Collagen accounts for 30% of your body’s protein. It provides structure, support or strength to your skin, muscles, bones and connective tissues. Scientific research is lacking for most collagen supplements, but a well-balanced diet gives your body the raw ingredients it needs to help it make collagen naturally.
Collagen is the most abundant protein in your body. It accounts for about 30% of your body’s total protein. Collagen is the primary building block of your body’s skin, muscles, bones, tendons and ligaments, and other connective tissues. It’s also found in your organs, blood vessels and intestinal lining.
Proteins are made from amino acids. The main amino acids that make collagen are proline, glycine and hydroxyproline. These amino acids group together to form protein fibrils in a triple helix structure. Your body also needs the proper amount of vitamin C, zinc, copper and manganese to make the triple helix.
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Collagen’s main role is to provide structure, strength and support throughout your body.
Collagen’s specific roles include:
Some 28 types of collagen types have been identified. They differ by how the molecules are assembled, the cell components that are added and where the collagen is used in your body. All collagen fibrils have at least one triple helix structure.
The main five types of collagen and what they do are:
Your body produces less collagen as you age, and existing collagen breaks down at a faster rate. The collagen is also lower in quality than when you were younger. Women and people assigned female at birth (AFAB) experience a significant reduction in collagen production after menopause. It’s normal for everyone to experience a decline in collagen production after age 60.
Collagen can’t be measured — for instance, in a blood test — but there are signs that your collagen level is decreasing. These signs and symptoms include:
Reduce your risk of collagen damage by avoiding these lifestyle habits.
Avoid these factors, which can decrease collagen levels in your body:
Autoimmune diseases (your body’s immune system attacks its own tissue) can damage collagen. Rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, dermatomyositis and scleroderma are autoimmune, connective tissue diseases known to damage collagen.
Collagen levels also decline naturally with age.
To slow the effects of skin aging, wear sunscreen every day. Exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light damages collagen. Use products with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher. Wear a wide-brimmed hat, sunglasses with UV protection, and lightweight long-sleeved shirts and pants while outside. Look for clothing with an ultraviolet protection factor label for extra protection. Avoid tanning beds.
Eat a well-balanced diet, like the Mediterranean diet, which is loaded with vegetables, beans, whole grains, nuts and fruits, and a moderate amount of seafood, meats, poultry, dairy and eggs.
Collagen can be broken down, converted and absorbed back into your body. It has a wide range of uses in medicine and cosmetics. Collagen used for medical purposes comes from humans, cows, pigs or sheep. Uses include:
Collagen can’t be absorbed by your body in its whole form. Your body breaks down the collagen proteins you eat into amino acids. So eating collagen-rich foods doesn’t directly result in higher collagen levels in your body.
Still, many foods that provide the raw ingredients that support collagen production can be eaten as part of a healthy diet. These foods contain the amino acids proline and glycine. Vitamin C, zinc and copper are also needed for the process. Foods that contain these amino acids, vitamins and minerals include:
Collagen peptides are small pieces of animal collagen. Collagen can’t be absorbed in a whole form. It has to be broken down into smaller peptides or amino acids. Oral collagen supplements come in the form of pills and powders. They usually contain two or three amino acids. They are sold as collagen peptides or hydrolyzed collagen. Collagen peptides are absorbed through your gastrointestinal tract.
There’s a lack of randomized controlled trials of dietary supplements (the gold standard to test the effectiveness of medications). The few such studies that have been done have found that collagen peptides are possibly effective for improving skin hydration and skin elasticity. It’s also possibly effective for relieving pain and improving joint function in people with knee osteoarthritis.
Important things to know about the science behind supplements:
Finally, keep in mind that ingesting collagen peptides — from foods or supplements — can’t be directed to where you want them to be used. Your body uses these peptides for whatever it needs, be it collagen or protein.
Collagen plays an important role in providing structure, strength and support throughout your body. The debate around the usefulness of collagen supplements continues. The benefits of collagen may be more hyped in the media than the evidence behind it. More published research studies are needed to show the true health benefits of collagen supplements.
In the meantime, you can always help your body make collagen naturally by eating a well-balanced diet full of healthy foods. A well-balanced diet includes chicken, beef, fish, dairy, eggs, beans, leafy greens, other vegetables, whole grains and citrus fruits. To improve damage to the collagen in your skin, don’t smoke, avoid second-hand smoke and wear sunscreen every day.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 05/23/2022.
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