Collagen supplements have exploded in popularity over the past few years, peppering the shelves of nearly every major health food retailer. So, what makes collagen so popular? One major draw is the skincare benefits, namely improved skin elasticity and reduced wrinkles. [1,2] If that alone doesn’t spark interest and curiosity, there is also a growing body of evidence supporting the use of collagen supplements for joint pain and osteoarthritis. [3,4] Therefore, it comes as no surprise that collagen supplements have earned a strong following from bodybuilders and skincare junkies to regular folks seeking joint pain relief. This article will focus on how collagen can help you care for your joints – the natural way.
What is Collagen Anyway?
Collagen is the most abundant protein in the body and the main structural element of cartilage, bones, tendons, skin, and teeth. It is often referred to as the scaffolding that helps provide structure for other important components such as elastin, keratin, and hyaluronic acid. The body's demand for collagen is quite high. In fact, every five days, your body must make one pound of collagen to properly remodel connective tissues. For example, when it comes to maintaining bone health, the body requires a substantial amount of new collagen (43 g per day!) to maintain the skeleton.  Unfortunately, after the age of 20, natural collagen production begins to decline, leading not only to more visible signs of skin aging, but also to progressive joint degradation over time. If the body does not make the necessary amount of collagen required for maintenance, connective tissue can become vulnerable to damage, and bone quality can diminish. Therefore, collagen is a vital aspect of bone and joint health that shouldn’t be overlooked.
Natural collagen production mainly occurs in specialized cells called fibroblasts. To activate these fibroblast cells using nutritional supplements, collagen must be broken down or “hydrolyzed” into specific peptides, or small chains of amino acids. It is these peptides that the fibroblasts see and recognize as collagen fragments and therefore act as a stimulus to boost natural collagen production.
How Do Collagen Supplements Work to Support Joint Health?
When it comes to joints, there are a plethora of joint health supplements, but the mechanism of action for collagen supplements is quite interesting. Research shows that hydrolyzed collagen passes across the mucosal barrier in the small intestine as a complete peptide (which is no longer subject to enzymatic breakdown), accumulates in cartilage tissue, and stimulates the production of type II collagen (the primary collagen in cartilage).  When collagen is accumulated in cartilage, it can help improve pain in people who experience joint discomfort and may reduce the risk of joint deterioration. 
Collagen Research and Joint Health
While most people may not initially think of collagen as a joint health supplement, consistent and reliable research highlights collagen (both bovine- and marine-sourced) as a star ingredient for maintaining healthy muscles, bones, and joints. Recent studies have examined the use of hydrolyzed collagen supplements for osteoarthritis, finding that supplementation improved joint pain and mobility, specifically knee pain related to osteoarthritis. Here are a few key research findings related to collagen supplements and joint health:
- A 2012 six-month study showed that 51.6% of people using collagen for joint pain had significant improvements compared to 36.5% in the placebo group. 
- A 2019 meta-analysis reviewed five randomized, placebo-controlled trials with a combined total of 519 participants, investigating the effects of collagen supplements on osteoarthritis symptoms. The analysis revealed that the administration of oral collagen is effective in improving symptoms of osteoarthritis such as stiffness.
- A 2018 double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial assessed 120 participants on a hydrolyzed fish collagen supplement (along with other vitamins and antioxidants) versus placebo for 90 days. In addition to a remarkable increase in skin elasticity and hydration, the results showed that the consumption of collagen reduced joint pain by 43% and improved joint mobility by 39%. 
- A 2015 double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized clinical study tested the effectiveness of collagen peptides on osteoarthritis symptoms of 30 participants. The results showed that collagen peptides may be beneficial for improving overall physical discomfort in people clinically diagnosed with knee osteoarthritis. 
Not All Collagen is Created EqualWith so many collagen options available, it is important to note that not all collagen is created equal. So, what should you look for when selecting a collagen supplement for your joints? Here is a handy collagen checklist to take with you shopping:
✔ If choosing bovine (cattle) collagen, look for a non-GMO, pasture-raised, grass-fed source that is free of both steroid hormones and antibiotics.
✔ If choosing marine collagen, look for an odour-free, non-GMO source, extracted from wild-caught, sustainably sourced fish, like whitefish.
✔ Look for bioactive hydrolyzed collagen peptides instead of just generic hydrolyzed collagen – this will ensure the delivery of specialized peptides that are designed to target your fibroblast cells to produce more collagen.
✔ Make sure the collagen has been third-party tested. Look for the ISURA® logo – ISURA is a Canadian, independent verification lab that tests for up to 800 possible different contaminants. ISURA has an excellent reputation for approving non-GMO, contaminant-free, adulterant-free, authenticated, and accurately labelled products.
✔ The dose should be anywhere from 2.5 g to 10 g per day and consumed for a minimum of five months to reap joint health benefits.
✔ Make sure your collagen has added tryptophan to ensure a complete amino acid profile – collagen supplements devoid of tryptophan can lead to tryptophan deficiencies. 
✔ Look for a product that contains added supportive nutrients like hyaluronic acid, L-glutamine, vitamin C, and biotin, which are all essential in supporting healthy connective tissue.
Consider Collagen for Your Joints
Chances are if you’re currently contending with joint pain, you have already explored many diets, therapies, and nutritional supplements. Of course, there is no silver bullet that will solve all your joint pain woes, but by combining a healthy diet and regular movement along with nutritional supplements like bioactive hydrolyzed collagen peptides, relief may be on the horizon. Take care of your joint health with collagen – it may just be the missing puzzle piece to your joint care routine.