How Long Does it Take for Collagen Supplements to Work?

Collagen Supplements: Demystifying Common Claims

Collagen supplements are burgeoning lately, often galvanizing health-conscious consumers with anti-aging claims such as reducing joint pain, improving skin elasticity, and strengthening hair and nails. The promises of collagen powder are alluring, no doubt, but how long does it take for collagen supplements to work (if at all)?

The short answer to that question is: It depends. (Big surprise, eh?)

Like many health supplements, the time it takes for collagen supplements to work — and the magnitude of the effects — will vary from one person to the next. It's not clear why some people notice pronounced and relatively rapid benefits from collagen supplementation, while others experience marginal benefits after months of use.

To demystify some frequently asked questions and claims surrounding collagen supplements, we've compiled this handy guide using peer-reviewed scientific and clinical research as the basis for answers.

Collagen Supplement Myths vs. Facts

Collagen peptides are ubiquitous in connective tissues throughout the human body, accounting for an estimated 60% of total protein content by mass. The catch is that collagen production wanes as we age into our 30s and 40s.

It's surmisable that collagen supplements may confer several "anti-aging" benefits by restoring and maintaining more youthful collagen levels. For example, a growing body of evidence has demonstrated that collagen peptide supplementation may [1]:

  • Reverse skin aging

  • Provide joint pain relief

  • Improve gut health

  • Increase bone density

  • Reduce muscle soreness after resistance training

However, the ever-increasing health claims about collagen supplements require diligent fact-checking. This section will provide clarity on the matter and, hopefully, give you realistic expectations before taking collagen products. 

Let's start with a popular question people have about collagen protein: How long does it take for collagen supplements to work?

How Long Does it Take for Collagen Supplements to Work?

Based on systematic research reviews and meta-analyses, collagen supplements appear to produce noticeable results within 30 days [2, 3]. The effects tend to be most prominent after 60 to 90 days of daily use. Evidence suggests that, after several months of use, the benefits of collagen supplements persist for at least 30 days beyond cessation [4].

Those timelines should be interpreted as a loose guideline since there's significant heterogeneity between clinical studies of oral collagen supplementation and a high risk of publication bias [5]. For example, some studies have found no clinically meaningful changes in study endpoints (e.g. skin elasticity) with daily collagen doses upwards of 30 grams [6]. Contrarily, other studies have shown significant improvements in connective tissue outcomes with doses as low as 2.5 grams per day [7].

What Types of Collagen Should I Take?

taking collagen peptides

There is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question since collagen supplements work through distinct mechanisms based on the types of collagen peptides they contain. There are over 25 known collagen types, each with a specific function and molecular structure [8].

For brevity, we're assuming you're interested in taking collagen supplements to support muscle mass/body composition and connective tissues like your bones, skin, hair, nails, ligaments, cartilage, and tendons. As such, the fibril-forming collagen peptides are crucial, including:

  • Type I collagen — most abundant collagen type in the skin, teeth, bone, ligaments, tendons, and organs

  • Type II collagen — a major protein constituent of cartilage

  • Type III collagen — found primarily in skin, muscle, and blood vessels

  • Type V collagen — the principal component of placental tissue and cell surfaces

  • Types XI, XXIV, and XXVII — considered "minor" collagen peptides but still important for the shape and mechanical functions of tissues

Bovine collagen and porcine collagen are rich in type I and type III collagen peptides, while marine collagen is predominantly a source of the former [9]. The sternum of chicken/fowl is typically used as a source of type II collagen. (Note that any mammalian source of collagen will contain some of the many collagen types.)

How Do Collagen Supplements Work?

To answer this question, we'll focus on the mechanism of hydrolyzed collagen (undenatured collagen is discussed further in the next section). "Hydrolyzed" is used to describe a compound that has undergone "hydrolysis," which translates literally to "water splitting." As such, hydrolysis splits the bonds of collagen peptides and yields smaller peptide fragments comprised of just a few amino acids (e.g. dipeptides and tripeptides).

Studies suggest that the bioactive dipeptides and tripeptides from hydrolyzed collagen, such as hydroxyprolylglycine and prolylhydroxyproline, are absorbed intact and transported via the bloodstream to connective tissues [10]. The dermis (i.e. "true" skin tissue) and bone are the main reservoirs of type I and type III collagen peptides in the body. (Note that hair and nails are modified skin tissues.) Type II collagen is most dense in joint cartilage and found in bone and skin to a lesser degree [11].

Hence, after supplementing with bovine or marine collagen — rich in type I and type III collagen peptides — the bioactive di- and tri-peptides from these sources accumulate in the dermis and bone tissue where they activate fibroblasts and osteoblasts, respectively [12, 13].

Fibroblasts and osteoblasts synthesize and secrete collagen proteins that make up most of the extracellular matrices surrounding cells in these tissues. The aforementioned fibril-forming collagen peptides connect (crosslink) to create dense fiber-like ropes that give cells a bonafide "structural foundation" to call home.

Intuitively, when collagen production is lacking, the extracellular matrix becomes "flimsy" and weak, resulting in the characteristic sagging, wrinkling, and dehydration of skin as we age and compromised bone health.

As a super simple analogy, think of fibril-forming collagen peptides (e.g. type I, type II, and type III) as wooden joists under a house's floor. The fewer joists you have to work with, the more likely the floor will lack structural integrity and collapse.

Hydrolyzed vs. Undenatured Collagen

Undenatured collagen refers to collagen protein that has not been hydrolyzed. In other words, it's the native peptide with all amino acids bonded in their typical sequence.

The amino acid sequence gives a peptide its structure and function. In most cases, peptides act like signaling molecules by binding to receptors or enzymes that activate or deactivate a specific pathway. This is how undenatured type II collagen peptides appear to work for improving joint pain and integrity, rather than being directly incorporated into the collagen matrix, like hydrolyzed collagen [14].

More specifically, supplementing with undenatured type II collagen activates immune cells that target type II in joint cartilage and suppress inflammation [15]. This mechanism explains why subjects with joint stiffness and pain often experience a significant reduction in their symptoms after taking relatively small doses of undenatured type II collagen (10 to 20 mg per day). Contrast that with hydrolyzed collagen doses that typically range between 8 to 10 grams per day.

The specificity of undenatured type II collagen for improving joint health is why UC-II® is a key ingredient in Transparent Labs Joint Support.

Does collagen help with muscle growth?

Collagen has relatively low L-leucine content compared to other protein sources, specifically whey protein. Therefore, collagen is not the ideal form of protein if your goal is to pack on lean body mass, but some studies suggest it can help improve body composition and muscle recovery after resistance training [16].

Can you take too much collagen?

You can take too much of anything; even innocuous substances like water can be toxic in exorbitant amounts. It's important to understand that "more" doesn't always translate to "better" or "faster" results with health supplements.

People may believe that taking "megadoses" of collagen will expedite the health benefits, but that's not really how it works. Just as your body won't use all the excess essential amino acids from whey protein to build "extra" muscle mass, excess collagen won't improve skin or bone health even more. The surplus amino acids from collagen supplements will be utilized for other metabolic purposes or excreted.

And even though collagen is an essential protein, too much of it can cause health problems. Unrestrained collagen production will cause connective tissues in the skin will grow to the point of becoming rigid, tight, and painful. Thankfully, your body won't deposit excess collagen unless you have an underlying condition that perturbs collagen regulation, such as scleroderma [17].

Does collagen powder count towards your total protein intake?

Taking collagen powder will add more protein to your diet and should be counted towards your total protein intake. Typically, you'll need to consume 5 –10 grams of hydrolyzed collagen peptides per day for proper efficacy, equal to 20 – 40 calories.

Note that you should not rely on collagen powder as your primary source of protein. Collagen has fewer essential amino acids than most dietary protein sources (e.g. milk protein, eggs, seafood, and animal meat). Opt for whey protein powder after your workouts if your main goal is to build muscle mass.[

Are collagen and colostrum the same?

No, but it's common to confuse the two. Colostrum is a major protein found in human breast milk and is much different than collagen in terms of its biological nature and actions in the body. 

Is hydrolyzed collagen the best form of collagen supplement?

While hydrolysis of whey protein and casein protein can be beneficial, hydrolyzed collagen isn't always the prudent choice. If you're looking for localized joint support, undenatured collagen is more likely to help than hydrolyzed collagen.

Hydrolyzed collagen makes the most sense for firmer skin, nail health, gut benefits, and stronger bones.

Will collagen supplements make you live longer?

No clinical or scientific evidence suggests that taking a collagen supplement will increase your lifespan. While collagen is undoubtedly beneficial for many health conditions and anti-aging purposes (in the aesthetic sense), it remains to be demonstrated that taking collagen peptides adds years to your life. 

Collagen Supplementation Drawbacks

Arguably the main "drawback," for lack of a better term, with collagen supplements is that you need to use them continuously— and perhaps indefinitely — for longevity benefits and skin health. If you take collagen daily for a few months and your joint pain and skin elasticity have improved, it's best to continue taking your collagen supplement. Once you stop taking collagen daily, the benefits are likely to dissipate. 

You will need to assess the cost-to-benefit ratio and commit to using collagen supplements as a daily staple if you think it's worth it. (This concept applies to all dietary supplements, not just collagen peptides.)

With that in mind, avoid using collagen supplements if you're hoping for a quick anti-aging fix. Collagen supplements don't make much sense as an intermittent solution to joint pain or skin health issues. Theoretically, cyclical use of collagen supplements (e.g. two months on, one month off) may be a practical compromise.

Another potential downside to collagen supplements is that there is no commercially viable vegan source of collagen (yet, at least). However, research has reported using plant sources like barley, tobacco, and maize to create recombinant collagen [18]. These would classify as "animal-free" despite being synthetic sources of collagen.

For now, if you're on a vegan diet, consuming collagen-supporting nutrients like vitamin C and hyaluronic acid can help with endogenous collagen production [19]. Intuitively, a vegan diet rich in precursor amino acids (e.g. alanine, glycine, and proline) from plant foods will also encourage healthy collagen levels. 

A final drawback of some collagen peptides is that they can be expensive. For example, you may end up paying anywhere between $2.00-$4.00 for an efficacious dose of marine collagen powder (which is curious considering marine collagen is lauded as being a "cheap source" of type I collagen peptides) [20].

Fortunately, you only need to consume a properly dosed collagen supplement once daily (or divided into multiple doses). Transparent Labs Collagen Hydrolysate is very reasonably priced at just $1 per serving, each providing 10+ grams of hydrolyzed bovine collagen.

Collagen Supplement Key Takeaways

  • Collagen is the most abundant protein in the animal kingdom. We produce collagen endogenously, but the amount decreases significantly around the age of 40. Consequently, skin complexion changes, bones and joints degrade, hair and nails become brittle, and gut health may suffer.

  • There are over 25 known types of collagen, but type I, type II, and type III collagen peptides comprise the majority of collagen in the human body. These are crucial for skin health, connective tissues (e.g. joint cartilage and bone), and overall "beautification."

  • Undenatured type II collagen peptides appear to be ideal for treating chronic joint pains/aches, mainly when it originates from arthritis, synovitis, or bursitis.

  • Marine collagen is a replete source of type I collagen; bovine collagen is rich in type I and III collagen; chicken/fowl-derived collagen is abundant in type II collagen.

  • Vitamin C and hyaluronic acid are prudent supplements to take for collagen production.

  • It's best to take collagen supplements daily and indefinitely to maximize efficacy; once you stop collagen supplementation, collagen levels will diminish over time (and you will likely lose the benefits).

  • Individuals under the age of 30 may take collagen supplements as a preventative for "aging." Still, it's unclear if this leads to meaningful outcomes since the body will only synthesize and store so much collagen no matter how much you take.

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