Collagen is one of the most common nutritional supplements on the market. From an oral capsule or tablet, to a powder for your pre-workout smoothie, this product is often touted to improve bone density, muscle tone and skin health.
With so many new health solutions and products now available, however, you may be wondering, is it actually effective? More importantly, are there any potential side effects to be aware of?
Let’s look at the science so you can make an informed decision about collagen supplements for yourself.
What exactly is collagen?
Collagen is a molecule that accounts for 25 to 30 percent of total protein in the human body. There are 28 known types of collagen, but Types I–IV are the most abundant. Primarily located in the musculoskeletal system, collagen provides structure and strength to the fibers in your skin, bones, cartilage, muscles, tendons, ligaments, muscles and other connective tissues. You need this substance for a variety of functions.
Collagen helps maintain elasticity in the skin and lubrication in the joints. It protects the bones from becoming weak or brittle and the muscles from losing their mass. However, as you age, the body slows its collagen production—in fact, it’s normal to lose about one percent of collagen each year, according to the Journal of the Society of Royal Medicine.
Over time, this can lead to facial wrinkles, hollowed features, joint stiffness, muscle aches and, in some cases, osteoporosis. Fortunately, it’s possible to reverse some of that collagen loss if you consume it from an external source. Certain high-protein foods can help stimulate collagen production, suggests the Harvard School of Medicine reports. Some of these include bone broth, gelatin, soy, shellfish, legumes, poultry, nuts, seeds or leafy greens.
Eating a diet rich in these foods is one way to replenish the nutrients and amino acids the body uses to form collagen. But in recent years, collagen supplements have become more and more trendy.
What to know about collagen supplements
The collagen supplement market is projected to hit $2 billion in global revenue by 2030. According to research in the Amino Acids Journal, these supplements have been found to support healthy joint functionality (in particular, the knees and ankles), while alleviating discomfort or inflammation and helping to support recovery from joint-related injuries.†
The researchers also noticed some improvements in the length of time those who take collagen supplements can sustain a vigorous workout before the onset of muscle soreness. These benefits correlate with collagen’s natural ability to support the musculoskeletal tissues and maintain an optimal range of motion.†
When combined with resistance training, collagen supplementation could even “elicit moderate improvements in body composition,” the journal continues.† Consequently, evidence points to the likelihood that collagen supplements can support your fitness performance and help recovery.† This makes collagen powder a common ingredient in both pre- and post-exercise drinks.
In terms of your skin health, another study from the Nutrients Journal indicates that oral collagen supplements can nourish deep into the skin’s cellular level to increase its density, moisture and elasticity after consistent use for 180 days.† Collagen supplements also had a role in decreasing the presence of skin cellulite, roughness and wrinkles.†
So as you can see, collagen does have its wellness benefits—but are there any risks?
Potential collagen side effects
While collagen itself is a natural protein that’s safe to consume, not all supplements are created equally. Nutritional supplements are not regulated by the FDA, making it important for you to check the ingredients and quality verifications before you choose a brand.
For example, some manufacturers combine collagen with herbal or botanical extracts that are formulated for hair, skin and nail health. While this sounds good in theory, these added ingredients can actually be harmful to those who are pregnant, breastfeeding or on certain medications, according to the Cureus Journal.
It’s also common for these supplements to contain high doses of the vitamin biotin, which has been found to interfere with laboratory testing for heart or thyroid issues. Other potential side effects include allergic reactions, drowsiness, gastrointestinal problems, blood vessel dilation or nerve damage (neuropathy), Cureus continues.
If you plan to use a collagen supplement, look for a brand without any fillers, and confirm the collagen itself comes from grass-fed, hormone-free animals or wild-caught fish. This will ensure a safe, effective, nutritious and high-quality product.
Collagen supplements can be beneficial—but source them carefully
The human body relies on collagen to perform many vital musculoskeletal functions, but if your natural collagen production has slowed, supplementation is one solution to consider. When taken safely, it can promote a number of health and fitness benefits, just be careful about the collagen supplement you choose in order to minimize potential side effects.
†These statements have not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent disease.