addition to occurring as a natural protein in your body, collagen is also part of any non-vegetarian diet. Although your body can also produce collagen from other amino acids, scientific evidence suggests that consuming collagen can increase collagen synthesis and production[*].
Collagen supplements called hydrolyzed collagen or collagen peptides have recently attracted scientific and popular attention for their ability to reduce the appearance of wrinkles, decrease joint pain, increase bone density, and more[*][*][*].
In this article, you’ll learn about the 9 most significant benefits of including extra collagen from natural whole foods and collagen supplements in your diet.
What Is Collagen?
Collagen comes from the Greek word “kólla,” meaning “glue” and the suffix “gen,” meaning “producing.”
True to its name, collagen behaves like a glue that holds your body together, which is why 30% of the total protein in your body is collagen[*].
Collagen in your body is most commonly found as part of the extracellular matrix(ECM). The ECM is a three-dimensional network of proteins and other molecules that supports and provides structure to cells in every single tissue of your body.
In your body, there is always an interplay between protein breakdown and protein synthesis in tissues, called protein flux or protein turnover[*].
Protein turnover also occurs with your body’s collagen[*]. In other words, although collagen in your skin, joints, and other cells naturally breaks down, your body is constantly creating new collagen to take its place.
However collagen synthesis decreases as you age, which can lead to visual changes like wrinkles, as well as structural issues like osteoarthritis (a lack of cushioning cartilage in joints)[*][*][*].
Adding hydrolyzed collagen or collagen peptide supplements to your diet provides your body with the amino acids glycine, proline, alanine, and arginine, which may increase collagen production and help reverse the loss of collagen associated with normal wear and tear and aging[*][*][*].
9 Science-Based Benefits of Collagen
#1: Supports Skin Health and Appearance
For many, collagen protein may be synonymous with skin health due to the power of popular advertising. Advertisements for “anti-aging” creams tout the benefits of collagen to reverse wrinkles and aging signs. However, such claims are not backed by research, and it would appear that collagen peptides are too large to absorb through the epidermis (outer skin layer)[*].
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However, unlike topical application on the skin, oral consumption of collagen proteins does allow for absorption.
Research shows that taking collagen supplements (such as collagen protein or bone broth)[*][*][*][*]:
- Improves skin elasticity
- Boosts skin hydration
- Reduces wrinkles
- Prevents early signs of aging
- Diminishes roughness of facial skin
- Increases the amount of collagen present in the skin
- Prevents the breakdown of collagen
- Increases the amount of procollagen produced
- Decreases the appearance of cellulite
In one double-blind trial, 69 women received either 2.5g or 5.0g of a collagen supplement or placebo once daily for 8 weeks. At the end of the study, skin elasticity in both collagen groups was significantly higher in comparison to the placebo. After 4 weeks of follow-up treatment, elderly women had a significantly higher skin elasticity level[*].
Another double-blind trial comparing two types of collagen compounds found that a high collagen content significantly improved facial skin moisture, elasticity, wrinkles and roughness in comparison to the low collagen compound and the placebo[*].
#2: Keeps Your Nails Strong
Collagen supplementation may prevent brittle and broken nails and support nail growth.
One study found that oral collagen supplements exerted the following effects on participants[*]:
- Increased nail growth rate (up by 12%)
- Lower frequency of broken nails (down by 42%)
- Significant improvement in brittle nails (noted by 64% of participants
- Experience of overall improvement in nail quality (88% of participants)
Consuming gelatin — a form of collagen used in the food industry — may also improve nail quality[*].
#3: Supports Muscle Growth and Regeneration
Collagen production in your body is essential for the growth and healing of muscles.
Evidence suggests that in combination with strength training, collagen supplementation may[*][*]:
- Increase muscle strength and performance
- Aid muscle regeneration
- Reduce soreness
Additionally, a study of older individuals found that collagen supplementation in combination with resistance training increased fat-free mass and muscle strength while lowering fat mass[*].
#4: Support Healthy Connective Tissue
Collagen makes up a vast majority of the tissue in joints, tendons, and ligaments[*].
Therefore, any deficiencies may affect flexibility, range of motion, and cause or worsen symptoms of joint diseases like arthritis.
Supplementing with collagen peptides helps to:
- Ease symptoms of osteoarthritis[*]
- Decrease joint pain and swelling[*]
- Support tendon repair[*]
In a randomized, double-blind trial involving 60 patients with severe rheumatoid arthritis, consuming daily collagen for 3 months decreased the number of swollen and tender joints, with 4 patients demonstrating a complete remission[*].
Another trial found that supplementing with collagen on a dose of 1200 milligrams per day significantly decreased joint pain in patients[*].
Collagen supplementation is especially helpful for osteoarthritis. One double-blind study concluded that possess therapeutic potential for the management of osteoarthritis and maintenance of joint health”[*].
#5: Strengthens Bones
During aging, your collagen network slowly breaks down, making your bones less resilient.
However, your body can absorb and use oral collagen to make up for the natural collagen loss. Taking collagen supplements may[*]:
- Reduce the risk of osteoporosis
- Stimulate bone-forming cells
- Provide anti-inflammatory and antioxidant benefits
- Increase the capacity to resist fractures
In growing children, daily collagen intake may have positive effects on bone remodeling and formation[*].
#6: Promotes Tissue Repair
Natural collagen production plays an essential role in wound healing and scar formation[*].
If your body isn’t able to produce enough collagen, your ability to heal is adversely affected.
Studies show that ingesting collagen peptides can speed up or help with healing wounds that might not otherwise heal normally, such as pressure ulcers[*][*].
#7: May Promote Gut Health
Collagen is necessary for a healthy gut.
Changes or disruptions of collagen in intestinal tissue are linked in scientific literature to chronic inflammation and inflammatory bowel disease[*][*].
A 2017 in vitro study found that collagen peptides may improve a dysfunctional or leaky intestinal barrier, but evidence is still preliminary[*].
#8: May Support Heart Health
Collagen plays a vital role in the integrity of your heart, and aging-related changes to cardiac collagen structure may affect heart function[*].
Although there’s no evidence yet that taking collagen supplements can prevent aging-related changes to collagen found in your heart, there is early animal evidence suggesting that it could reduce the adverse effects of high blood pressure and heart damage[*].
A 6-month human trial found that consuming 16 grams per day of collagen (in two divided doses) led to improvements in HDL and LDL cholesterol levels, which may prevent or treat atherosclerosis or cardiovascular disease[*].
#9: Supports a Healthy Brain and Cognitive Function
Collagen is present in neurons in the brian and central nervous system, and collagen deficiency in the brain is associated with:
- Programmed cell death (apoptosis)[*]
- Higher vulnerability to oxidative stress[*]
- Impaired autophagy[*]
- Impairment of motor and memory task performance[*]
- Increased neurotoxicity[*]
In other words, the presence of some types of collagen helps the brain function properly, repair itself, and prevent neurodegenerative diseases[*].
According to a 2020 clinical study, consuming 5 grams of collagen for 30 days led to improvements in brain structure, world list memory, verbal associations, and language cognitive function in healthy adults aged 49-63.[*]
The Main Causes of Collagen Loss
Collagen loss happens from a combination of internal and external circumstances.
Internal Causes of Collagen Loss
Your body naturally loses collagen gradually as you age, due to the fact collagen production decreases the older you get.
For example, the overall collagen content per unit area of the skin declines 1% per year, which is associated with aging-related changes to skin[*].
#2: A High-Sugar Diet
Research reveals that glucose and fructose “trap” the amino acids in collagen and elastin, decreasing the effectiveness of skin repair[*]. Essentially, eating excess sugar may render collagen unusable in your body.
This process also produces advanced glycation end products or “AGEs”[*].
AGEs are potentially-toxic compounds that form when lipids or proteins are exposed to sugars, and they are associated with chronic diseases like diabetes and heart disease[*].
Smoking causes early facial wrinkling and decreased wound healing because it slows down the synthesis of collagen type I and III.
One study found that in people who smoke, collagen synthesis was 18-22% lower and MMP-8, a molecule that breaks down collagen, was 100% higher[*]:
#4: Nutrient Deficiency
A low intake of collagen-forming nutrients can also lead to collagen deficiency.
For one thing, low intake of dietary protein or collagen-forming amino acids (glycine, proline, alanine, and arginine) can lower collagen levels in your body[*].
And a deficiency in vitamin C can stop collagen formation altogether, a condition known as scurvy[*].
Dietary copper deficiency is associated with a weaker union of collagen and elastin, which results in weakness and damage to tissues[*].
External Causes of Collagen Loss
#1: Excess Sun Exposure
Sun exposure is the main environmental factor that causes premature skin aging.
When you expose your skin for long periods to UV radiation, your cells go through molecular changes to try to respond to the damage. These changes cause a breakdown of collagen and may decrease collagen synthesis, making your skin vulnerable to damage and unable to heal normally[*].
#2: Air Pollution
Air pollution can affect collagen levels and exacerbate skin diseases.
Polluted air contains compounds called particulate matter, which consists of extremely small particles and droplets in the air that can be absorbed by your lungs and skin.
Sustained exposure to particulate matter in cities or other polluted areas can increase cellular stress and exacerbate breakdown of collagen in your skin and body[*].
Top Food Sources of Collagen-Forming Nutrients
Your body requires a healthy diet based on whole foods to obtain the necessary building blocks for collagen. Here are the best sources of each nutrient your body needs to produce and maintain healthy collagen levels.
Approximately 21 amino acids are needed to form collagen, and the best way to obtain them is from keto-friendly whole foods.
Vitamins, Micronutrients, and Fatty Acids
Others nutrients are essential for collagen production as well:
- Vitamins and minerals are key in procollagen formation, the precursor of collagen. They help bind amino-acids together.
- The antioxidant abilities of vitamins and fatty acids help prevent collagen breakdown and fight damage.
The top 7 nutrients that aid collagen synthesis are[*][*]:
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin E
- Carotenoids: Beta Carotene, Lycopene and Lutein & Zeaxanthin
- Omega 3s
Vitamin C helps collagen in three ways:
- Increases the production of collagen type I and III in the skin.
- Activates two key enzymes needed for collagen synthesis[*].
- Releases enzymes that inhibit MMPs (the molecules that break down collagen).
Even a mild vitamin C deficiency can affect collagen production[*]. These are the top keto-friendly sources to ensure you get enough ascorbic acid:
Source: USDA Food Composition Databases
Vitamin E protects collagen against free radicals and helps regulate its growth[*].
Vitamin E works best alongside vitamin C. Clinical studies show the antioxidative protection is higher with the combination of vitamins C and E than with the vitamin C or E alone[*].
Here are the top keto-friendly vitamin E foods:
Source: USDA FoodData Central
Nuts are an excellent source of healthy fats, proteins, and many micronutrients.
Carotenoids are important for collagen preservation, especially in aging skin.
In one study, healthy women were given carotenoid-rich kale extract on a daily basis to measure the effect on collagen levels. The results showed a significant increase in collagen I in the dermis, and researchers concluded that carotenoids can prevent collagen I degradation and improve the extracellular matrix (ECM)[*].
These are the most common types of carotenoids:
#1. Beta Carotene (precursor of vitamin A)
One study found that 30 milligrams per day of beta-carotene can increase procollagen levels and repair photoaging[*]. Get it from these sources:
Source: USDA FoodData Central
Lycopene may support the collagen in your bones. One study found that lycopene supplementation decreased oxidative stress and prevented bone degradation[*].
These are the best sources of lycopene:
Source: USDA FoodData Central
Collagen requires calcium to form and preserve bone structure. Calcium allows the mineral crystallization (hardening) of collagen in the bones[*].
One study found that a calcium-collagen supplement prevented bone loss in postmenopausal women with low bone density[*].
Find calcium in these keto-friendly foods:
Source: USDA FoodData Central
Copper is necessary for linking collagen to elastin, which is required for skin integrity.
Additionally, copper plays the following roles in skin integrity[*]:
- Producing cells that release collagen (called fibroblasts)
- Upregulating collagen types I, II, and V
- Supporting collagen fibril formation
- Stabilizing the skin ECM once formed
Here’s where you can get it:
Source: USDA FoodData Central
Selenium helps to prevent fibrosis (excess scar tissue) by regulating collagen similar to vitamin E.
Researchers have found that selenium intake may prevent liver fibrosis by decreasing type I collagen accumulation in cells[*][*].
Get it from these foods:
Source: USDA Food Composition Databases
Omega-3 fatty acids help support optimal collagen levels.
One in vitro study found that omega-3s promoted ligament regeneration by increasing ligament collagen[*].
They also help to decrease collagen when necessary, or reduce collagen formation where it’s unneeded. Collagen is the most clot-forming component in the heart[*]. After vascular damage, collagen begins to adhere to platelets in your arteries and form clots, putting you at risk of heart disease.
Omega-3s can reduce this risk by preventing collagen from sticking to platelets. One study found that collagen interactions with platelets were reduced by 50% after omega-3 supplementation[*].
The best whole food, keto-friendly omega-3 sources are foods like salmon, sardines, mackerel, anchovies, and oysters. You can also use krill oil supplements to boost your omega-3 fatty acid intake.
Collagen vs. Gelatin
Collagen supplements provide readily-available collagen peptides for your body to use.
Collagen peptides and gelatin are not the same supplement. Gelatin is a form of cooked collagen used in food manufacturing.
To create gelatin, the collagen-rich tissues are boiled at a high pressure to partially break down the collagen molecules. The gelatin is then extracted, purified and dried. This is called partial hydrolysis.
In gelatin, the collagen is not entirely broken down.
This leaves gelatin with long chains of amino acids, in contrast with the short chains (dipeptides and tripeptides) of collagen peptides.
That’s why gelatin is less absorbable and efficient than collagen peptides.
Hydrolyzed collagen is a better choice than gelatin to boost your collagen production.
What to Look for in a Collagen Supplement
Before you purchase a collagen supplement, consider these factors.
#1: Consider the Source
The best hydrolyzed collagen in the market is grass -ed bovine collagen. It’s the best-researched and is the main collagen source used in the studies discussed previously in this article.
#2: Go for Grass-Fed
The quality of collagen from grass-fed cows may be superior to collagen from grain-fed cows.
Research shows that grass-fed cows have higher beta-carotene (precursor of vitamin A) levels than grain-fed cows[*].
This matters because vitamin A is critical for the overall integrity of skin and mucous membranes. In the case of cows, it helps collagen maintain the integrity of the hide, which is the main tissue used to create collagen peptides.
This means grass-fed cows may have healthier skins (hides) than grain-fed cows, potentially making grass-fed collagen a better source of collagen peptides.
Perfect Keto Collagen comes from grass-fed cows in the USA.
#3: Provides at Least 10 Grams of Collagen Per Serving
According to research, a dose of 10g of hydrolyzed collagen a day is ideal for skin, joint, and bone health[*].
Make sure the serving size of your supplement provides at least 10g (10,000mg) of pure, grass-fed collagen peptides.
#4: No Unnecessary Filler Ingredients
Collagen peptides don’t need any other ingredients to be effective, so your supplement should have just one ingredient on the label — collagen. The label should say something resembling one of the following ingredients, and nothing else::
- Grass-fed hydrolyzed collagen powder
- Grass-fed bovine collagen peptides
- Hydrolyzed bovine collagen
Steer clear of any supplements that include gelatin (that’s not the same as hydrolyzed collagen or collagen peptides), vegetable magnesium stearate, or sweeteners besides stevia.
To make sure there are no hidden ingredients, check the nutrient profile, and make sure the total carbs are at 1 gram or less:
Some collagen peptides might contain other beneficial supplements in the mix, but conversely, may also have hidden sugars.
If you opt for a blend, ensure any additional ingredients don’t spike your blood sugar.
For example, Perfect Keto Collagen includes high-quality MCT oil powder in the blend. The fat provides ketones for energy and slows the absorption of protein so your body can use the collagen for recovery instead of converting it to glucose.
How to Take Collagen Supplements
Dosage, Safety, and Side Effects
Collagen is effective and safe at a minimum dose of 10g per day, but higher dosages are also safe.
When Should You Take it?
There’s no optimal time to take collagen. Your body will absorb and use it any time of the day, so you can take it whenever you prefer.
It can be in a morning smoothie to provide your body with healing amino acids, or at the end of the day before bed to promote recovery.
Is Collagen Vegetarian or Vegan-Friendly?
Bovine collagen is not compatible with a vegetarian or vegan diet. If you’re vegan or vegetarian, it’s best to increase the micronutrients that help promote healthy collagen production in your body.
Is Collagen Safe During Pregnancy or Breastfeeding?
There’s no definitive research on the safety of taking collagen supplements during pregnancy or breastfeeding. Some studies have purposefully excluded pregnant or breastfeeding women for this reason.
If you’re pregnant or breastfeeding and considering collagen supplements, the best thing you can do is to ask your doctor.
Along with the basic method of mixing with water and ingesting, collagen also lends itself well to use in drinks and other recipes.
Snacks and desserts
The Takeaway: Boost Your Collagen Intake
There’s no doubt collagen is critical for the structure and function of skin, bones, joints, nails, hair, tendons, heart, brain, and eyes.
Collagen peptides are supplements that provide short collagen protein chains your body can use to support collagen synthesis and reduce the degradation of collagen associated with aging.. bones.
The highest-quality, best-researched collagen peptides available are from grass-fed cows.
Because they’re tasteless and odorless, you can add hydrolyzed collagens peptides to drinks, snacks, and recipes to easily boost your collagen levels.