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Collagen – The Low Down

The collagen supplement market is booming with people using it to prevent sports injuries, improve muscle mass, enhance skin elasticity and strengthen hair and nails.

But do you know what collagen is, how it’s produced in the body or its function?!

Before you decide to add this powder to your breakfast smoothie, let’s take a few steps back and understand the basics.

 

What is Collagen?

Collagen is the most abundant structural protein in the human body, binding cells and tissue together and giving support to the major tissues that make up our bones, muscles, tendons, ligaments and the skin.

The name collagen comes from the Greek word “kólla”, meaning “glue” which is no surprise as it is a component that ‘holds’ the body together and forms a scaffold providing the skin with structure and the bones with strength.

Up until now, collagen has been classified into 26 different types depending on their structure and position in the body.

The more common types of collagen are:

  • Type I: Provides the structure to skin, tendons, hair, nails, vasculature, teeth, bones and ligaments. These account for 90% of the body’s collagen.
  • Type II: Provides elasticity in cartilage and joints and is found in the gut lining too. This collagen also supports gut health and immune function.
  • Type III: Supports the structure of skin, organs, arteries and bones, on a much smaller scale than Type I, by forming a net-like structure.
  • Type IV: Forms part of cellular membranes and is found in layers of the skin.

 

Role of Collagen in the Body

Collagen has many important functions in the body. Here is a quick summary of some of collagen’s main functions.

Skin

It is very well known that collagen provides support and structure for the skin. It works hand in hand with another protein, elastin, to provide the skin its elasticity and flexibility. Collagen makes up 80% of the dry weight of your skin.

Collagen is also a key natural resource found in the skin that is used for the wound healing process.

Bones and Cartilage

Collagen has a very important structural function in bones and cartilage. It helps maintain the integrity of cartilage while the quality of the bone is often determined by its mineral and collagen content.

Often, impaired crosslinking of collagen and collagen abnormalities affect bone strength and can contribute to the development of osteoporosis. Degenerative joint disorders such as osteoarthritis, can result from decreased collagen production.

Muscles

Collagen fibres provide muscles with strength and structure. Collagen fibres make up both skeletal muscle (those found in your arms and legs) and smooth muscle (those that form your organs such as your heart), making up between 1% to 10% of muscle tissue.

Hair and Nails

Collagen is involved in ensuring hair is healthy and strong in a variety of ways. It makes up most of the middle layer of the skin (dermis) in which the roots of hairs sit. Hair is also made up of some of the components that are found in collagen.

Similarly, along with keratin, collagen is the major protein constituent of your nail bed. People with collagen disorders often suffer from nail changes.

Collagen has many other functions such as providing strength, structure and flexibly to blood vessels, arteries, the cornea of the eye as well as some function in gut health.

Collagen Production

Collagen protein is made up of different amino acids (building blocks of protein), vitamins and minerals and is produced through a multi-step process.

Cells produce a small 3D molecular structure, using some building blocks (amino acids), known as procollagen – the precursor to collagen.  These precursors – procollagen – are then modified to the real deal by sticking together and forming fibres known as collagen. This is done through a series of reactions which require, importantly, vitamin C to be present as well as other amino acids and minerals.

Some of the amino acids needed to make collagen can be made by the body using other amino acids and nutrients. Others need to be received from food sources. The key amino acids obtained from our diet include threonine, proline, lysine and glycine.

Other nutrients important for the formation and breakdown of collagen include B vitamins, Iron, Zinc and Copper.

 

Collagen in Food

It is important that your diet contains high-quality protein sources as well as raw seeds and nuts, a variety of fresh vegetables and fruit and grains such as buckwheat and quinoa. If you are consuming a diet rich in whole foods, you most likely do not need to supplement, though there can be exceptions to this rule.

Foods that are high in collagen include bone broth, gelatin (cooked collagen) and chicken or pork skin. The bones and skin are made up of connective tissue and thus collagen.

Research, however, is questioning whether it’s the collagen that is directly found in these foods that increase collagen in the body or whether it’s the other nutrients that make up some of these food items such as the nutrient and mineral rich broth that forms when you boil bones.

 

Things that Damage Collagen

The production of collagen fibres decline with age. Collagen fibres also get damaged as time passes, losing their thickness and strength. It also gets damaged by external factors:

  • Smoking affects collagen production and is associated with pre-mature facial wrinkling.
  • Increased exposure to the suns UV rays is also associated with aging and thinning of the skin.
  • The intake of a high sugar diet affects collagen function, and thus aging, as it cross-links two collagen fibres leaving them both out of action.

 

Collagen Supplements

Collagen powders have been promoted for their use in the beauty sector, digestive health, joint and bone health, wound healing, improved muscle mass and heart health. Supplements are usually found in a hydrolysed form which means they are already broken down into smaller more easily digestible components.

There are some studies that show that collagen supplements that also contain some of the amino acids needed to build collagen may improve joint and bone health, increase muscle mass in the elderly, delay aging of the skin and improve wound healing.

Many of these studies did not show clinical significance, though, and they are also only preliminary studies. For conclusiveness, we need more research.

Bear in mind that other dietary input involving amino acids, vitamins and minerals will also boost collagen production.

 

Bottom line

Collagen is very important in terms of structural formation of many parts of the body. The production of, and strength of, collagen deteriorates with age.

We are still not 100% sure if collagen supplements live up to all the hype though some benefits have been shown. More research in this regard is needed. You should also stop taking supplements immediately if any allergies or side effects are observed and consult a medical professional.

There are many natural food sources that can also boost your collagen production and strength.

Look out for my next blog on Collagen that goes more into the specific nutrients that are needed to naturally increase collagen production in the body and where you can find them.

Nourish yourself to the sunrise.

Written with love ,
Sunrise by HM

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