Collagen occurs naturally and commonly in the body. It is essential for the structure of muscles, cartilage, ligaments, tendons and bones. Collagen also supports the skin. Many people take collagen supplements for health benefits, because anecdotal reports speak of various improvements. However, there is little scientific research to support the idea that these supplements actually work.
Collagen is purported to help people with arthritis and other joint-related problems by increasing mobility and reducing pain.
Producers of collagen supplements also claim that they improve the appearance of hair, skin and nails.
Topical collagen products also are available for improving skin appearance.
Injection of collagen by plastic surgeons is a common procedure for correcting skin indentations and wrinkles, and plumping up lips.
Lack of Research
According to Ray Sahelian, M.D., little research indicates that collagen supplements can treat medical conditions, and that topical collagen cannot penetrate the epidermis because the molecules are too large and complex (see Resources).
Sahelian does cite two studies indicating that chicken collagen supplements can be effective at treating pain, stiffness and swelling from rheumatoid arthritis.
Another favorable study cited by Sahelian indicates that a supplement containing collagen and a collection of proteins and amino acids helped improve joint mobility and flexibility in athletes.