Collagen may have gotten its start as a buzzy beauty product, but there’s so much more this sought-after supplement can do. As a building block of connective tissue, skin, bones, and cartilage, collagen has also been linked to all sorts of other benefits, from a healthier gut to stronger skeletal system. Wondering if this protein could really make a difference for your health? Here are five groups of people who might benefit from getting extra collagen.
1. People who need joint support
“Collagen, the most abundant protein in the body, plays a vital role in keeping joints strong,” says Dr. Seema Bonney, M.D., double-board certified physician, of the Anti-Aging and Longevity Center in Philadelphia. It’s not surprising, then, that some research has made a connection between increased collagen and joint comfort. A 2008 study, for example, compared the effects of a liquid collagen hydrolysate supplement with a placebo in athletes. After 24 weeks, the athletes who received the collagen supplement reported greater joint comfort when walking, standing, lifting, and at rest.
Additional research suggests that collagen is beneficial for joints when paired with glucosamine and chondroitin, two supplements long used for joint support (particularly protecting joint cartilage), notes sports dietetics specialist Julie Stefanski, M.Ed., R.D.N., C.S.S.D., L.D.N., C.D.C.E.S., F.A.N.D., spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Depending on your joint health needs, consider talking to a healthcare provider about how collagen factors into your support regimen.
2. People with gut issues
Folks who struggle with gut health issues like bloating and indigestion know the pain of searching high and low for solutions. Well, adding collagen to your happy gut toolkit could be a game-changer.
“Leaky gut, or hyperpermeability of the gut lining, may allow toxins into your bloodstream,” Bonney explains. “So helping to prevent the breakdown of the intestinal lining by giving the gut elements to rebuild these tissues (such as collagen) could improve gut health.” According to Bonney, type 3 collagen, in particular, contains glycine and glutamine, which help aid digestion and are beneficial to the intestinal tract.
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Interestingly, one small 2022 study found that taking a daily collagen peptide supplement for eight weeks reduced bloating and improved mild digestive symptoms in otherwise healthy women.
3. People Over 40 (especially women)
Aging brings with it blessings like wisdom—but racking up birthdays also does a number on our skin. “As our bodies age, we make less collagen. And the collagen in the deeper skin layers changes, becoming more disorganized and less tightly wound,” Bonney explains. (Hence the crow’s feet and crepe-like folds you may have noticed as the years have gone by.)
Thankfully, supplemental collagen could support a more youthful-looking complexion. A large 2019 review of 11 studies found that oral supplementation could improve skin elasticity, hydration, and skin collagen density. “Oral collagen supplements in the form of pills, powders, and certain foods (such as salmon skin) contain collagen that is more effectively absorbed by the body,” says Bonney. “These supplements are often sold as hydrolyzed collagen or collagen peptides, which are more easily absorbed.”
If you’re past a certain age, you might also be concerned about the health of your bones—especially if you’re female. (Osteoporosis, in which bones become quite weak, is four times more common in women than men.) Collagen can be helpful here, too! In one 2019 study, postmenopausal women who took oral collagen peptides for 12 months increased bone mineral density and reduced bone degradation.
4. People Who Recently Gave Birth
Perhaps you’ve heard the buzz that collagen can support the healing process after giving birth (much to the delight of new moms sitting gingerly on padded cushions). Though the scientific jury is still out, some anecdotal evidence exists that postpartum healing could be another one of collagen’s powers.
“Although there is no published data that correlates collagen to postpartum healing, I have had several patients report significant improvement in pelvic floor health after incorporating collagen,” says Bonney. “Patients noted that they had improved muscle resilience, increased muscle strength, and faster recovery.” This is likely because of collagen’s ability to promote the repair of tissues—in the case of postpartum, specifically the pelvic floor, uterus, and abdominal muscles. Given that, it’s certainly worth chatting with your healthcare provider about incorporating more collagen into your postpartum care plan.
5. People Training to build muscle
Since collagen is a protein, it can have a role to play in your efforts to bulk up your physique. Case in point: In a small 2015 study on older men with sarcopenia (age-related muscle loss), those who performed resistance training and took collagen supplements gained more muscle mass and strength than those who merely exercised.
You don’t have to be over-the-hill to benefit, though. “Collagen is helpful at any age, but I recommend you start it in your 20s since the effects of aging typically show up many years later,” says Bonney. “By age 40, you can lose up to one percent of your body’s collagen each year. Once you reach 65 or so, collagen production starts to decline at about 30 percent a year.”
Read More: How to Boost Your Body’s Collagen Production on a Plant-Based Diet
Of course, when it comes to building muscle, downing collagen won’t substitute for putting in the work at the gym—or eating a healthy diet. “You still need to have an overall, high-quality diet with a wide variety of nutrients, sufficient energy, and a wide variety of amino acids,” Stefanski says. As you enhance your muscle-building with collagen, be sure to support your efforts with a balanced eating plan, too. After all, collagen doesn’t contain all of the amino acids you get from protein sources like meat or whey.
Incorporating More Collagen
If you fall into any of the categories above, getting more collagen into your body probably sounds pretty sweet right about now. So exactly how much do you need, and what type?
Bone broth, slow-cooked meats, and organ meats can all help you fill your collagen stores. Getting plenty of certain micronutrients—specifically vitamin C, zinc, and copper, which boost the body’s collagen production process—will do you good, too. (Reach for citrus fruits, leafy greens, berries, tomatoes, and peppers for those.)
When it comes to supplements, marine collagen is your best bet for intestinal absorption, Bonney says. The marine form is rich in type I collagen, the most abundant type in the human body (and the type found in the gut lining).
If you’re after beauty benefits, “studies have shown that people who consumed 3,000 milligrams (or three grams) of collagen per day over a period of four to 12 weeks saw notable improvements in skin elasticity and hydration,” says Bonney.
For more general health benefits, “dosing can range anywhere from 2.5 to 15 grams daily, depending on the type of collagen you are taking. I recommend that my patients take about nine grams per day,” Bonney says. Generally, sticking to 10 grams or less per day is the way to go, she suggests.