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October 18, 2021
Collagen for Bone Health: Why It's Essential for Women Over 50
Are normal, day-to-day tasks (i.e. laundry, putting away the dishes, gardening, walking, etc) taking longer to finish due to stiff, achy joints?
Do your hips feel like they’re made of concrete when you get out of the car after a long road trip?
Does your daily schedule revolve around when your hips, knees, or hands aren’t throbbing?
If you’re thinking, “This is just what happens when you get old”, think again.
As you age, your body begins to produce less collagen, which completely alters joint function, mobility, and bone health.
In this article, I’ll share exactly what you need to know about collagen for bone and joint health and what you need to do to eliminate brittle bones, achy joints, and deteriorating cartilage.
What Is Collagen?
Collagen is the most abundant—and arguably the most important—protein in your body (1). Like other proteins, collagen serves as a building block for several body parts including your:
- Blood vessels
- And More
We have a lot to thank collagen for…
It’s what gives your skin its full and youthful look.
It keeps your ligaments (the rubbery material in between your joints) intact and flexible.
And it prevents bone loss by protecting the integrity of your bones.
You may notice something in common with these collagen benefits…
They’re all perks of being young, but seem to gradually disappear with age.
Here’s why: You’re born with ample amounts of collagen (that’s why babies have smooth, plump skin—and no stiff joints).
However, once you reach about 30 years old, your body’s natural ability to replenish collagen levels begins to decrease.
By 50, you’re left with HALF the amount of collagen that you started with.
What Happens When Collagen Levels Decrease?
As you’ve probably guessed, when collagen decreases, your body doesn’t look or feel like it used to.
Thankfully, your body can absorb collagen when taken orally. During caveman days, this was accomplished by eating a diet high in bone broth, organ meats, and eating more of the grisly parts of animals that people tend to avoid today.
Don’t worry, I’m not telling you to go all out and eat organ meats every day. Instead, there are easy-to-consume collagen supplements that you can add to your water, coffee, smoothies, and more.
If the following activities cause you trouble, then you may be deficient in collagen:
- Bending down to pick up laundry basket
- Pulling groceries out of the car
- Bending over to put socks and shoes on
- Kneeling to help your kids or grandkids in the bathtub
- Walking up and downstairs
Collagen’s Role in Bone and Joint Health
Collagen is found in what’s called the extracellular matrix (ECM). Its main job is cross-linking (think: interweaving) the proteins found in your ECM.
By interweaving these proteins, a scaffolding is created that assists collagen in holding your body together and protecting vital organs and joints.
Think of the ECM as the beams that create the scaffolding on the side of a building. Without those strong beams, it would be very difficult to build and support the internal structure (2).
Essentially, collagen is what provides density and strength to your bones. It lives in your bone’s ECM and is involved in regulating a number of processes that contribute to bone growth.
- Regulating the ability of your cells to bind to one another (i.e. cell adhesion)
- Assisting in the growth and transformation of cells, including cell differentiation
- Inducing the production of new bone by upregulating structural cells (i.e. osteoblast cells)
- Supporting the healthy breakdown of bone
Aside from its direct impact on bone growth and strength, collagen also assists in your bone mineral density...
How Collagen Increases Bone Mineral Density
Bone mineral density (BMD) is an important marker for bone health as it measures the mass or density of your bones. As you age, BMD issues may arise and could eventually lead to osteoporosis (a condition where your bones become less dense and more prone to break).
Collagen consumption increases BMD by…
- Increasing resorption (i.e. remodeling) of old bone in the cycle of new bone growth (5, 6).
- Enhancing the ability of your bones to utilize calcium and other essential minerals that create the structure of your bones (6).
- Comprising nearly 40% of the cartilage that surrounds the ends of your bones where joints meet (7, 8). Increasing cartilage is what reduces bone-on-bone friction.
3 Reasons Why Collagen Declines In Your Bones
Three common reasons why collagen declines in your bone matrix are due to (2):
- The formation of advanced glycation end products (AGEs), which is caused by an accumulation of sugars in your bone tissue.
- The natural deterioration of collagen, which disrupts the structure and function of the molecules.
- The disruption of an enzyme called lysyl oxidase, which is responsible for the cross-linking of proteins in your extracellular matrix.
Remember: As collagen production declines with age, your joints may take the impact. It’s not your fault, though. Wear and tear is the most common cause of joint pain, and all it takes to reverse this is a high-quality grass-fed collagen supplement.
Keep in mind that the most common ailment that develops with age is osteoarthritis. This causes cartilage to break down even faster, resulting in pain, stiffness, and inflammation (9).
5 Science-Backed Ways Collagen Restores Your Bones and Joints
As collagen naturally declines with age, research shows that supplementing with a high-quality collagen powder has proven to be one of the most impactful preventative measures you can take.
Here are 5 science-backed ways collagen can restore your bones and joints:
1. Bone Mineral Density
As previously mentioned, collagen plays a key role in maintaining bone mineral density (BMD). It assists your bone matrix in utilizing calcium—one of the most essential nutrients required for bone strength.
Postmenopausal women are the most vulnerable group for conditions like osteoporosis and osteopenia. This is due to the changes in estrogen that take place during menopause, which directly impacts bone formation and resorption (10).
In one study, researchers aimed to investigate the impact that collagen supplementation would have on the BMD of postmenopausal women. The study participants took either 5 grams of collagen protein or a placebo daily for 12 months.
The researchers found that the collagen group experienced significant increases in BMD, along with a shift in bone markers that indicated an increase in bone formation, with a simultaneous decrease in the breakdown (6).
2. Joint Extracellular Matrix
Collagen is not only a crucial component of the extracellular matrix (ECM) of your bones and joints, but it also plays a vital role in the production of cells that support these tissues.
Specifically, research shows that collagen supplementation can increase chondrocyte formation, which is a crucial component of cartilage tissue. As you know, cartilage is an essential component of joint health, especially when it comes to preventing bone-on-bone friction (11).
3. Osteoporosis and Osteopenia
Osteoporosis means "porous bones" and is a condition marked by significant decreases in bone mineral density (BMD).
When your bones become porous, they lose density, strength, and are more likely to break.
The midway point between healthy, strong bones and osteoporosis is called osteopenia. This is classified as the beginning stages of BMD loss.
As you age, the risk for osteoporosis and bone fractures increases as hormonal changes impact bone density, along with the natural decline of collagen. In fact, one in two women and one in four men over age 50 will have an osteoporosis-related fracture (12).
For decades, research has pointed to vitamin D and calcium as the go-to nutrients to support bone density and protect against osteoporosis (13). But what about collagen?
In one study, a group of postmenopausal women with osteopenia were given vitamin D, calcium, and either a placebo or a collagen supplement for three months.
Calcium and vitamin D alone can improve bone turnover, but the addition of collagen enhanced this effect and significantly improved bone metabolism and markers of bone loss (14).
Osteoarthritis is a condition that occurs when your cartilage—which protects the ends of your bones—wears down over time.
This results in damage to your joints and bone-on-bone friction, which includes pain, stiffness, tenderness, loss of flexibility, and swelling.
Common risk factors for osteoarthritis include:
- Age (the most common)
- Repeated stress on your joints
- Certain metabolic conditions that impact the health of bones and joints (15)
Studies show that when collagen is ingested orally, it tends to accumulate in is your cartilage, which is excellent news for joint health (11).
Whatsmore, several studies have shown that collagen supplementation significantly reduces pain and mobility in osteoarthritic patients (16).
In one placebo-controlled study, a group of elderly women with osteoarthritis were provided collagen supplementation for six months. These women had been suffering from joint pain (specifically in their knees) which impeded their mobility.
By the end of the trial, the participants showed improved joint health markers, a significant increase in mobility, and reduced joint pain (17).
5. Activity-Related Joint Pain
Aside from age-related osteoarthritis, activity-related joint pain is another common condition that arises from the breakdown of cartilage.
Research shows that when athletes suffering from joint pain supplemented with collagen, they experienced vast improvements in their joint health. Thus, collagen supplementation has the ability to keep individuals active while preventing future injury.
In one study, a group of athletes with activity-related joint pain was given collagen supplements for 24-weeks.
The Results: Collagen improved several joint health markers, including joint pain while walking, standing, at rest, and while running. Due to collagen's ability to stimulate cartilage growth, supplementation may even reduce the risk of future joint deterioration (18).
The Bottom Line
Maintaining healthy levels of collagen becomes vitally important as you age. Due to its integral role in bone strength, density, and joint health, collagen is one of the most essential nutrients your body needs to maintain the health of your entire musculoskeletal system.
In fact, I’d argue that it’s the most important.
If you’ve tried collagen supplements to no avail, don’t fret! You may have just chosen the wrong collagen supplement or you simply weren’t taking enough.
So, how do you know which collagen supplement to choose? How can you be sure which one is safe and effective? How much should you be taking to see (and feel) results? Check out this article for answers.
As a doctor of Physical Therapy, Senior Wellness Expert, and co-founder of NativePath, Dr. Walding has helped hundreds of patients improve their quality of life from the inside out—by speaking, writing, and educating others on how to live life a little more #onthepath.
This content is for informational and educational purposes only. It is not intended to provide medical advice or to take the place of such advice or treatment from a personal physician. All readers/viewers of this content are advised to consult their doctors or qualified health professionals regarding specific health questions. Neither Dr. Chad Walding nor the publisher of this content takes responsibility for possible health consequences of any person or persons reading or following the information in this educational content. All viewers of this content, especially those taking prescription or over-the-counter medications, should consult their physicians before beginning any nutrition, supplement, or lifestyle program.