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Your Guide to Collagen

Find out what the collagen hype is all about!

Dr. Stephanie Rubino
Scoop of collagen with water.

With so much circulating information about collagen, you’ve probably wondered if you should be taking a collagen supplement. Are its touted benefits for wrinkles and smoother skin true? Does taking collagen really help strengthen bones and reduce joint pain? Let’s uncover everything you need to know about this popular protein. 

Collagen 101 

Collagen is the main structural protein found throughout the body. Often described as the “glue” that holds the body together, collagen provides strength and support to our connective tissue. [1] Collagen is made up of three chains of specific amino acids that form a triple helix and make up 25–35% of our total body protein. This abundant protein is commonly found in: [2]

  • Skin 
  • Tendons 
  • Ligaments  
  • Cartilage 
  • Bones 
  • Blood vessels 

There are currently 28 different types of collagen that have been identified in the body. Although there are five main types, type I accounts for 90% of the body’s collagen and can be found in the skin, cornea, blood vessels, bones, ligaments, and tendons. Type II is found in the cartilage and intervertebral discs, and type III is located in the skin and blood vessels. [24] These are the three collagen types commonly found in collagen supplements. 

Unfortunately, the activity of our collagen-producing cells (called fibroblasts) starts to decline after the age of 30. Although our bodies continue to make collagen throughout life, it’s estimated that collagen production declines approximately 1.01.5% per year. [5] Collagen breakdown also occurs more quickly. Fine lines and deep wrinkles are a familiar outcome to many, but that’s not all that can happen. Collagen loss can also result in joint concerns, thinning bones, brittle nails, and hair loss. Other factors can accelerate collagen loss as we age, such as: [5,6] 

  • Smoking 
  • Poor nutrition 
  • Sun and pollution exposure 
  • Stress 
  • Genetics 
  • Loss of estrogen during menopause

Supporting collagen production is crucial in maintaining healthy skin, hair, nails, joints, and bones. From adopting healthy dietary and lifestyle approaches to taking specific supplements, there are many valuable solutions to help overcome the impact of collagen loss. One strategy that has gained much attention and popularity is using collagen supplements. 

About Collagen Supplements 

If you have ever shopped for a collagen supplement, you know first-hand that there is an overwhelming number of available choices.

Collagen powder in a spoon and a glass of water on a pink background  

Buyer beware! Not all collagen supplements are the same; they come in various forms and qualities. Consider these key facts for selecting a clean and supportive collagen supplement: 

  • Look for hydrolyzed collagen supplements. Collagen needs to be broken down so the body can use it. Hydrolyzed collagen has been broken down into smaller collagen peptides or small amino acid chains by a process called hydrolysis. In addition to being highly digestible and easily absorbed by the body, hydrolyzed collagen provides many advantages, such as being odourless and colourless. [7,8] This makes using hydrolyzed collagen very easy – it can simply be mixed into different foods and liquids (hot or cold!). After collagen peptides are consumed, they make their way throughout the body, acting as building blocks for collagen and elastin production. Collagen peptides can also stimulate fibroblasts to produce collagen and elastin and replace what has been lost because of aging and other factors. [7] 

  • Choose collagen supplements sourced from reputable bovine and marine sources. Collagen can only come from animal sources such as the skin, bones, and cartilage of cows, fish, chickens, and/or pigs. For your personal health and the health of the planet, it is important to choose reputable sources such as pasture-raised, grass-fed cattle and wild-caught fish. Pasture-raised and grass-fed cattle have been humanely nurtured in a natural environment and allowed to eat grass grown on the pasture. Similarly, wild-caught fish live in a habitat where they can naturally feed on what is available in their environment, ensuring a natural and sustainable fish source. 

  • Pick collagen supplements that undergo third-party testing. All supplements, including collagen, can contain potential allergens, pesticides, solvents, GMOs, heavy metals, microbes, and pharmaceutical agents. When picking a collagen supplement, it is important to choose one that has undergone third-party testing to ensure the product is non-GMO, pure, potent, and accurately labelled.

Benefits of Hydrolyzed Collagen

Portrait of woman looking at her mirror image in the morning.

Taking a hydrolyzed collagen supplement can offer numerous health benefits. Research has shown hydrolyzed collagen helps: 

  • Improve skin hydration and elasticity [9,10] 
  • Reduce the depth of wrinkles and fine lines [10,11] 
  • Reduce eye wrinkles within four weeks [11] 
  • Reduce joint pain associated with osteoarthritis [12] 
  • Reduce the appearance of cellulite [13] 
  • Strengthen nails and increase nail growth [12] 
  • Strengthen bone density [14] 
  • Support healthy joints by maintaining healthy cartilage [15] 
  • Improve joint pain in college athletes [16] 
  • Improves body composition in combination with resistance training [17] 

If you are looking to support the health of your hair, skin, nails, bones, and joints, and are concerned about the impact of collagen loss with age, a hydrolyzed collagen supplement may be right for you. Collagen supplements are available in various forms, such as powders and tablets. Collagen powders can be easily incorporated into hot and cold beverages (including your morning coffee!) plus different foods without affecting the flavour. Although research suggests, a safe and effective hydrolyzed collagen dosage is 2.515 g per day, benefits for skin, nails, joints, and bones are often seen with 2.55 g per day. [18] 

Continue your journey toward supporting collagen production with additional dietary and lifestyle changes, including: 

  • Eat protein-rich foods, such as chicken, fish, eggs, and beans 
  • Consume bone broth regularly 
  • Eat vitamin C-rich foods, such as citrus, berries, and cruciferous vegetables 
  • Protect your skin from sun exposure 
  • Wear sunglasses 
  • Quit smoking 
  • Manage stress 
  • Engage in physical activity

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dr. Stephanie Rubino
Dr. Rubino is a licensed Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine.
References
  1. Wu M, Cronin K, Crane JS. Biochemistry, collagen synthesis. In: StatPearls [Internet]. StatPearls Publishing. [Updated 2021; cited 2022]. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK507709/ 
  2. Bielajew BJ, Hu JC, Athanasiou KA. Collagen: Quantification, biomechanics, and role of minor subtypes in cartilage. Nat Rev Mater. 2020; 5(10):730-47.  
  3. Naomi R, Ridzuan PM, Bahari H. Current insights into collagen type I. Polymers (Basel). 2021; 13(16):2642.  
  4. Copes F, Pien N, Van Vlierberghe S, et al. Collagen-based tissue engineering strategies for vascular medicine. Front Bioeng Biotechnol. 2019; 7:166.  
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  8. Skov K, Oxfeldt M, Thøgersen R, et al. Enzymatic hydrolysis of a collagen hydrolysate enhances postprandial absorption rate-A randomized controlled trial. Nutrients. 2019; 11(5):1064.  
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  10. Proksch E, Segger D, Degwert J, et al. Oral supplementation of specific collagen peptides has beneficial effects on human skin physiology: A double-blind, placebo-controlled study. Skin Pharmacol Physiol. 2014; 27(1):47-55. 
  11. Proksch E, Schunck M, ZagueV, et al. Oral intake of specific bioactive collagen peptides reduces skin wrinkles and increases dermal matrix synthesis. Skin Pharmacol Physiol. 2014b; 27(3):113-9. 
  12. Bruyère O, Zegels B, Leonori L, et al. Effect of collagen hydrolysate in articular pain: A 6-month randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study. Complement Ther Med. 2012; 20(3):124-30.  
  13. Schunck M, Zague V, Oesser S, et al. Dietary supplementation with specific collagen peptides has a body mass index-dependent beneficial effect on cellulite morphology. J Med Food. 2015; 18(12):1340-8.  
  14. König D, Oesser S, Scharla S, et al. Specific collagen peptides improve bone mineral density and bone markers in postmenopausal women—A randomized controlled study. Nutrients. 2018; 10(1):97.  
  15. Bello AE, Oesser S. Collagen hydrolysate for the treatment of osteoarthritis and other joint disorders: A review of the literature. Curr Med Res Opin. 2006; 22(11):2221-32.  
  16. Clark KL, Sebastianelli W, Flechsenhar KR, et al. 24-week study on the use of collagen hydrolysate as a dietary supplement in athletes with activity-related joint pain. Curr Med Res Opin. 2008; 24(5):1485-96. 
  17. Zdzieblik D, Oesser S, Baumstark MW, et al. Collagen peptide supplementation in combination with resistance training improves body composition and increases muscle strength in elderly sarcopenic men: A randomised controlled trial. Br J Nutr. 2015; 114(8):1237-45.  
  18. Paul C, Leser S, Oesser S. Significant amounts of functional collagen peptides can be incorporated in the diet while maintaining indispensable amino acid balance. Nutrients. 2019; 11(5):1079.