Most of us have a good idea of what collagen is and what its expected best-known use is – smoothing out the wrinkles on our face. But research suggests there's more to collagen than just taking years off our facial appearance. Collagen is a protein; not only that, it also happens to be our body's most abundant protein, and it can be found in our bones, muscles, skin and tendons, as well as in blood vessels, the corneas of our eyes, and our teeth. It has been described as the glue that holds our body together. Per medicalnewstoday.com, collagen is a hard, insoluble, and fibrous substance that comprises more than 30 percent of all the protein found in our body. It is naturally produced as secretions from a variety of cells, but mostly by those that make up our connective tissue. Among collagen's more noteworthy attributes is that some types of collagen fibrils, gram for gram, are stronger than steel, per medicalnewstoday.com. Collagen is often hard at work in the middle layer of our skin, known as the dermis, where it has a role in producing a fibrous network of cells – fibroblasts – where new cells can sprout, which helps explain its role in replacing and restoring dead skin cells. Some forms of collagen can even act as a protective shell for some of the body's more vulnerable organs, such as the kidneys.
Different Types of CollagenThere are more than 15 types of collagen, per healthline.com, although the most common are Types I, II, III, and IV:
- Type I. About 90 percent of all the collagen in our body is Type I, which consists of dense fibers that provide structure to skin, bones, tendons, fibrous cartilage, connective tissue and teeth.
- Type II. Its fibers are less tightly packed than Type I's. Considering its nature, it's no surprise it is found in elastic cartilage, which provides a cushion for our joints.
- Type III. Helps support the formation of muscles, organs, and arteries.
- Type IV. Contributes to our body's filtration function and is the collagen found within our skin layers.
Collagen's Health BenefitsAnother appealing characteristic of collagen is its versatility when it comes to medical uses, thanks to its variety of functions and its natural occurrence in that once used it can be broken back down, converted, and re-absorbed into the body. There, it is reformed as dense solids of lattice-like gels – essentially, recycle itself so it can answer the bell for a second round of fighting on behalf of our health. Here are some of the health benefits provided by collagen, which is becoming more popular in nutritional supplement form, and can even be found nowadays in shampoos and body lotions. As always, be sure to check with your physician or other appropriate health care professional before using any form of collagen for health-related purposes:
- Improve skin elasticity and texture. This includes enhancing the skin's contours, filling out depressions, and removing lines and wrinkles from the face. If gaps that need to be filled in are extensive, other materials such as fat, silicone, or implants might be needed. Per healthline.com, a 2014 study in which women were given a collagen supplement demonstrated this collagen characteristic of improving skin elasticity.
- Tissue regeneration. This often comes into play with some forms of oral surgery, where collagen-based membranes capable of inducing the growth of certain kinds of cells can be used in periodontal and implant therapy.
- Healing wounds. Collagen can help with a wide variety of types of wounds to include chronic wounds impervious to other types of treatments, second-degree burns, and areas accommodating skin grafts. Collagen does this by pulling new skin cells to the affected area, providing a platform for the growth of new tissue.
- Osteoarthritis pain alleviation. Per medicalnewstoday.com, collagen supplements were effective in reducing pain and bolstering joint function in patients suffering from osteoarthritis. It was the accumulation of collagen in the cartilage that was deemed the key factor. Per rodalesorganiclife.com, studies have also hinted that collagen can also reduce the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis.
- Increase muscle size. This was borne out in a 2015 study, cited by healthline.com, in which elderly men given collagen peptide supplements and following a strength-training program increased muscle mass and strength more than the men who were given a placebo.
- Assist gut health. For real. Per rodalesorganiclife.com, evidence exists that amino acids found in collagen, such as glycine, might decrease gastrointestinal inflammation, assist with digestion, and perhaps treat leaky gut syndrome.
Collagen Eventually Needs an Outside BoostBe forewarned that collagen production starts diminishing as we age, with a considerable drop typical by the time we hit our 60s. This is why we see a gradual reduction in the structural integrity of the skin, with wrinkles forming and joint cartilage weakening. This is where collagen supplementation can help pick up the slack, both figuratively and literally. A number of nutrients have also been pegged as helpful when it comes to providing extra collagen. Per medicalnewstoday.com, these include:
- Proline - which is found in egg whites, meat, cheese, soy, and cabbage.
- Anthocyanidins – a number of berries, to include blackberries, blueberries, cherries, and raspberries have a supply.
- Vitamin C – oranges, strawberries, peppers, and broccoli.
- Copper – shellfish, nuts, red meat, and some drinking water.
- Vitamin A – animal-sourced foods as well as some plant foods in the form of beta-carotene.