Shifts and declines in the hormone estrogen during menopause can cause women to experience changes in their hair and skin. Many also notice an increase in joint stiffness or arthritis-type symptoms. So, the question remains, can taking collagen supplements help improve these symptoms?
Collagen is one of many dietary supplements on the market claiming to promote better health and address issues commonly related to menopause like hair loss, dry skin, or arthritis. But taking a powder or pill isn't the only option. Here's what you should know about taking collagen during menopause and whether dietary supplements can offer the support you're looking for.
What is Collagen?
Collagen is the most abundant protein in the body. A fiber-like structure, it plays an integral role in building and maintaining bone and connective tissues such as skin, muscles, cartilage, and tendons.
We can get collagen directly from consuming foods like meat and fish; our bodies also make collagen from amino acids found in meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, dairy, legumes, and soy.1 However, collagen production begins to decline with age. And as we produce less collagen, we may experience changes, such as menopause hair loss or thinning hair during menopause, as well as symptoms related to our bone, and joint health.
Some women may choose to combat the natural drop in collagen during menopause by supplementing. Collagen supplements, which are usually sold in powder or pill form, are typically made of collagen peptides or hydrolyzed collagen - two forms of collagen that are easily absorbed by the body.2 They're typically derived from cows, chicken, or fish.
What is Collagen Good for During Menopause?
When collagen production declines during menopause, many parts of the body can be affected. Skin can become drier and less elastic and menopause hair loss may become more noticeable. Joints can become stiffer or ache more. Decreases in bone mass and lean muscle tissue start to occur, and weight gain can become more likely.
Experts agree that we can get all the collagen we need from eating a healthy diet.2 However, research shows that supplementing may provide support for some menopause-related changes.
- Skin health: Some findings suggest that collagen supplements may help skin appear more youthful. One study showed that taking collagen peptides daily for 12 weeks led to an improvement in skin hydration, elasticity, and wrinkling.3 Getting enough vitamins A, E, and D from foods along with healthy fats can also support the health of your skin and fight dryness.4
- Arthritis and joint discomfort: Is supplementing with collagen good for arthritis? Collagen supplements have been shown to improve knee joint function in people with knee osteoarthritis,5 suggesting that supplementing can reduce stiffness and achiness. But collagen isn't the only option for joint pain. Taking fish oil supplements or regularly eating fatty fish can also ease stiffness and discomfort and reduce the need for pain meds, particularly for people with rheumatoid arthritis.6 Some struggling with joint discomfort may also benefit from glucosamine supplementation.
- Lean muscle loss and weight gain: Bumping up your protein intake can help the body hold on to more lean muscle tissue, making it easier to maintain a healthy weight. Collagen supplements are one way to get more protein, but simply eating more protein-rich foods is thought to be just as effective.7
- Bone mass density: Collagen supplements can aid in slowing the breakdown of bone mass that can increase the risk for osteoporosis. Supplementing may even help postmenopausal women build more bone, research shows.8
- Hair loss: Is collagen good for hair? Unfortunately, collagen hasn't been clinically shown to support hair growth or reduce hair thinning or hair loss. Other commonly touted supplement options, like biotin, don't typically make a tremendous difference either, unless you're not getting enough biotin or collagen from your diet.9 Like with skin health during menopause, eating plenty of foods rich in vitamin A, E, and D as well as healthy fats can help your hair look its best.10
How to Take Collagen
Deciding whether to supplement with collagen and how much to take is individualized. If you'd like to try one, look for a highly absorbable collagen like collagen peptides or hydrolyzed collagen. Powdered forms are easy to stir into water, smoothies, or soups. While topical collagen is also available, the benefits are not the same, as collagen molecules are too large to be absorbed into the skin effectively.11
It’s important to always get the green light from your healthcare provider before taking a new supplement. Together, you can discuss the right dose for you and make sure the collagen won't interfere with any medications or other supplements you might be taking.
Keep in mind though that collagen supplements aren't necessary. You can increase your collagen intake simply by eating more collagen-rich meats like pot roast, brisket, or chuck steak; bone broth; or fish.12 Eating more foods that contain the amino acids needed to make collagen can support your body's collagen production too. Fish, poultry, meat, eggs, dairy, legumes, and soy foods like tofu are all good choices.
Make an effort to eat more vitamin C-rich foods (like fruits and vegetables) and zinc-rich foods (like shellfish, nuts, seeds, meat, and whole grains) as well. These nutrients also play an important role in making collagen.13
Who Should Avoid Collagen?
Collagen is generally considered safe. But you should avoid it if you have an egg, fish, or shellfish allergy, since collagen supplements are often derived from these sources.
Finally, be sure to do your research on a collagen product before buying it. Dietary supplements, including collagen, aren't regulated by the FDA, and some may contain heavy metals.14 Be sure to verify that the supplement you choose comes from a reputable brand with transparent manufacturing practices.