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Collagen: what is it? Supplements, benefits

Health properties of Collagen

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First published: 11.Oct.2018

Overview: Collagen all you need to know

Collagen is a protein made by your body. It provides structure, cohesion and strenght to your bones, tendons, skin and organs.

The body's production of collagen declines with age and exposure to free radicals, leading to joint damage and aging skin. Supplementing with animal sourced collagen has been proven to support skin youthfullness, improve bone density and provide moderate joint health effects.

Learn about collagen, its types, origin, composition, its health benefits and why vegans and vegetarians should be aware of the negative effects of those dietws on collagen production.

In this Article (Index)

fiber, fibril and collagen in a diagram
Fiber, fibril, microfibril and collagen. A. Whittall

What is Collagen?

Collagen is a protein, in fact it is the most abundant protein in your body: 30% of your body's total protein is collagen.

It plays a vital role in providing structure, and coherence to your body, it is the "glue" that holds it together. Its name comes from the Greek word κολλα (kólla) meaning "glue" and γενης (genes) or "producer", because boiling bones and cartilage produced glue.

Collagen and its unique structure

Collagen protein has a unique shape, it forms a rod-like triple helix that acts as a flexible yet strong microscopic fiber. See it pictured further up.

These tiny fibers group together parallel to each other forming microfibrils, fibrils and fibers that make up the structure of tendons and ligaments. This shape gives them tensile strength to support your body.

Collagen is found in the skin, hair, bones, teeth, muscles, tendons, ligaments, and scar tissue, it can also be found supporting the cells in organs, intestines, and blood vessels.

Your body produces its own collagen

Like all proteins, collagen is made by combining amino acids. Your body builds it with three aminoacids: proline, glycine and hydroxyproline.

Your body obtains them by breaking down protein that you ingest with your meals and makes collagen with the help of vitamin C, zinc, manganese and copper.

Should You Take Collagen Supplements?

As mentiond above, your body makes collagen from the protein in the food you eat. Aging slows collagen production starting at the age of 25 or 30 and the collagen in your body starts to decline.

As you reach middle age, after the age of 40, collagen in your body begins to decline at a rate of 1% per year.

Free radicals generated by lifestyle choices like lack of excercise and sleep, smoking, drinking alcohol, excessive exposure to the sun, damage collagen. Autoimmune disorders and menopause can also accelerate the process. By the age of 80, collagen production can decrease by 75% from its baseline in your twenties.

Collagen plays an important role in the body by helping organs to develop, healing wounds and tissue, repairing bone, blood vessels, gums, and cornea (7).

That is why collagen supplements have grown into a $2 billion dollar per year business in America, people take them to slow down the decline in collagen, protect their joints and retain a youthful skin.

Clinical trials and studies reveal that collagen supplementation could have at least a modest positive effect, but further research is needed.

Skin, Joint and Bone health benefits of Collagen

  • Skin health. Evidence (4) collected from nineteen studies involving 1,125 participants, mostly women, aged 20 to 70 found "favorable results of hydrolyzed collagen supplementation compared with placebo in terms of skin hydration, elasticity, and wrinkles [confirming] improved hydration and elasticity .... Based on results, ingestion of hydrolyzed collagen for 90 days is effective in reducing skin aging, as it reduces wrinkles and improves skin elasticity and hydration."
  • Joint Health. Another statistical analysis of randomized trials involving patients with osteoarthritis (OA) found that oral supplementation of "collagen is effective in improving OA symptoms (5).
    Despite its anti-inflammatory properties, there is no definitive results showing that collagen may be effective as a treatment for rheumatoid arthritis
  • Bone Health A randomized trial with 131 women showed that those receiving 5 g of collagen peptides, on a daily basis for one year showed an improvement in their bone mineral density (BMD), an increase in bone formation and a drop in bone degradation in comparison to those receiving a placebo (6).

The different types of collagen

Collagen found in supplements is obtained from animal tissues that are rich in it, such as skin, cartilage and bones. These are processed and collagen is obtained. Depending on the manufacturing process, collagen will have different structure, composition and properties.

There are 28 different types of collagen, but only a few are used in dietary supplements, and they come in three presentations as we will see below (1)(2):

Native collagen

Also called undenatured native collagen, can be either soluble or insoluble. It retains its triple helix structure and the digestive system can't break it down into its building blocks (aminoacids or short-chain proteins) so it isn't absorbed and doesn't reach any joints or cartilage.

However, in the gut, it interacts with a part of the body's immune system that is designed to recognize food and the gut bacteria as harmless antigens. This interaction produces some specialized cells (regulatory T cells) that help identify the collagen as non-dangerous and reduces pro-inflammatory cytokines that trigger cartilage. This effect reduces the inflammation in the cartilage of patients suffering from Osteoarthritis by mitigating the reaction against the autoantigens it produces.

Commercially available undenatured collagen is of type II collagen (UC-II), a variety that makes up roughly 90% of cartilage collagen. It is mostly obtained from chicken breastbone cartilage.


Gelatin or denatured collagen no longer has the triple helix structure of collagen. The heat or acids used in its production have broken it into a mixture of polypeptide chains (mid-sized chunks of protein) that have a digestibility rate as high as 98%.

Interestingly gelatin has anti-inflammatory properties that are displayed as it is broken down into its aminoacid components by the digestive system. Glycine is an anti-inflammatory agent and the prolyl‐hydroxyproline (Pro‐Hyp) molecules inhibit cytokine production when they are absorbed in the colon (3).

Gelatin is a very low cost option to help support your body's collagen production. A small scale trial in young healthy men found that drinking 15 g of gelatin dissolved in a low calorie beverage with vitamin C before exercising, showed that this supplementation improved circulating glycine, proline and hydroxyproline suggesting it can increase collagen synthesis and "play a beneficial role in injury prevention and tissue repair" (8).

>> Read more about Gelatin and its nutrition and health benefits.

Hydrolyzed collagen

This is collagen that has been broken down even further, into its constituent aminoacids, or very short protein chains. This makes allows them to enter the bloodstream easily. Hydrolyzed collagen travels to the joints and cartilage and is absorbed there where it stimulates some special cells known as chondrocytes to produce more cartilage.

It comes from many different animal sources (hides, hooves, bones of cows, pigs and even fish scales), this wide array of sources and the different production methods to produce the hydrolyzed collagen means that the product may display different levels of bio-activity. Studies have shown that the peptiede compostion of hydrolized collagen varies even in different batches of the same brand leading to different therapeutic outcomes (2).

Vegans and Vegetarians and collagen deficit

Collagen is only found in animal tissue. Plants don't have collagen molecules in their cells. People eating a plant-based diet will not ingest collagen.

However their body will be able to synthesize it from the proline, glycine and hydroxyproline contained in plant protein.
Proline can be found in soy-based products like tofu, soy protein, soybeans, sesame. Glycine is present in spinach, seaweed, tofu, buckwheat, oats, beans. Hydroxyproline is found in alfalfa sprouts.

Clearly a plant-based diet results in a lower intake of protein that can be broken down to build collagen. A study by Karlic et al, (2008) found that a "vegetarian diet... may influence... collagen synthesis... was associated with a ... lowered collagen synthesis (-10%) [this] reduced collagen synthesis in vegetarians... could also play a role in the aging process" (9).

References and Further Reading

(1) Linda Rath (2022). Can Collagen Supplements Help Arthritis?. Arthritis Foundation. Dec. 21, 2022, accessed Oct. 12, 2023

(2) Martínez-Puig D, Costa-Larrión E, Rubio-Rodríguez N, Gávez-Martin P. (2023). Collagen Supplementation for Joint Health: The Link between Composition and Scientific Knowledge. Nutrients. 2023 Mar 8;15(6):1332. doi: 10.3390/nu15061332. PMID: 36986062

(3) Zhu S, Huang M, Feng G, Miao Y, Wu H, Zeng M, Lo YM.(2018). Gelatin versus its two major degradation products, prolyl-hydroxyproline and glycine, as supportive therapy in experimental colitis in mice. Food Sci Nutr. 2018 Apr 16;6(4):1023-1031. doi: 10.1002/fsn3.639. PMID: 29983966

(4) de Miranda RB, Weimer P, Rossi RC. (2021). Effects of hydrolyzed collagen supplementation on skin aging: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Int J Dermatol. 2021 Dec;60(12):1449-1461. doi: 10.1111/ijd.15518. Epub 2021 Mar 20. PMID: 3374270

(5) García-Coronado JM, et al. (2019). Effect of collagen supplementation on osteoarthritis symptoms: a meta-analysis of randomized placebo-controlled trials. Int Orthop. 2019 Mar;43(3):531-538. doi: 10.1007/s00264-018-4211-5. Epub 2018 Oct 27. PMID: 30368550

(6) König D, Oesser S, Scharla S, Zdzieblik D, Gollhofer A. (2018). Specific Collagen Peptides Improve Bone Mineral Density and Bone Markers in Postmenopausal Women-A Randomized Controlled Study. Nutrients. 2018 Jan 16;10(1):97. doi: 10.3390/nu10010097. PMID: 29337906

(7) León-López A et al., (2019). Hydrolyzed Collagen-Sources and Applications. Molecules. 2019 Nov 7;24(22):4031. doi: 10.3390/molecules24224031. PMID: 31703345

(8) Shaw G, Lee-Barthel A, Ross ML, Wang B, Baar K. (2016). Vitamin C-enriched gelatin supplementation before intermittent activity augments collagen synthesis. Am J Clin Nutr. 2017 Jan;105(1):136-143. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.116.138594. Epub 2016 Nov 16. PMID: 27852613

(9) Karlic H, Schuster D, Varga F, Klindert G, Lapin A, Haslberger A, Handschur M. (2008). Vegetarian diet affects genes of oxidative metabolism and collagen synthesis. Ann Nutr Metab. 2008;53(1):29-32. doi: 10.1159/000152871. Epub 2008 Sep 5. PMID: 18772587

About this Article

Collagen: what is it? Supplements, benefits, A. Whittall

©2023, 13 Oct. 2023. Update scheduled for 13 Oct. 2025.

Tags: arthritis, gout, osteoarthritis, collagen, gelatin, rheumatoid arthritis, arthritis-osteo, degenerative joint disease, cartilage.

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