Medically Reviewed by Dr. Bryan Seigel D.C., P.L.C.
The health of your joints and bones becomes increasingly important as you age. Whether due to wear and tear or simply as a function of the aging process, joint pain and bone diseases become primary issues of concern for many men and women above the age of 50.
Even athletes in their late 20’s and 30’s can experience joint pain due to overuse.
One of the most well-researched supplements to support the health of your joints and bones as you age is collagen. Clinical trials have shown that collagen may be one of the best anti-aging nutrients you can include in your diet and just may be the difference between a life of mobility and life of stiffness and pain.
What Is Collagen?
Collagen is the most abundant protein in your body and plays a crucial role in the structure and function of your connective tissue. It’s one of the primary building blocks of your skin, muscles, tendons, cartilage, ligaments, bones, and teeth. It also helps to strengthen your blood vessels and plays a role in tissue development[*].
As you age, collagen levels slowly begin to decline in your body. In fact, starting around age 25, you may begin losing up to 1% of your collagen each year. This may not seem like a lot, but in ten years, that’s 10% of your collagen.
There are a few factors that affect collagen loss, both environmental and natural. The most common natural cause for collagen loss is due to the aging process itself and is actually quite normal.
However, avoidable environmental factors can also play a significant role in the rate at which your collagen declines.
Sugar, for instance, can interfere with collagen cross-linking, which aids in the strength and repair of tissues[*]. The ultraviolet rays from sunlight can also directly damage collagen and are implicated in skin aging and even skin cancer[*][*]. And smoking has been shown to decrease the rate of collagen synthesis, altering the balance proteins that make up your connective tissue[*].
While taking a collagen supplement can benefit your body in various ways by providing strength, structure, and support, collagen for joint and bone health is especially crucial as you age.
In this article, we’ll highlight the role that collagen plays in joint and bone health and why it’s never too early to start working on maintaining healthy collagen levels.
Benefits of Collagen For Joint And Bone Health
#1 Improves Bone Mineral Density
One of the primary benefits of collagen for bone health is its impact on bone mineral density.
Bone mineral density (BMD) describes the amount of bone mineral in your bone tissue. The amount of mineralization in your bone, specifically calcium, reflects the strength of your bones.
Bone mineral density is a particularly important marker to keep an eye on for women in their menopausal and postmenopausal years. The reason for this is that as ovarian function slowly declines, the production of sex hormones like estrogen decrease as well. Estrogen is involved in the balance between bone formation and breakdown, and when estrogen is low more breakdown occurs[*][*].
This is why so many women that are going through menopause or are postmenopausal begin to notice signs of weak bones.
Research shows, however, that collagen may play a key role in the preservation of bone density. In one study, a group of postmenopausal women were given either a placebo or 5 grams of collagen a day for one year. After the 12 month mark, the researchers reported a significant increase in bone mineral density for the collagen group, along with favorable shifts in bone health markers indicating increased bone formation and reduced degradation[*].
#2 May Protect Against Osteoporosis
Another potential benefit of collagen for bone health is its role in protecting against osteoarthritis.
Osteoporosis, and osteopenia, are bone diseases marked by a significant loss in bone density. While osteopenia is the beginning stage, osteoporosis occurs when bone formation can’t keep up with bone degradation.
Osteoporosis is a significant concern for women in their menopausal and postmenopausal years for all the reasons described above. When your bones become weak and brittle due to osteoporosis, even small mishaps like a fall or coughing too hard can cause a fracture.
Other factors that can lead to osteoporosis include thyroid disease, issues with the adrenal glands, low calcium intake, poor diet, gastrointestinal disease, and certain medications[*].
Research shows that due to its role in strengthening your bones, collagen may help to fight osteoporosis. Specifically, it appears that collagen assists in the function of the osteoblasts, which are the cells that help to rebuild your bones. In addition, collagen also supports the mineralization of your bone matrix, which relies on both collagen and calcium for its strength and function[*].
#3 May Aid In the Repair Of Broken Bones
Along the same lines, collagen supplementation may also support the repair of broken bones. By providing the building blocks of the bone itself, as well as the support needed for optimal bone density, collagen appears to increase the rate at which fractures heal in both mice and healthy humans[*][*].
#4 Reduces Pain
One of the most well-researched benefits of collagen for joint health is its role in osteoarthritis.
Osteoarthritis (OA) is the most common form of arthritis and affects millions of people across the globe. OA occurs when the cartilage, which protects the ends of your bones, wears down.
Cartilage is a firm yet slippery tissue that allows for seamless joint mobility. As you can imagine, when your cartilage wears down, it can result in joint pain throughout your body, as the bone-on-bone pressure creates inflammation and swelling.
While OA could affect any joint, the most common are the hands, neck, lower back, knees, and hips. Those suffering from A typically experience symptoms like pain, stiffness, loss of flexibility, swelling, and tenderness.
There are several causes of osteoarthritis, with the most common being age, followed by obesity, repeated stress on your joints, joint injuries, bone deformities, and certain metabolic diseases[*].
Collagen makes up a large portion of your cartilage tissue, and when taken orally, collagen appears to accumulate in your cartilage. Here, it further stimulates the synthesis of the extracellular matrix of cartilage which provides structure and function[*].
Clinical research suggests that due to its role in cartilage formation, 10 grams of collagen per day can significantly reduce the amount of pain that people suffering from OA experience[*].
#5 Reduces Joint Pain In Athletes
While many of the issues that occur with joint and bone health are delayed until later in life, athletes may experience difficulties earlier due to the amount of stress they put on their bodies.
The best example of this is the joint pain that many active people experience due to overuse or misuse. In fact, activity-related joint pain in healthy people is much more common than you may think.
While osteoarthritis is the primary cause of joint pain in most people, wear and tear of your joints can occur in a similar way due to repetitive movements like running, jumping, and so on. Lack of activity and misuse of your bones and joints can also lead to the cartilage in your joints slowly wearing down as well.
Looking specifically at the population where joint pain comes about due to use and not to an underlying health condition, research shows that collagen supplementation can support joint mobility and improve markers for pain.
In one study, researchers found that collagen supplementation significantly reduced joint pain in athletes by 37.5%[*]. In another trial, athletes given collagen supplements for 24-weeks experienced a significant reduction in pain while performing a variety of tasks, including walking, running in a straight line, changing direction, standing, and at rest[*].
#6 Improves Joint Mobility
Pain reduction isn’t the only benefit of collagen for joint health; in fact, research shows that collagen may be key for enhancing joint mobility.
Joint mobility, or the range of motion of your joints, is crucial not only for flexibility but also for your skeletal structure’s proper function. When your joints are immobile, it can directly impact your muscles’ function, which in turn impacts your bones. Your joints’ mobility is determined by the degree to which your joints can move before being restricted by surrounding tissues.
Inactivity, injury, and the aging process can all contribute to a loss of joint mobility.
Research shows, however, that collagen supplements can help you regain the mobility of your joints (along with proper exercise) due to the building quality that it has on your connective tissue. One study found that when people consumed collagen for 90 days, it resulted in a 39% increase in joint mobility[*]
If you’ve been considering ways to support the health of your bones and joints, collagen should be the number one supplement on your list. As you’ve learned, there are a myriad of benefits provided by collagen for joint and bone health.
Whether you’re an athlete trying to enhance your performance or a woman who’s gone through (or is going through) menopause, collagen can support your body’s structure and function in vital ways.
Add collagen into your routine by throwing into a smoothie, mixing it into your oatmeal, or adding it to soups or other liquids throughout the day. You can even just mix it in water and have it plain.