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Should You Take Collagen For Your Joints: What Does the Science Say?

In recent years, collagen supplements have continued to explode in popularity here in the U.S., in large part, due to the growing body of evidence that they may benefit your health in multiple ways.  

Amongst the many purported health benefits, there has been a considerable amount of attention given to the important role that collagen plays in your joints, with more and more research suggesting that regularly taking a collagen supplement can help to support your overall health and function.

Before we dive too deep into exploring exactly how collagen can benefit your joints, however, let’s first cover in a little more detail what collagen actually is and what it does.  

What is Collagen?

Collagen is the most plentiful form of protein found within the human body.  While there are many different kinds of protein required to support human function -- and I mean MANY -- as much as 30% of all the proteins found throughout your entire body are collagen-based.  

That’s because collagen plays an important structural role in everything from your skin and muscles to your bones, cartilage, and joints, helping to support their overall health and function.(1)(2)(3)  

While your body can produce small amounts of collagen all on its own, it’s predominantly obtained from dietary sources, with animal-based foods like fish, chicken, eggs, and various types of bone broths containing the highest concentrations.  With that being said, collagen can be found in lower concentrations in certain kinds of fruits and vegetables as well.  

On top of being found in food, collagen also comes in supplemental form.    It’s been generally recognized as safe (GRAS) by the FDA as a food additive, and can now be found in a variety of different health- and wellness-based dietary supplements.  

Most supplements contain “hydrolyzed” collagen, which is a soluble powder that’s been processed with certain FDA-approved enzymes designed to increase solubility and improve absorption.(4)  

The Role of Collagen in Your Joints

While collagen plays a number of different roles in the human body, research suggests that it’s especially important when it comes to your joints.  Your joints collectively help to connect all of the different bones throughout your body and are ultimately what make movement possible.  

Joints themselves are made of things like cartilage, and connective tissues (tendons and ligaments), which help to provide structural support, flexibility, and strength in the joint, as well as, to protect your bones against stress and trauma.      

Whether we’re talking about intense exercise or even something as seemingly trivial as a leisurely walk, all of the regular activities built into our everyday lives can be pretty taxing on our joints. 

Every time we move, we’re putting pressure on our joints, which can ultimately cause damage to cartilage and weaken connective tissue.  Over time, this continued taxation can reduce mobility and increase discomfort in your joints -- especially in places likes your ankles, knees, hips, and spine.     

So what does collagen have to do with all of this?  Well, collagen plays an especially important structural role in the cartilage and connective tissues that comprise your joints. In fact, your joints are actually made up primarily of collagen.(5)  

When some of the tissues become damaged, nothing is more important than collagen when it comes to making repairs.  Therefore, having adequate levels of collagen is especially crucial when it comes to maintaining the overall health and function of your joints.(6)      

The unfortunate reality, however, is that many people may ultimately not be meeting their body’s collagen needs through diet alone, which can increase the risk of joint-related pain, discomfort, and immobility, especially later in life.  

Should You Take Collagen For Your Joints: What Does the Science Say?

In recent years collagen supplementation has emerged as a novel and convenient method for treating joint-related disorders like osteoarthritis and there’s even a growing body of evidence that regular supplementation may come in handy for healthy, active people like athletes as well.  

Collagen and Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis (OA) is a degenerative disease that gradually eats away at the cartilage in your joints -- primarily the hips, knees, spine, and hands.  It’s characterized by a gradual reduction in joint mobility and is accompanied by chronic pain and discomfort.  

 As a disease that regularly affects millions of people, it’s been thoroughly researched over the years and a number of different clinical trials have specifically investigated the effects of collagen supplementation on OA.  

To date, most research involving osteoarthritis patients and collagen supplementation have demonstrated positive findings, with the majority of studies concluding that regular supplementation can significantly improve mobility and reduce pain and discomfort in individuals with OA. (7)(8)(9)(10)  

For instance, one 2016 randomized control trial (RCT) involving almost 200 osteoarthritis patients divided people into one of three groups. The first group was given a daily collagen supplement, the second received a daily dose of glucosamine hydrochloride and chondroitin sulfate (a common OA treatment) the third group received nothing but a placebo each day. (11) 

At the conclusion of the six-month study, the researchers ultimately found that not only did those who received a daily dose of collagen demonstrate significant improvements in joint mobility, they also reported significantly greater reductions in pain and discomfort in comparison to either of the other groups. 

Collagen and Joint Pain in Healthy People

On top of aiding in the treatment of osteoarthritis, there is also a growing body of evidence that regularly supplementing with collagen can help to reduce joint pain in healthy individuals as well -- particularly in people like athletes and those who regularly struggle with activity-related joint pain.(12)(13)   

For example, one  2008 RCT published in Current Medical Research and Opinion examined the effects of regular collagen supplementation on 147 healthy collegiate athletes experiencing activity-related joint pain.(14)  

Participants were placed into one of two groups, with the first group receiving a daily collagen supplement and the second receiving only a placebo each day.  Over the course of the study, the researchers looked at 5 different metrics to assess participants’ pain levels — pain at rest, pain when walking, pain when standing, pain when carrying objects, and pain while lifting.  

After 24-weeks, the researchers ultimately found that those who were given a daily dose of collagen, on average, saw significantly greater reductions in pain across all 5 pain measurements included in the study, leading the researchers to conclude that collagen supplementation may be an effective tool for reducing joint pain in otherwise healthy, active individuals. 

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Wrap Up

Numerous randomized control trials involving both healthy individuals, as well as those with joint-related conditions like osteoarthritis, suggest that taking a collagen supplement can help to strengthen and support your joints.

It’s important to point out though that if you are someone with osteoarthritis or another joint-related disease, you should always speak with a health professional before you begin taking a new supplement such as collagen.

With that being said, no matter whether you’re in good health or looking to treat symptoms of OA, you’ll have to be taking a quality collagen supplement in order to reap the rewards.  

In general, that means choosing a product who’s collagen comes exclusively from high-quality, anabolic-free sources.  Furthermore, you’ll only want to be taking supplements (collagen or otherwise) that have been third-party tested and customer-reviewed in order to assure the highest quality and best results.  

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