Collagen is a protein that is found in the connective tissue, skin, tendons, bones, and cartilage of people and animals. It is the most abundant protein in the body and it acts as “structural support”, keeping bones and tissue strong and better able to repair itself. While abundantly produced in a healthy body, supplementing this protein via tablets or powders has been shown to have many benefits for body maintenance.
Collagen production naturally declines with age. This reduction typically leads to both visible changes (wrinkles/saggy skin), and invisible ones (joint pain, slow muscle repair, etc.). Taking collagen supplements can be a great way to reverse these effects and almost de-age a person!
Here are a few critical pieces of information that everyone should know if they are thinking about taking collagen:
Collagen supplements have been widely used in medicine and its benefits have been studied for well over 50 years. For the most part, its recreational use has fallen into two categories: use for cosmetic purposes, and its use for muscle and joint recovery.
The cosmetic use of collagen is typically meant to be used to counter declining production. It is typically a key ingredient for products that advertise an “anti-aging” effect. The studies are largely clear about the upsides and prolonged collagen use has been shown to be safe. Supplementary collagen has also seen a mixed cosmetic/medical via treatment of wounds and burns, as well as use alongside plastic, reconstructive, and general surgeries. These don’t constitute “recreational” use, but it shows collagen’s efficacy and reliability across several fields.
The other main use for collagen supplements involves recovery for joints and muscles. Its use is similar to other types of protein when ingested before a workout. It synthesizes well within the body and promotes strength gain when repairing torn muscle tissue. Collagen also has a fairly unique benefit of reducing joint pains at a substantially increased rate than typical. Because of this, collagen supplements can have enormous beneficial effects in conjunction with physical therapy. While collagen has had notable benefits in these areas, it does not cover the exact same bases as other protein supplements. For example, whey proteins are usually superior for a cardio-heavy physical activity. Depending on the type of activities, collagen could provide greater or lesser benefits; it is best to consult a medical professional or a nutritionist when trying to figure this out.
While the studies of collagen use are clear on its benefits, they also have a few limitations. For example, while the benefits of collagen in the cosmetic field are widely documented, there are several different types of collagen within the body. Collagen 1 makes up the greatest proportion of collagen in the human body, it is not clear that supplementing this type of collagen is the most effective. It is very possible that supplementing other types of collagen could give a greater benefit for healthy and youthful skin.
Another limitation within the studies involves current collagen production methods. Most collagen supplements are non-vegan as they are made from animal bone/cartilage. While vegan options are available, they are currently understudied and so far tests have not confirmed that they have the same effectiveness.
The muscle and joint studies have also shown a few limitations. Most notably, the studies were skewed a bit too heavily on male bodies. Collagen’s development and repair properties need more substantial study as it relates to the female body. While all these studies seemed to show an improvement for joint pain and function, the exact mechanical reasons are still not perfectly understood.
So Should You take Collagen?
Even if you take collagen supplements recreationally and at low doses, it is important to make sure that you inform your medical provider. It is strongly advised that you discuss with your doctor before taking collagen to know whether it would benefit your lifestyle and/or how to optimize its use for your current lifestyle.
If you would like further information about how collagen supplements have drastically helped our patients, or if you wish to know if collagen supplements are right for you, please reach out to us for a consultation.