You may have heard about collagen supplements, or seen them for sale in your local pharmacy. But you’re probably wondering, do they even work? And what is collagen, anyway?
Collagen is a protein that’s made by your body. In fact, about a third of the protein in your body is collagen. It’s an important part of your connective tissues – the structures that hold your body together – including skin, cartilage and bones.
Over time, ageing and other factors cause a decrease in the amount and quality of collagen in your body. This can lead to joint pain and muscle aches and a loss of skin flexibility (elasticity), causing sagging and wrinkles.
This is why collagen supplements have become popular, and there are now many types available. But do you need them, and what type of supplement is the best?
What do I need collagen for?
Part of the reason collagen supplements have become so popular is the variety of benefits they’re claimed to have – including reducing wrinkles, improving hair and nail growth, preventing joint pain and building muscle, among others.
But before you start thinking about trying a collagen supplement, you should know a bit about the different types of collagen and what they’re needed for.
There are lots of types of collagen in your body, with different jobs. However, there are 4 main types:
- type I – about 90% of the collagen in your body, it builds skin, bones, tendons and ligaments
- type II – helps to make cartilage, the tissue found between your bones and in your ears and nose
- type III – supports the structure of your muscles, organs and blood vessels
- type IV – found in the layers of your skin and acts as a barrier
Do I need collagen supplements?
What you may not know is that your body can get collagen from your diet. Because it’s made up of amino acids found in protein-rich foods, eating things such as chicken, fish, eggs and beans can help your body make more collagen.
This means that if you eat a balanced, healthy diet and avoid things that can lower your collagen levels – such as sun exposure, smoking and sugar – your body could probably make all the collagen you need.
While some small scientific studies suggest that collagen supplements have benefits, this research is still limited, and more is needed before we really understand how supplements work. What we do know is that dietary collagen supplements are generally thought to be safe.
Where does the collagen in supplements come from?
Collagen supplements can contain different types of collagen, but they usually contain type I, II or III, or a mixture of these.
Most collagen in supplements comes from animal sources, including pigs, cows and fish – so they may not be suitable if you’re a vegetarian or vegan.
There’s also a risk of allergic reaction with collagen supplements that come from fish or have been processed with other allergens, so check labels carefully if you have any allergies.
What type of collagen supplement is best?
If you’re considering taking a collagen supplement, the best one for you will depend on your needs and preferences. More research is needed to find out how well the collagen supplements work and which ones work best in different situations.
For example, early studies suggest the best collagen supplements for skin are those that contain type I and II, the best for joint pain would be those that contain type II and the best for bone health would be those that contain type I.
Collagen supplements also come in different formulations, including powder and capsules. Each has advantages and disadvantages (pros and cons), which are listed below.
- pros: the proteins have usually been broken down (hydrolyzed), which makes it easier for your body to absorb; it can be added to food and drinks
- cons: some collagen powders are made with common food allergens, so it is important to check the ingredients
- pros: easy to take as no preparation needed
- cons: not suitable if you can’t swallow capsules
How do I take collagen supplements safely?
As with any supplement or medicine, regulations may differ depending on what country you’re in, so it’s important to be aware of these.
In the US, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t regulate collagen supplements, so makers don’t have to prove that they’re safe or that they do what they’re claimed to do. However, this might not be the case in other countries.
It’s usually best to speak to your doctor before taking any supplements, as well as getting the facts on the possible benefits and side effects.
- collagen is a protein in the body that’s important for skin, joints and bones
- you lose collagen as you get older, which can lead to sagging skin and aches and pains
- collagen supplements come from different sources and have different formulations
- the collagen supplement for you depends on your needs and preferences
- it’s best to speak to your doctor before taking supplements