Collagen For Bone Health: How It Works and Why You Need It

Collagen As a Crucial Nutrient For Bone on Bone Damage

By Dr. Chad Walding, DPT
November 10th, 2020

Collagen is the most abundant protein in your body, and it plays a vital role in the health of your bones and joints[1]

Joint pain, bone mineral density, and even the strength of your bones are all directly impacted by the health of the collagen in your body. 

The problem is, as you age your collagen production naturally begins to decline. And with the slow decline in collagen production, many people also experience issues with joint and bone health. 

In this article, you'll learn:

  • The essential role that collagen plays in bone and joint health
  • What happens to your bones and joints as you age
  • How collagen impacts bone mineral density, osteoporosis, osteoarthritis, and more

The Role Of Collagen In Bone and Joint Health

Collagen supports the structure and function of your body in a variety of ways. As a crucial component of your connective tissue and specifically the extracellular matrix that provides scaffolding to your body, collagen is essential for not only holding your body together but for protecting vital organs and joints. 

In your bones, collagen is essential for bone mineral density and strength. It lives in the extracellular matrix (ECM) of your bones and is involved in regulating a number of processes that contribute to bone growth; these include[2]:

  • Regulating cell adhesion, the ability of your cells to bind to one another
  • Assisting in the growth and transformation of cells, including cell differentiation
  • Inducing the production of new bone by upregulating osteoblast cells (structural cells)
  • Supporting the healthy breakdown of bone

The health of your bones ECM is directly related to the strength of your bones. As this type of tissue provides structure, the healthier and more robust your ECM, the healthier and more robust your bones will be[3]

Collagen is specifically involved in the cross-linking of proteins in your ECM, which you can think of as the beams that create scaffolding on the side of a building. Without those strong beams, it would be very difficult to build and support the internal structure (your bones)[4]

Aside from its direct impact on bone growth and strength, collagen also assists in your bone mineral density(BMD). BMD is a marker for bone health as it measures the mass or density of your bones. As you age, BMD issues may present and could eventually lead to osteoporosis (a condition where your bones become less dense and more prone to break). 

Collagen increases bone BMD by affecting bone mineralization, enhancing the ability of your bones to utilize calcium and other essential minerals that create the structure of your bones[5].

And yet another way that collagen supports bone health is through its involvement in your joints, the area where two bones meet. Your cartilage, ligaments, and tendons are all made up of connective tissues that play a crucial role in joint health. The primary component of these connective tissues? Collagen. 

Cartilage is a rubbery tissue that covers your bones' surface at the joint, reducing the bone on bone friction when you move. Ligaments connect your bones together and surround the joint to give support and limit the bones movement. And tendons connect your bones to the muscles that are responsible for moving them[6]

Bone and Joint Health and The Aging Process

As you age, you may begin to experience issues with bone health and integrity. This can be due to several reasons, mostly rooted in your bones' mineral content, along with the health of your bones ECM. Collagen naturally begins to decline with age, and therefore directly impacts bone health. Three of the most common reasons that you may experience collagen decline in your bone ECM are[7]:

  1. The formation of advanced glycation end products (AGEs) due to the accumulation of sugars in your bone tissue
  2. Natural degradation of collagen, which disrupts the structure and function of the molecules.
  3. The disruption of an enzyme called lysyl oxidase, which is responsible for the cross-linking of proteins in your extracellular matrix.

As collagen production declines with age, your joints may also feel the impact. The most common cause of joint pain is the wear and tear of your cartilage over time. If you aren’t producing enough collagen to maintain healthy cartilage, the result is bone on bone friction[8]

Over years of use, this crucial connective tissue responsible for padding your bones can begin to wear away from rubbing together. Osteoarthritis is a common issue that develops with age, which causes your cartilage to break down -- resulting in pain, stiffness, and inflammation[9]

Collagen Supplementation for Joints and Bones: What The Research Says

Maintaining healthy levels of collagen in your body becomes vitally important as you age. Due to its 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. 

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’s what the research has shown us so far:

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 breakdown[5].

Joint Extracellular Matrix (ECM)

Collagen is not only a crucial component of the ECM of your bones and joints, but it also plays a vital role in the synthesis 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 learned previously, cartilage is an essential component of joint health, specifically for preventing bone on bone friction[11].

Osteoporosis and Osteopenia

Osteoporosis means "porous bones" and is a condition marked by significant decreases in bone mineral density (BMD). When your bones become more porous, they are less dense and strong and much more prone to break. Osteopenia is a midway point between healthy, strong bones and osteoporosis; it's 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 degradation of collagen. 

Nutrients that support bone health like vitamin D and calcium are well-known to support bone density and protect against osteoporosis[12]. However, due to its ability to increase BMD, researchers have begun to experiment with collagen as an additional nutrient for the prevention of osteoporosis. 

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. The results showed that although calcium and vitamin D alone can improve markers of bone turnover, the addition of collagen enhanced this effect and significantly improved bone metabolism and markers of bone loss[13]

Osteoarthritis

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, along with side effects of bone on bone friction, including pain, stiffness, tenderness, loss of flexibility, and swelling. 

One of the most common risk factors for osteoarthritis is age, in addition to obesity, repeated stress on your joints, genetics, and certain metabolic conditions that impact the health of bones and joints[14]

A number of studies have found that when ingested orally, one of the areas that collagen tends to accumulate in is your cartilage, which is excellent news for joint health[11]. Furthermore, several studies have shown that collagen supplementation significantly impacts pain and mobility in osteoarthritic patients[15]

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, including a significant increase in mobility and reduction in joint pain[16].

Activity-Related Joint Pain

Aside from age-related osteoarthritis, activity-related joint pain is another common condition that results from the breakdown of cartilage. 

Research shows that when athletes who are suffering from joint pain supplement with collagen, they experience joint health improvements that can keep them active and may prevent future injury. 

In one study, a group of athletes with activity-related joint pain was given collagen supplements for 24-weeks. The results showed that collagen improved several joint health markers, including joint pain while walking, standing, at rest, and while running. The researchers suggested that due to collagen's ability to stimulate cartilage growth, supplementation may even reduce the risk of future joint deterioration[17]

Takeaway

Caring for your bones and joints is crucial no matter what stage of life you're in. However, as you age, maintaining the health of your musculoskeletal system becomes twice as important as hormonal and structural changes start to occur. 

Along with an active lifestyle, consuming the appropriate nutrients for bone and joint health is an essential piece of the puzzle. 

Collagen is one of the most vital nutrients for bone and joints, as it makes up a significant component of your connective tissue that supports your physical structure. In particular, type one collagen makes up approximately 95% of the collagen in your bones[18]

Unfortunately, as you age, your collagen production naturally starts to decline, which makes supplementing with collagen vital. 

The good news is, if you’re at all concerned about the health of your bones or joints, it’s never too late to begin nourishing and supporting your body with a high-quality collagen supplement.



References:

  1. Deshmukh, Shrutal Narendra, et al. "Enigmatic insight into collagen." Journal of oral and maxillofacial pathology: JOMFP 20.2 (2016): 276.
  2. Tzaphlidou, Margaret. "Bone architecture: collagen structure and calcium/phosphorus maps." Journal of biological physics 34.1-2 (2008): 39-49.
  3. Lin, Xiao, et al. "The bone extracellular matrix in bone formation and regeneration." Frontiers in Pharmacology 11 (2020).
  4. Viguet-Carrin, S., P. Garnero, and P. D. Delmas. "The role of collagen in bone strength." Osteoporosis international 17.3 (2006): 319-336.
  5. König, Daniel, et al. "Specific collagen peptides improve bone mineral density and bone markers in postmenopausal women—A randomized controlled study." Nutrients 10.1 (2018): 97.
  6. https://www.stanfordchildrens.org/en/topic/default?id=anatomy-of-a-joint-85-P00044#:~:text=Joints%20consist%20of%20the%20following,of%20movement%20within%20a%20joint
  7. Viguet-Carrin, S., P. Garnero, and P. D. Delmas. "The role of collagen in bone strength." Osteoporosis international 17.3 (2006): 319-336.
  8. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/arthritis/symptoms-causes/syc-20350772
  9. https://www.scielo.br/pdf/rbgg/v19n1/1809-9823-rbgg-19-01-00153.pdf
  10. Ji, Meng-Xia, and Qi Yu. "Primary osteoporosis in postmenopausal women." Chronic diseases and translational medicine 1.1 (2015): 9.
  11. Bello, Alfonso E., and Steffen Oesser. "Collagen hydrolysate for the treatment of osteoarthritis and other joint disorders: a review of the literature." Current medical research and opinion 22.11 (2006): 2221-2232.
  12. Sunyecz, John A. "The use of calcium and vitamin D in the management of osteoporosis." Therapeutics and clinical risk management 4.4 (2008): 827.
  13. Argyrou, Chrysoula, et al. "Effect of calcium and vitamin D supplementation with and without collagen peptides on bone turnover in postmenopausal women with osteopenia." Journal of Musculoskeletal & Neuronal Interactions 20.1 (2020): 12.
  14. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/osteoarthritis/symptoms-causes/syc-20351925
  15. Oesser, S., et al. "Efficacy of specific bioactive collagen peptides in the treatment of joint pain." Osteoarthritis and Cartilage 24 (2016): S189.
  16. Jiang, Jian-Xin, et al. "Collagen peptides improve knee osteoarthritis in elderly women: A 6-month randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study." Agro Food Industry Hi Tech 25.2 (2014): 19-23.
  17. Clark, Kristine L., et al. "24-Week study on the use of collagen hydrolysate as a dietary supplement in athletes with activity-related joint pain." Current medical research and opinion 24.5 (2008): 1485-1496.
  18. https://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT03999775 


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