Unless you’ve been living under a rock lately, chances are you’ve heard of collagen. Its uses for skin and hair are widely known in the beauty industry, and this knowledge has trickled into the general population. But what even is collagen? Where does it come from? And how does it work its magic on our skin? We’ll talk about all that below, but we’d also like to share with you some not-so-common uses of collagen. After all, it’s more than just a wrinkle remedy!
What is collagen?
Collagen is a protein found in muscles, skin, ligaments, tendons, and cartilage. Bad news for vegans: since collagen comes from these types of places, the supplement form is derived from an animal source. Sometimes collagen is taken from beef bones, sometimes from fish scales, and sometimes from chicken cartilage. Foods that have gelatin (such as bone broth) also contain collagen, and so drinking bone broth is a great way to get collagen for those who do not wish to supplement.
Conventional uses for collagen
The beauty industry has been using collagen for skincare for a very long time. Research has shown that oral collagen supplements can improve various properties of the skin, including: hydration, elasticity, wrinkles, firmness, aging, and redness. But collagen can be useful for more than just what you see on the outside. It has some pretty surprising benefits for our insides, too!
1. Collagen improves bone health
Collagen supplements can help to prevent the loss of bone density, particularly in postmenopausal women. This is important, since osteopenia (loss of bone mass) is a common problem in women once their bodies stop producing as much estrogen as in their reproductive years. In one study, 5 grams of oral collagen supplements were taken by postmenopausal women with osteopenia. Bone density was measured at the hip, lower back, and of the body as a whole. Researchers also collected and evaluated blood samples from each subject to look for levels of bone turnover markers. This study found that women taking the collagen supplement had substantially less bone loss and much lower bone turnover markers in their blood compared to the placebo group. If you want big, strong bones, even after menopause, then you should talk to your healthcare practitioner about taking a collagen supplement!
2. Collagen helps arthritis
Osteoarthritis is the degenerative type of joint inflammation. Common areas for osteoarthritis are the hip and the knee. One study in particular looked at osteoarthritis of the knee. Subjects were given undenatured type II collagen that was taken from chicken sternum cartilage. After a 40 mg dose, they found that symptoms in their knee joint were improved. The good news is that the supplement was also well-tolerated, meaning that there were minimal or no adverse effects from taking it.
3. Collagen can help heal wounds
Collagen is helpful in wound healing, especially when it comes to pressure ulcers. When long-term-care residents were given a concentrated, fortified, collagen protein hydrolysate supplement, their pressure ulcers healed more effectively. They became smaller and had less fluid. In fact, those treated with collagen in this study had twice the rate of pressure ulcer healing compared to the placebo group. Since pressure ulcers are a prominent problem in those who are immobile and/or in long-term care, these findings are quite promising.
4. Collagen can reduce pain in athletes
Collagen can help to build cartilage tissue, which supports overall joint health and reduces the risk of joint deterioration. This is especially important for athletes, since they are a high-risk group for joint problems, and pain can have a significant effect on their performance. In one study, researchers gave athletes 10 grams of a collagen hydrolysate supplement. They then evaluated their pain, mobility, and levels of inflammation. What they found was that the subjects who were given the collagen supplement had significantly reduced the following parameters: joint pain at rest, joint pain while walking, joint pain when standing, joint pain while carrying objects, joint pain when lifting, joint pain when running in a straight line, and joint pain when changing direction. As you can see, the collagen helped with many different aspects that can certainly affect their athletic performance.
5. Helps to maintain muscle mass
“Lean body mass” is the weight of your body that isn’t fat. In general, people like to keep up their lean body mass, because this means that they have strong and healthy muscles. This doesn’t just go for bodybuilders, though. Those who are elderly or in long-term-residential care should be aiming for a high lean body mass as well. One study gave subjects a concentrated, fortified, hydrolyzed collagen protein supplement. They found that it helped to preserve lean body mass. And that was after just 15 days of taking the supplement! What’s most interesting about this study is that these subjects were also consuming a relatively low-protein diet. Normally we would not expect people on a low-protein diet to be able to conserve their muscle mass, but the collagen helped to do just that.