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Judging by its more recent popularity, you might think the health benefits of collagen are new discoveries. However, the pain relieving effects of collagen were actually first recorded in 1175. Over the last several years though, collagen has become a widespread nutritional supplement used by many for benefits that are much farther reaching.

So, what is collagen? What should you look for when buying a collagen supplement? And how does it fit in with a high-protein diet? Read on.

What Is Collagen?

Collagen provides a scaffolding for most of the tissues in your body. It connects muscle to bone and bone to bone, while also building cartilage that lets your bones slide over one another without causing pain in your joints. It isn’t as hard as bone, but it’s stronger than muscle tissue due to its amino acid structure. Collagen helps to keep your organs in place.

Collagen makes up about 30 percent of the total protein mass in the body, and 70 percent of the dry weight of the skin dermis.

As you age, collagen breaks down. Exercise and overuse can also cause collagen breakdown, which can lead to connective tissue injuries like torn bicep tendons or Achilles tendons, or loss of joint cartilage.

You may have heard of people taking their collagen treatment to an extreme by having it injected for anti-aging purposes. Though it may not produce an immediate effect, it’s possible you could look and feel younger by consuming, instead of injecting, collagen. Collagen breakdown can also lead to an increase in sagged skin, wrinkles, and cellulite.

Eating Collagen Helps You Grow Collagen

Collagen is only available from animal sources; there are no plants that contain collagen.

For the most part, the collagen-containing parts of meat, poultry, and fish have been seen as waste products; hides, bones, and tendons usually get tossed aside.

Interestingly, this is how the whey protein market evolved, too. Whey was once seen as a byproduct of cheese manufacturing and tossed aside. Yet, it’s the highest biological value protein source on the planet.

When collagen is enzymatically processed, it creates peptides, which are combinations of amino acids instead of individual amino acids. These peptides get absorbed through your intestines, where they make their way to tissues that need more collagen.

In essence, collagen peptides are a potent protein source for supporting your joints, skin, hair, and nails.

Protein Sources

Most food and supplement sources of collagen come from beef or pig bones and hides, or fish.

Twenty-eight types of collagen exist in the body, but 80 to 90 percent is made up from types I, II, or III. Often, collagen supplements will contain a combination of collagen types unless the label specifies type I, II, or III.

Because most people do not regularly consume food sources of collagen or in high enough amounts, supplementation is a helpful option.

Protein Processing Into Peptide Supplements

When you heat collagen in water, you get gelatin. It’s the most simple and basic form of processing collagen.

If you’ve ever made bone broth, it’s the gel that collects at the top as the bone broth cools. The gelatin contains numerous health-promoting proteins. Still, for your body to get all the benefits, you must break it down some more.

Once the collagen is isolated from the minerals and other constituents of the bone or hide, it’s enzymatically degraded into a hydrolysate, which is soluble even in cold water.

About 10 percent of gelatin peptides are absorbed intact through the intestinal wall, where they can be used for supporting joint, connective, and skin tissue.

To increase the percentage of peptides that remain intact, the proteins can be combined with a pepsin-inactivating reagent such as ethylenediaminetetra-acetic acid. This reagent allows up to 50 percent of consumed peptides to remain intact as they pass from the digestive tract into the blood stream.

You’ll see these types of supplements labeled as collagen hydrolysateshydrolyzed collagen, or collagen peptides.

Health Benefits of Collagen

Though bone broth and gelatin might offer some health benefits, the most impressive effects come from consuming collagen peptides. Here’s how they can benefit your health.


In your late 30s to early 40s, your skin may start showing signs of age.

A group of middle-aged women supplemented with 1 gram of low-molecular-weight collagen peptides for 12 weeks. They experienced improved skin hydration and elasticity, and a reduction in wrinkles.

In another study, adults supplemented with hydrolyzed fish collagen along with vitamins, antioxidants, and some other bioactive ingredients for 90 days. Their skin elasticity improved by 40 percent, joint pain reduced by 43 percent, and joint mobility improved by 39 percent.

Joint Health

It’s common to experience joint pain as we age. In one study, patients with osteoarthritis took 10 grams of collagen hydrolysate a day for two months. At the end of the study, they had less knee and hip pain.

Joint discomfort can also be frequent for athletes. In another study, athletes supplemented with 10 grams per day of collagen hydrolysate for six months. They also experienced less joint pain than the placebo group. In yet another study, young, physically active adults took 5 grams of collagen peptides a day for 12 weeks. They also experienced a significant decrease in knee pain.

Rather than just masking the pain, which is what an analgesic does, it seems that collagen peptides may help you repair damaged or aged joint tissue.

Cardiovascular Health

A study of healthy, older adults showed that supplementing with just 2.5 grams of collagen peptide per day improved markers of atherosclerosis.

What’s interesting about this finding is that the results probably have nothing to do with blood lipids, and instead are related to the health of the blood vessel walls.

Most of the research so far has focused on joints and skin. But with the small amount of research related to cardiovascular health, this could be an interesting benefit as well.

Is it possible that collagen peptides could improve the function of blood vessel walls? That remains to be seen. If so, it could be a powerful tool in the battle against cardiovascular disease.

How do you use collagen peptides?

Most powdered collagen peptide supplements mix easily with any liquid. You can add them to any cold or hot beverage, such as shakes or coffee. Many people also like to add them to other foods, such as yogurt, oatmeal, or soups, for an extra collagen and protein boost.

Are collagen peptides good for a post-workout shake?

Although collagen peptides have a positive impact on your joints, they lack essential amino acids, which is why they are not recommended as a protein source for a post-workout shake. You need EAA-rich protein to stimulate muscle protein synthesis following your training session. Opt for a protein powder like whey instead.

Keep the conversation going.

Leave a comment, ask a question, or see what others are talking about in the Life Time Health Facebook group.

The Life Time Health Team

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