Collagen is so important for body development that we manufacture all we need ourselves during childhood and adolescence. But from our mid-20s onwards, we slowly lose our ability to produce collagen until by our 50s we’re trying to maintain our body strength and composition with less than half of the collagen production we started out with. And at the same time, our digestive enzyme production decreases so we’re unable to break down and absorb amino acids from protein as easily as we could when we were younger. Which all makes it harder to maintain our strength and flexibility and why there has been so much research and money spent on the potential benefits of collagen supplements.
Is collagen good for joints and bones?
1. Collagen improves flexibility
Joints are complex structures, made up of bone, muscle, ligaments, cartilage and synovial fluid sacs. Collagen is the biggest component of all connective tissue and it’s these tissues that give us flexibility and elasticity. If we lose that, we can feel stiff and achy when we move.
2. Collagen speeds up connective tissue growth & repair
Connective tissue is one part of the body where the cells are constantly being replaced, for which they need certain amino acids. But here’s what science has shown. Although eating more protein can help improve muscle cell structure, it doesn’t necessarily work on the connective tissues between the muscles and bones in the joints. And it’s thought that what’s needed for these cells are the specific amino acids glycine and proline, which are more concentrated in collagen supplements.
Luckily, hydrolysed marine collagen supplements have been proven to be easily absorbed and directly taken up by joint cartilage. So taking a hydrolysed collagen supplement consistently can directly stimulate new connective tissue throughout the body and across all the joints. This can be important both for the prevention and treatment of osteoarthritis and other joint disorders.
3. Collagen increases strength & mobility
As well as keeping us limber, the connective tissues in the joints are also responsible for transmitting push and pull forces on the bones, making us strong and mobile.
As we mentioned at the start, bones are also predominantly made up of collagen. Although bone cell turnover is fairly slow, unless you have enough collagen readily available to restore bone mass as you age, the bones may weaken, increasing the risk of osteoporosis.
A 2022 study researching bone loss due to oestrogen deficiency found that supplementation with hydrolysed marine collagen peptides directly reduced the damage. This is especially important during menopause, when falling oestrogen levels will naturally reduce bone strength, leaving older women most at risk for weaker bones and osteoporosis.
Collagen supplements work by encouraging the enzymes that help bone mineralisation and blocking the enzymes responsible for breaking the bones down.
But we don’t recommend that you wait until menopause to start on the bone-building routine. And it’s obviously not just women that are affected by the natural decline in collagen production. Men also lose both their ability to absorb proteins and produce new collagen fibres as they age. For both sexes, keeping your bones strong and resilient using a combination of diet, exercise and targeted supplements from a much younger age may help stave off the natural osteo decline and degeneration, leaving you less open to ageing problems further down the line.
If you’re unlucky enough to already have a bone or joint issue, there is a lot of research showing that a good collagen supplement can often help improve the situation and reduce pain.
It’s clear that the effectiveness of collagen supplements are way more than just skin deep. Making collagen a consistent part of your supplement routine can go a long way to maintaining bone, joint and connective tissue strength and flexibility well into old age.