Is Collagen Good for Joint Repair? See the Science
From fitness to beauty, collagen-containing supplements, foods, beverages, and skincare products have become all the rage. And for good reason. Collagen has been shown to support skin, nail, and hair health. It may also support a healthy gut. And, collagen for joints is one of the biggest reasons for its growing popularity. Is this popular protein too good to be true? Or is collagen good for joints?
The Importance of Joint Health
If you have achy joints, you already know how important healthy joints are to mobility, comfort, strength, and quality of life.
For a quick refresher: Joints are the locations where two or more bones are connected. They can be rigid, such as those in the skull, or more mobile, such as those in the shoulders, hips, ankles, knees, and wrists. Many joints also contain cartilage, which allows the bones to glide more smoothly and protect them from rubbing against each other.
Healthy joints are vital as they allow us to walk, run, jump, dance, play sports, and stay active throughout life. And keeping them healthy is an important job at every age but especially as we get older. Of course, a healthy, active lifestyle that includes regular physical exercise, getting quality sleep, and avoiding injuries (when possible) is imperative. And so is a healthy, balanced diet that includes quality proteins.
Collagen is a key protein that’s needed throughout the body. It’s the “glue” that holds the body together. And it just may be the help the joints need to continue to move smoothly. Interestingly, nearly 100% of the connective tissues in the body (i.e., the joints, ligaments, and tendons) are made from collagen.
Unfortunately, as we age (even by our mid-30s), our bodies make less collagen. What’s more, certain lifestyle behaviors, such as excess sun exposure, excess alcohol consumption, smoking, lack of sleep, high stress levels, and inactivity, can speed that decline. This can transform the web of tightly organized fibers into an unorganized mess as the collagen fibers get thinner and lose strength. 1 As collagen fibers degrade, it can then lead to discomfort, decreased mobility, and a drop in exercise performance and recovery.
Collagen for Healthy Cartilage
A specific type of collagen—Type II—is found in articular cartilage. This is the tissue that is stretched over the ends of the bones that cushions between the joints. It allows the joints to better bend, slide, and move smoothly. Healthy cartilage—built by collagen—allows the joints to remain flexible, absorb shocks, and support the body’s movement. According to some research, this type of collagen may also help decrease swelling and pain in joints. 2 – 5
Unfortunately, as we age, articular cartilage levels decline. As joints rub together over the cartilage after decades of use, the cartilage can wear down, which can lead to increased joint pain. What’s more, as we age, we not only naturally lose the collagen we have but produce less. The decreased collagen in the body can lead both cartilage and tendons to get looser and less stable. This can, in turn, make injuries more common.
Collagen to Calm Joint Stiffness
Without a healthy amount of collagen, cartilage can be compromised, which can increase the risk of joint problems. Fortunately, it’s been found that ensuring you are consuming enough collagen through your diet or supplementation may help reduce the risk. It may also help the joints feel better if you’re already experiencing some pain or stiffness. 6
That said, remember that you can’t just eat the right foods or take collagen supplements and magically regrow or repair damaged joints or cartilage. It may help stimulate the body to produce new collagen, but it can’t undo all the damage that’s already occurred.
Collagen to Help Reduce Pain
In a 2015 study, researchers looked at how collagen supplements affected folks with damaged knee joints and found that it may help reduce pain, stiffness, and lack of mobility. 7 Another study from 2009 found that a collagen product helped the body manage inflammation, relieve pain, and decrease a.m. stiffness along with tenderness and swelling. 8 More research is needed, especially for those with diagnosed joint issues, but collagen has shown promise, including helping reduce pain that can negatively affect athletic performance. 9
How to Get Collagen in Your Diet
Your body uses the amino acids from high-protein foods like fish, meat, poultry, beans, and eggs to produce collagen with the help of other nutrients like vitamin C and zinc. Collagen is made up of chains of amino acids, including arginine, glutamine, glycine, and protein. Unfortunately, these amino acids are not always easy to get from foods.
One of the simplest ways to support collagen levels in the body is by increasing your daily intake by supplementing with a collagen product directly. The best collagen supplements contain more than one form of collagen. Plus, they’re “predigested” (aka hydrolyzed) for easier absorption by the gut. This is the simplest way to give your body the amino acids it needs to rebuild collagen and support strong, healthy joints.
Collagen is typically well tolerated, and few side effects have been reported. It is, however, worth noting that it can contain fish, shellfish, and eggs, so people with allergies to these foods will need to look for other sources.
How soon before you see joint improvements with collagen? You won’t see results immediately as collagen turnover takes time—a minimum of eight weeks to see noticeable results according to studies. 10 – 14 So, please be patient.
Collagen for Joints: A Wrap-Up
Collagen has been shown to be beneficial to our health, including promoting joint health, mobility, and comfort. While the body does use foods to produce collagen, the most convenient way to increase collagen levels is to use a quality multi-collagen supplement. Fortunately, collagen supplements are generally safe, easy to use, and affordable.