You already know about the benefits of collagen for healthy joints, skin, and bones. But you might not know that it can also protect your heart and reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease.
As the most abundant protein in the body, collagen plays a critical role in the strength and structure of connective tissue. But as we age, we produce less and less of this essential protein. The decline starts as early as the age of 25, and by the time we’re 60, our bodies may make only half as much as they used to. The result: a greater likelihood of achy joints, sagging skin, fine lines, and wrinkles—and, as it turns out, a potentially increased risk of cardiovascular disease.
Here’s how collagen works to support your heart—and why you should be taking it every day (plus, tips for choosing the right supplement):
1. It helps keep arteries healthy and strong
Collagen promotes heart health by providing structure to the arteries—the vessels that carry blood from the heart throughout the body. Without adequate structural support, arteries become weak, stiff, and inflexible, linked with a higher risk of cardiovascular disease, heart attacks, and stroke.
Some research suggests that collagen can keep the arteries healthy and strong. In one small study, people who took a collagen supplement at breakfast and dinner (for a total of 16 grams per day) showed a significant reduction in arterial stiffness. Another study found that 2.5 grams of collagen per day had similar effects in lowering arterial stiffness.
2. It improves cholesterol ratios
The balance of harmful LDL cholesterol to beneficial HDL cholesterol in the body is a well-known predictor of cardiovascular health. Over time, if your LDL levels are too high, it can lead to the formation of plaques inside the lining of the artery walls, which can narrow arteries, impede blood flow, and increase the risk of heart attack and stroke—a condition called atherosclerosis. Research suggests that collagen not only improves cholesterol balance, but also decreases total cholesterol, lowers triglycerides (fats linked with a higher risk of cardiovascular disease), and prevents and treats the buildup of plaque on artery walls. In one study, collagen significantly improved LDL and HDL ratios, boosted protective HDL levels, and reduced markers of atherosclerosis risk.
3. It balances blood pressure
When arteries stiffen and plaque deposits narrow vessel walls, it’s harder for blood to flow easily, increasing the risk of high blood pressure, or hypertension. Some research suggests that glycine, one of the primary amino acids in collagen can promote heart health by reducing blood pressure and protect against arterial damage.
Collagen may also boost levels of nitric oxide, a compound that enhances blood flow and lowers blood pressure. In one study of people with mild hypertension, a collagen supplement significantly decreased blood pressure in 4 weeks. In another study, a daily dose of 2.9 grams of collagen reduced arterial stiffness, increased nitric oxide, and lessened markers of vascular damage.
4. It protects against inflammation
The benefits of collagen for taming inflammation in athletes and people with arthritis are well-known. But research suggests that collagen promotes heart health by inhibiting inflammatory chemicals that play a key role in the development of atherosclerosis. Glycine is known for its ability to mitigate inflammation, and some studies suggest that low levels of glycine increase the risk of heart attacks.
Choose It and Use It
To protect your heart (and skin, joints, and bones) start by supporting your body’s natural production of collagen.
Be sure you’re getting plenty of vitamin C (think red peppers, strawberries, broccoli, oranges) to boost collagen synthesis. Bone broth, eggs, fish, and poultry are rich sources of amino acids and other nutrients, such as zinc, that play key roles in collagen production. And green tea helps stimulate the production of collagen and prevent its breakdown.
For extra support, add a high-quality collagen supplement to your routine. You’ll find a variety of forms, from powders and capsules to gummies, liquids, and flavored drink mixes. Choose the one you’ll take most frequently. More tips for picking the right collagen:
- You’ll see some products labeled as “hydrolyzed collagen.” That just means the collagen has been processed to break down the large proteins, making it easier to digest and absorb (plus, hydrolyzed collagen dissolves better in cold beverages). The phrase “collagen peptides” refers to the end product—the smaller protein units derived from the hydrolyzation process—so it’s really the same thing.
- There are 28 different kinds of collagen, but you mostly hear about Types 1, 2, and 3. Most collagen supplements contain Types 1 and 3, which make up the vast majority (about 90 percent) of the body’s collagen. It doesn’t really matter which one you choose; when you take a collagen supplement, no matter what type, your body breaks it down and uses it to rebuild your own collagen.
- What does matter: choosing a product that contains adequate amounts of collagen. Most studies suggest a range of 2–10 grams per day, though higher doses aren’t thought to be harmful. Some forms, like gummies, have as little as 50 or 100 mg. Powders and some liquids tend to be the most concentrated sources.
- Collagen can be derived from a number of different sources, though bovine collagen is the most common (and, some research suggests, most effective). Marine collagen is considered more sustainable, since it’s usually made from the unused parts of fish, including bones, scales, and skin. Whatever form you choose, be sure it’s derived from organic and/or grass-fed animals or sustainably sourced seafood. For vegans, there are no plant-based sources of collagen, but you can find supplements formulated with nutrients known to boost the body’s own collagen production.
- If you’re taking a flavored drink mix, gummy, or chew, be sure it’s free from additives and artificial flavors and colors. Many brands include sugar, corn syrup, or rice syrup. Choose one that’s sweetened with xylitol, stevia, or monk fruit, instead.