Collagen Benefits for Your Bones, Heart, Sleep and More, Backed by Science

collagen benefits bones heart sleepGreat news: If you’re already using collagen peptides for your hair, skin, and nails, you’re likely getting a bunch of other whole-body benefits.

Clearly we humans are meant to consume a good amount of collagen. Our ancestors ate nose-to-tail, consuming skin and connective tissue, and boiling down bones to make broth. Gelatin and collagen would have been abundant in the human diet. They provide amino acids needed for a dizzying array of metabolic functions. The amino acids also serve as blocks for collagen in the body.

Collagen is the most abundant protein in the human body, providing structure and support for the musculoskeletal and cardiovascular systems. Crucially, we need glycine from collagen to balance the lifespan-shortening effects of methionine in meat.1

Today I’m going to highlight some potential benefits that have nothing to do with skin, nails, or hair. I’ll say up front that I’m firmly on the pro-collagen train. I’ve noticed great results personally from taking it. That said, I’m not trying to make wild claims about collagen as a miracle supplement. These are areas of research I’m watching with interest. I hope to see more studies that help us understand when, why, and how collagen is most useful.

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A Quick Primer on Collagen

When you purchase collagen, you’ll get either collagen peptides or collagen hydrolysate. These terms are interchangeable. Gelatin and collagen peptides have the same amino acid profile, and they should confer the same benefits. The difference is the proteins in collagen have been broken down into smaller chains (peptides), so they are more easily absorbed.

There are at least 28 types of collagen. The collagen peptides you buy at the store are mostly types I and III unless they specify otherwise. I’m not going to talk about studies that focus on types you can’t readily get in supplement form (like type IV, which is potentially relevant for Alzheimer’s disease).

Okay, now that that’s out of the way, let’s look at some potential benefits.

Sleep Better with Collagen

Collagen has a different amino acid profile than meat, and that’s important here. Specifically, collagen is rich in the amino acid glycine. Among its many functions in the body, glycine is known to improve sleep.2

Human studies show that just 3 grams of glycine taken before bed improves sleep quality and daytime alertness for individuals with chronic sleep issues,3 insomnia,4 and sleep restriction.5 It might work by enhancing serotonin production, which is needed to produce melatonin.6 Glycine also facilitates the drop in core body temperature that promotes a healthy sleep cycle.7 8

Sleep experts generally recommend taking 3 to 5 grams of glycine before bedtime. You can buy glycine supplements, but collagen is about one-third glycine. A heaping scoop of collagen peptides will net you those 3 grams of glycine, plus other important amino acids.

Collagen Benefits Your Muscles, Tendons, and Bones

When talking about body composition, we usually mean the amount of body fat and muscle mass an individual carries. What about the other stuff—the bones and connective tissue that give our body structure and allow us to move around? In fact, the entire musculoskeletal system benefits from the amino acids in collagen.

Collagen to Build Strength

Lots of people use whey or soy protein supplements to enhance the effects of resistance training and build muscle. Collagen, on the other hand, has been largely overlooked because it’s not a complete protein. In particular, it doesn’t contain the levels of BCAAs found in whey protein.

I think collagen deserves a second look, though. For one thing, the high amount of glycine plus alanine in collagen provide building blocks for creatine. Creatine boosts energy production in muscle cells, and it’s probably the most widely used supplement for increasing muscle mass.

Also, in a series of studies, elderly men with sarcopenia,9 healthy young men,10 and premenopausal women11 undertook 12 weeks of resistance training. Half the participants in each study supplemented with 15 grams of collagen post-workout. Across the board, the collagen + training groups gained more fat-free mass and strength compared to training alone. The older men and the women also lost more body fat.

However, when the researchers measured the young men’s type II muscle fibers, they found no differences between the collagen and no-collagen groups. That said, in an interesting follow-up using the same protocol, researchers also performed muscle biopsies. The collagen + training group saw upregulation of proteins and pathways associated with positive training adaptations in contractile muscle fibers.12

What does this mean? Collagen ups the effectiveness of resistance training. More research is needed to understand precisely how—whether it increases muscle synthesis, tendon integrity, both, and/or other. In any case, though, adding a couple scoops of collagen to your post-workout routine seems a worthy experiment.

Collagen for Your Connective Tissues and Joints

Speaking of tendons, there’s evidence that collagen supplementation helps strengthen and maintain connective tissue. Connective tissue is made up of collagen, so it’s not really a big surprise. I first become enamored with collagen after rehabbing a serious Achilles tendon injury. I’m convinced that my recovery was accelerated thanks to loading up on collagen peptides.

Studies back up my experience:

  • Animal studies using rats13 and rabbits14 show that feeding the animals glycine and collagen peptides, respectively, strengthens their Achilles tendons.
  • In humans, taking 15 grams of gelatin plus 50 mg of vitamin C before working out improves tendons’ performance by increasing collagen deposition and remodeling.15

Collagen likewise shores up your joints and reduces joint pain:

  • Men and women with chronic ankle instability took 5 grams of collagen or a placebo for six months. Those in the collagen group reported greater subjective stability and had fewer ankle injuries during the follow-up period.16
  • Male and female college athletes who supplemented with 10 grams of collagen hydrolysate for 24 weeks reported significantly less joint pain across various activities. The effects were particularly strong among participants with pre-existing knee arthralgia (pain).17
  • For osteoarthritis patients, a collagen supplement reduced pain scores and improved walking ability.18
  • In another study, adults over 50 with joint pain took a modest dose—1.2 g/day—of collagen for 6 months and reported less pain in the shoulder, arm, hand, and lumbar spine. There were no differences for knee or hip pain, though.19
  • Supplementing with collagen also shows promise for helping to regrow cartilage for folks with osteoarthritis.20

Collagen Builds Strong Bones

More than 90 percent of the organic matrix of bone is collagen, mostly type I.21 Scientists believe that collagen plays a central role in regulating the growth and maintenance of strong, healthy bones.22

It should come as no surprise, then, that collagen supplementation seems to improve bone health. This has been demonstrated repeatedly with rats.23 24 In humans, adding 5 grams of collagen peptides per day for 12 months increased bone mineral density in postmenopausal women at risk of osteoporosis.25

Another cool study compared female identical twins. In each pair, one sister’s typical diet contained significantly more of the amino acids alanine and glycine. The high-intake twins had better bone mineral density in their spines and forearms.26

Collagen for Heart Health

Many animal studies suggest that supplementing with collagen can improve cardiovascular health. Glycine, specifically, may be cardioprotective thanks to its known anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidative properties.

  • In rats, administering glycine reduces blood triglycerides and blood pressure.27 28
  • Collagen tripeptides reduce the size of atherosclerotic plaques and improve cholesterol markers in rabbits with hypercholesterolemia.29
  • Collagen hydrolysate reduces blood pressure and reverses arterial damage in rats.30
  • In mice, it lowers total cholesterol, triglycerides, and pro-inflammatory cytokines. 31

All promising stuff, but what about for us?

  • In humans, low circulating glycine levels are associated with a greater risk of acute myocardial infarction.32
  • One study showed that healthy adults who took 16 grams of collagen daily for six months lowered their LDL-C/HDL-C ratio. They also had significantly fewer toxic advanced glycation end-products, a marker of atherosclerosis risk, in their bloodstreams at the end of the study.33
  • In another small study, 15 adults with mild hypertension lowered their blood pressure by taking 5.2 grams of collagen daily for 4 weeks.34 A follow-up found similar effects using a smaller dose of 2.9 grams per day.35
  • In contrast, a study of older adults did not find any effects for blood pressure, but taking 2.5 grams of collagen per day for 12 weeks did reduce arterial stiffness.36

Collagen for Diabetes?

It might sound like a stretch at first, but individuals with low glycine are at greater risk for developing diabetes,37 38 while high glycine is associated with normal blood sugar control.39 Glycine supplementation may improve insulin sensitivity.40 A handful of studies further show that glycine can reduce certain diabetic complications in rats and humans.41

I’ve yet to see good evidence that collagen can reverse the course of prediabetes or diabetes in humans, though. Something to watch for.

How to Incorporate More Collagen in Your Diet

First things first, if you’re only eating muscle meat and avoiding the rest of the animal—skin, organs, bones—you need to diversify. Turn those bones into collagen-rich broth. Throw in some chicken feet while you’re at it. Make chicken skin chips. And yes, you do get some collagen from meat, too, as well as eggs.

Collagen peptides can be derived from cows (bovine), chickens, or pigs (porcine). Marine peptides come from fish parts such as bones and scales. There’s really no such thing as vegetarian collagen, although researchers are working on engineering collagen from algae.

I usually use one or two scoops per day of collagen peptides or Collagen Fuel per day. That’s enough to cover my bases. If I’m healing from an injury, I’ll increase it and throw in some extra vitamin C for good measure. Vitamin C is needed for collagen synthesis, and I figure it can’t hurt.42

I’m interested in your experience. Did you start incorporating bone broth or collagen peptides in your routine and notice any unexpected benefits? What’s your favorite way to get collagen in your diet?

TAGS:  collagen

About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

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25 thoughts on “Collagen Benefits for Your Bones, Heart, Sleep and More, Backed by Science”

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  1. Thank you for the “rest of the story” on collagen! I have been using it for years in my morning coffee along with butter, coconut oil or MCT oil, and an egg. Nice hot frothy coffee “smoothie” for me!
    I’m thinking of adding it to my before bed drink as well.

  2. Does ground beef contain higher levels of collagen than prime cuts? I’ve been wondering lately if that may be a better source, because you would think that the “gristle” that tends to end up there more often than in the prime cuts would be composed of greater amounts of collagen.

    1. Good shout Lawrence. I’ve often thought the same about sausages, “processed” meat which is used to “hide” all the cheap and nasty bits of the animal. Maybe there are more benefits from this than conventional wisdom would typically have us believe?

  3. I recently read there may be some correlation between taking collagen and kidney stones. Any information on this? I’ve been using collagen for a couple of years but also passed a kidney stone about 7 years ago and do not want to repeat that!

    1. There is no negative impact of collagen on healthy kidneys. But if you are taking too much collagen than it can stretch your skin as well as damage your internal organs like heart, lungs, and kidneys.

  4. Adding collagen to my coffee has made a huge difference. I have bone on bone medially in my right knee torn my meniscus. Had surgery and the collagen plus low carb/ IF has me pain free and back to running and hiking.

    1. Collagen falls apart at temperatures above body temperature, turning it into plain gelatin.At these higher temperatures – when added to hot coffee, for example – collagen’s molecular structure melts, diminishing or even negating the desired health benefits.

      1. So, are you saying that it’s also ruined in a beautiful bone broth due to high temperatures? That seems specious at best.

      2. collagen is denatured at 300 degrees Celsius, about 515 degrees F. keep putting it in your coffee people. and , as always, do your own research. it’ll make you more confident in your choices and smarter?

  5. I’m a believer in collagen and take a scoop every day (and thanks for letting me know you take two scoops–I’m going to up my intake,)
    However; I have a teenage daughter who has a small allergic reaction. Every time she tries collagen powder, her throat gets tight (or itchy; I can’t remember as it’s been a while since we ran the experiment). At first I thought it was another ingredient (like the chocolate, or the monk fruit) but it happened even when she tried the plain.

    I’m wondering you have heard of this and if there is a good way around it. She’s very athletic and fairly primal, so I’d like her connective tissue, bones etc. to receive the benefit.

    1. We purchase an unflavoured marine collagen and I wonder if your daughter may be allergic to fish?

      1. Thanks for this reply! I’ll check the sources…maybe it’s fish, or maybe it’s bovine–I have to look. But that is a great thought.

  6. Thank you for this. I have been adding 10g of collagen hydrolysate(?) to my morning coffee along w grass fed butter, MCT, vitamin C. I just recently started adding lysine which I also read is good for skin repair (Cold sore prevention) and may act as a catalyst for the collagen. Has anybody else heard of this?

  7. Hey Mark,

    I take a collagen smoothie most days around 3:00pm with about 10-15 grams of collagen. I also have been taking 3 grams of a glycine a night to help me sleep.

    Any reason in your opinion this is too much?

    1. Similar to me – I usually take 1 x 15g scoop of collagen with vitamin C, creatine and whey protein isolate prior to my lunchtime resistance training/ HIIT workout, then 5g of pure glycine 30 minutes before bed. I hope this is not too much glycine? At any rate, I am sure it helps my recovery from my workouts, and the glycine at night definitely improves my sleep quality.

      An associated question would be, does taking 5g of glycine at around 9.30pm (30 minutes prior to going to bed) negatively effect autophagy? From what I have read so far, I’m betting on it only having a very marginal or negligible effect in down-regulating autophagy..

      1. Hey Rob,

        I take the glycine around 7:30pm and still have great sleep, lights out at 9:30pm. Could always try taking it a little sooner.

  8. Monica, Your daughter may have acquired the alpha gal meat allergy which is conferred by a tick bite. That can trigger mild up to anaphylactic reactions after consuming mammalian meat – cow, pig, lamb, deer, etc. There is a simple blood test for that allergy. Good to know since it rules out so many foods. Poultry and fish are fine- so this means those as collagen sources only; no types II, IV and V. careful of veggie or poultry stuffed into pig gut casings!

  9. I am sad to see so much in this article about collagen SUPPLEMENTS rather than natural collagen. I have made my own stocks all my life – “stock” is cooking language for “bone broth” – and enjoy many collagen-rich foods such as pork hocks, oxtails, chicken feet, etc.
    I strongly suspect that natural collagen is better for you than the supplements. Collagen extracted from real bones and gristle by boiling a stock will also have trace minerals along with it that I think are likely to assist its function in your body.

  10. Thanks for your always interesting read! I have wondered for some time if the protein in the scoops of collagen is counted as protein in your daily protein intake or how it relates. Many thanks!

  11. I am puzzled about the loss of collagen in my arms. In particular, the dermatologist assures that I’ve lost sub-dermal collagen as well as collagen around my capillaries. She kind of shrugged this condition off.

    Sadly, if I bump into something, or the dog paws me too hard, it’s like a think piece of tissue tearing. I bruise and bleed immediately.

    I’m not on steroids, NSAIDS, blood thinners, or anything else that would increase the ability of my skin, mostly on my left arm (I’m right arm dominate) to tear, bleed, and bruise so easily.

    I use collagen, but how much is correct?

    1. Hey, Linda. If you’re in the over 60 range, skin thinning does happen naturally. I have the same problem but with more vitamin C, 500 mg of rutin and cutting out fish oil, my skin is much more resilient and has an improved texture. It doesn’t look like “old ladies’ skin”. Hope this helps!! Also, I take collagen – 1 scoop – 10 grams – mixed in 8 oz of organic chicken bone broth.

  12. Great post Mark. I have been taking 3 grams of glycine before bed for about a year now and it has done wonders for my sleep and morning energy.
    I am a cardiovascular researcher and have done a number of studies on cardiac fibrosis (excess collagen deposition) during various disease states. I am wondering if there’s a link between dietary collagen/glycine and degree of tissue fibrosis in susceptible individuals. My guess is no, given that such profound health benefits are seen in humans and animal models. It would be interesting to know how various tissues protect themselves from fibrosis (like the heart) when supplementing with collagen.

  13. Absolutely loved this, Mark. I’ve been banging the drum about collagen myself, particularly about making bone broth to get it.

    I did not know about the link between collagen and sleep, however, and will now incorporate 3 gms glycine before bed.

    Thanks so much.

  14. Am wondering if collagen supplement could cause fibrocystic breast disease. Or feed breast cancer.