Collagen is everywhere right now. It’s in your local grocery store’s supplement aisle, in powder and pill form; it’s on your bathroom counter, mixed into your favorite skincare products. You’ll even find collagen blended into smoothies and sprinkled into mugs of coffee. Touted as a nutrient that can strengthen everything from your hair and nails to your achy joints, collagen almost seems too good to be true.
And collagen is gaining popularity for good reason. It’s actually a key protein that the body needs. You could even call it one of the body’s hidden building blocks – one that could bring good news for achy, painful joints.
Collagen could help your joints move more smoothly and with less pain. If you’ve been thinking about giving collagen a try, here are 4 potential benefits for hopping on this trend that’s here to stay.
1. Your joints need collagen for healthy cartilage
You might not realize it, but collagen plays a pretty significant role in your joints’ ability to move. While some kinds of collagen appear in your skin, bones and organs, one particular variety can be found in the cartilage between your joints.
Type II collagen is present in your articular cartilage, or the tissue that stretches over the ends of your bones and sits in the middle of your joints. It’s this cartilage that keeps joints sliding, bending and moving smoothly. Collagen helps the cartilage – and your joints – stay flexible, absorb shocks and generally stay well-supported.
However, as you age, articular cartilage gets depleted. Years of joints rubbing together against that cartilage causes wear and tear, breaking down and leading to aches and pains. And there’s another factor at play: growing older also brings on collagen loss. Your body loses collagen naturally, hanging onto increasingly less over time.
And when your collagen becomes depleted, your joints can suffer. Low collagen levels can lead to looser cartilage and tendons, which can make injuries more likely.
2. Replacing lost collagen could calm joint stiffness and pain
Without the right amount of collagen, your cartilage can become compromised. And joint-centric conditions, like osteoarthritis, can become an increasing risk. In fact, research shows that the aging-related loss of collagen can lead to a higher risk for degenerative joint disorders.
But adding collagen back into your body, either through your diet or with the help of supplements, could counteract that risk. It might even help you soothe any joint pain you’re already experiencing.
Research shows that increasing your collagen consumption can improve osteoarthritis symptoms, reducing overall joint pain. Multiple studies show that a significant reduction in joint pain is possible. In one study, athletes who took 10 grams of collagen per day for six months saw a significant decrease in joint pain both while walking and while at rest. Another research study found that adults who took just two grams per day for just over two months (70 days in total) also saw a similarly significant improvement in their joint pain. They also found they were able to be more physically active than those who didn’t give collagen a try.
It’s thought that when you up your collagen intake, that extra protein accumulates in the cartilage between your joints. It may also stimulate your body to naturally create more collagen. As a result, there’s less pain, less inflammation and better mobility.
However, even when you’re replacing lost collagen, remember that you can’t regrow or repair your joints or cartilage. While eating more collagen-rich foods or taking collagen supplements may be able to stimulate new collagen production, it can’t magically rebuild what’s already damaged or worn.
3. Collagen might also offer relief from some arthritis aches
If you’re dealing with more than basic joint pain caused by wear and tear on your joints (or osteoarthritis, as it’s commonly known), collagen might be able to help.
Research shows that collagen may have a positive effect on different types of arthritis pain. A 2016 study examined the effects of collagen supplements on individuals with osteoarthritis; results showed that collagen reduced pain, stiffness and mobility. A 2009 study that involved participants with rheumatoid arthritis also showed that taking collagen improved pain, morning stiffness, tenderness and swelling. While the effects weren’t as strong as typical treatment options (particularly in the case of rheumatoid arthritis), improvement was possible.
The Arthritis Foundation warns that more research is needed to determine just how beneficial collagen could be for various types of arthritis. But one thing is certain: this protein holds promise for joint pain and other symptoms, including swelling and stiffness.
4. Both natural and supplemental collagen can be beneficial
Wondering how, exactly, you should take collagen? You can get this potent protein from food, or you can increase your daily total by taking supplements.
While medical experts typically recommend getting your nutrients from food first before turning to vitamins and supplements, it’s a bit different for collagen. Your body doesn’t notice whether you’re getting collagen from supplements or via protein-rich foods. Once your digestive system starts turning collagen into amino acids, it’s all the same.
If you’re interested in going the completely natural route, put more collagen onto your plate by choosing foods with protein as well as vitamin C, zinc and pepper. These are the nutrients your body needs to get a dose of collagen that’s as natural as it’d be if it was created internally. You can eat proteins like chicken, fish, beans and eggs. Many of these foods, along with whole grains, include zinc and copper too. For vitamin C, give bell peppers, citrus fruits, and green veggies a try.
Want to try supplements instead? Collagen supplements come in an array of different forms, from powders to tablets to drinks. One of the best kinds is hydrolyzed collagen, which is essentially a “predigested” form of the protein. Hydrolyzed collagen is easier for your tissues to absorb, and it also delivers just the right amino acids your body needs. But, overall, amino acids in any form or from any source will offer benefits.
There’s one more collagen-rich option: bone both. It’s loaded with protein as well as vitamins and minerals. And you can make your own bone broth to get collagen that’s sourced from beef, chicken or fish bones. It’s full of flavor too, making for a tasty and convenient option.
Learn more about collagen’s potential, and whip up recipes that’ll help you increase your collagen with these key reads: