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26th January, 20214 min read

Do collagen supplements work?

Medical reviewer:Dr Ann Nainan
Author:Helen Prentice
Last reviewed: 23/01/2021
Medically reviewed

All of Healthily's articles undergo medical safety checks to verify that the information is medically safe. View more details in our safety page, or read our editorial policy.

Many people take daily supplements to improve their health, and a huge number of products are now easily available from supermarkets and the internet. In particular, collagen supplements have become popular to help support and strengthen the body in different ways. But does taking collagen work?

There’s some debate about whether we should take supplements at all. This is because most of us should be able to get all the nutrients, vitamins and minerals we need from a healthy, balanced diet.

And when it comes to collagen supplements, there’s limited evidence about how well they work, due to a lack of scientific research. Plus, you should always be cautious when taking supplements, as they can sometimes cause side effects or allergic reactions.

Read on to learn more about what collagen is, whether supplements can help with skin or joint health, and how to take supplements safely.

What is collagen?

Collagen is a protein found everywhere in your body, particularly in your skin, bones and connective tissues. It helps with many things, including giving your skin structure and strengthening joints and bones.

The cell structure of collagen looks like a rope, with three chains winding around each other. These chains are like building blocks, which come together to form collagen fibrils that are very strong and supportive. You can think of collagen as being like scaffolding for your body.

Collagen supplements for skin

Collagen plays a major role in the function of your skin. In fact, healthy, youthful skin has been shown to contain over 75% collagen.

As you get older, however, your body makes less collagen, and your ‘scaffold’ can lose strength. This process can also be speeded up by things like smoking, sunlight and pollution. When your skin loses collagen, it loses elasticity (flexibility), becomes thinner and drier, and you may get lines and wrinkles.

Some studies have shown that taking a collagen supplement drink can improve the skin’s appearance, boosting both its hydration and elasticity. Remember, however, that research in this area is limited, and more evidence is needed before we can be sure this works.

Collagen supplements for joint health

Research suggests that collagen supplements may help with joint pain. In a study, collagen was ‘hydrolysed’ (broken down to make it easier to absorb), then given to people with joint disorders such as osteoarthritis. It was found to be safe, and offered some pain relief and improvement in joint function. Again, however, this is only one study, so more evidence is needed.

Hopefully, future research will give us more information about collagen supplements, both in terms of what health issues they can help with and who they’re suitable for.

Taking collagen supplements safely

There are thought to be around 28 different types of collagen, but type 1 is the most common. To make supplements, it can be extracted from various sources, but it’s commonly taken from cows (bovine) and pigs (porcine).

Porcine collagen is very similar to human collagen, so it’s unlikely to cause a bad reaction – in fact it’s widely used in surgery. Other possible sources include marine collagen, from fish and jellyfish.

In studies, collagen supplements haven’t caused side effects, and they’re generally thought to be safe. However, it’s best to speak to your doctor before taking any supplements – they can advise you, and check that they won’t interfere with any other medications you're taking. You should always read the product instructions, too.

Key points

  • collagen is a protein found naturally in the body
  • it gives strength and support to the skin, joints and bones
  • studies have shown that collagen supplements may improve the skin’s appearance and help with pain from joint problems
  • it’s best to speak to your doctor before taking any supplements
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