Do Collagen Supplements Work?
In the ongoing quest to stay forever young, collagen supplements are in high demand and I have reviewed the evidence behind collagen to find out what the science tells us and to ask the question, do collagen supplements work?
Collagen supplements are often well-marketed and they are part of a growing industry of health products, with the number of brands promoting collagen on the increase. With many social media influencers promoting health products including collagen, it can cause confusion about what is actually worthwhile purchasing and if collagen supplements are a supplement worth weighing in on. Collagen is a supplement that gets mixed reviews, so let's find out what collagen is and what the research behind collagen really says.
What is collagen?
Collagen is the most abundant protein in the body and is the main structural protein found in skin and other connective tissues. Collagen is an essential protein building block, working like scaffolding to provide strength and structure.
Gram for gram type 1 collagen is stronger than steel!
Collagen comes in more than one type and there are at least 16 known types of collagen and 80-90% of collagen in the body consists of the major players, type 1 collagen, type 2 collagen and type 3 collagen. Type 1 collagen is important in the role of skin.
Glycine, proline and hydroxyproline are the most common amino acid combinations found in collagen and vitamin C is an important nutrient in the process of collagen creation. These amino acids are non-essential meaning we can create them ourselves without having to source them through diet. However, collagen synthesis declines as we age, so are collagen supplements something you should consider investing in?
What are the benefits of taking collagen supplements?
I have reviewed the scientific research available on collagen only in relation to its effect on skin and this review doesn’t reflect on collagen for other purposes. Collagen is often reported to also be of benefit to gut health, acne and hair growth and its important to be aware that, to date, there is no research to support any of these claims.
The scientific research available for collagen supplements is a mix of both human and animal research and I have reviewed some of the human clinical research available and, where possible, have included collagen doses used.
A product-specific collagen research study in 2014 found that a 2.5g or 5g powder dose of porcine collagen increased skin elasticity, but this collagen supplement didn’t make any significant improvements to skin hydration or roughness. This collagen supplement trial was conducted on females and tested on the skin of their inner forearms. Elasticity still showed significant improvements 4 weeks after the collagen supplementation ended. Interesting to note that the results using this collagen supplement were also stronger in the participants aged over 50 years old and also that there wasn’t a huge difference in the improvement between the 2.5g collagen dose versus 5g collagen dose.
A 2016 collagen study on the effect of marine collagen supplementation, again a specific product review that included 2 x 570 mg collagen doses daily for a period of 60 days. This trial again was conducted on females and assessment was on facial skin properties using digital ultrasound imaging. The results again showed a significant improvement from supplementation of collagen in skin elasticity and sebum as well as improved plasma (blood) levels of hydroxyproline.
A 2015 collagen study evaluating wrinkle depth, elasticity and hydration showed good results too. Participants in this trial received one collagen dose daily. The one frustration with this collagen study, however, is that there is no information around the collagen dose or type of collagen used. Results were largely positive and using the collagen supplement there was an 8% reduction in wrinkle depth and the deeper the wrinkle the greater the reduction in depth. There was also a significant improvement in skin hydration and elasticity. This study was conducted on postmenopausal females and skin results were measured using the skin on the inner forearm.
A 2019 systematic review of collagen supplements (a systematic review is the gold star of scientific research) evaluated 11 studies and concluded that results are promising and that oral collagen supplementation increases skin elasticity, hydration and dermal collagen density. The majority of studies were in female participants aged over 40.
So, do collagen supplements work? The evidence reviewed above is really positive and from reading through the clinical evidence regarding collagen supplementation, collagen is beneficial for skin elasticity, sebum and wrinkle depth. The results of collagen supplementation, although beneficial across the ages, were greater for females aged over 50.
What collagen supplements are best for the skin?
If you want to buy a collagen supplement, collagen typically is available in three forms; bovine collagen (cow), porcine collagen (pig) and marine collagen (fish) and the choice is really down to personal preference, collagen is collagen.
Hydrolysed Collagen: I recommend looking for collagen powder that is hydrolysed powder form (hydrolysed means it has been broken down to make it easier to absorb) making collagen easier to absorb through the digestive process.
Collagen Dose: Look at the dose and type of collagen in the product. This isn’t always easy to find as not all companies openly share this, but you can always email them to ask for specific details to ensure you are paying for a collagen dose worth spending money on.
Collagen Ingredients: Review the ingredients. Less is often more with collagen ingredient lists and aim for collagen products that don’t have added flavourings. If you don’t know what the ingredient is, you probably don’t want it. There are products available that are just 100% collagen.
Collagen Reviews: Good collagen supplements generally aren’t cheap, so research the brands before buying. Look through company websites, look to see if they have any specific scientific research in relation to collagen to support their claims and read product reviews.
This is really important for collagen synthesis. Vitamin C is an essential component to the process of collagen creation, so ensure adequate vitamin C intake through your diet, otherwise, you won’t reap the benefits of the collagen supplement.
Some good food sources of vitamin C to assist the process of collagen synthesis include oranges, lemons, kiwi, strawberries, tomatoes, capsicum, broccoli and spinach.
Is it safe to take collagen supplements?
Taking collagen supplements is generally considered to be safe, however, I always recommend taking advice from a qualified practitioner before taking any collagen supplements or supplements of any kind.
This non-biased and factual review of collagen supplements is supported by science and hopefully provides some insights and answers to questions you might have regarding collagen supplements.
Amy Savage is a qualified Nutritionist with a Bachelor of Health Science in Nutritional & Dietetic Medicine and is available for consultations online and in Sydney CBD. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for further details.
Boramund & Sibilla, 2015, ‘Effect of nutritional supplement containing collagen peptides on skin elasticity, hydration & wrinkles’, http://www.jmnn.org/
Choi et al. 2019, ‘Oral Collagen Supplementation: A Systematic Review of Dermatological Applications’, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/.
De Luca et al. 2016, ‘Skin Antiageing and Systemic Redox Effects of Supplementation with Marine Collagen Peptides and Plant-Derived Antioxidants: A Single-Blind Case-Control Clinical Study’, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov.
Molecular Cell Biology, 4th Edn.
Proksch et al. 2014, ‘ Oral Supplementation of Specific Collagen Peptides has Beneficial Effects on Human Skin Physiology: A Double-Blind Placebo-Controlled Study’, https://www.researchgate.net/.
Tortora, G & Derrickson, B 2014, Principles of Anatomy & Physiology', 14th Edn, John Wiley & Sons.