Collagen - What Is It and What Is It Good For?

Collagen - What Is It and What Is It Good For?

Collagen Is The Most Plentiful Protein In The Body.

It has important roles, including providing structures to your skin and helping your blood to clot.

In recent years, it has gained popularity as a nutritional supplement and ingredient in shampoos and body lotions.

But what is collagen? And what is it good for? This article will give you a thorough view of this important protein.

What Is Collagen?

Collagen is the most abundant protein in our body, accounting for about a third of its protein composition.

It is one of the major building blocks of bones, skin, muscles, tendons and ligaments. Collagen is also found in many other body parts, including blood vessels, corneas and teeth.

You can imagine it as the "glue" that holds all these things together. In fact, the word comes from Greek word "kolla," which means glue. Below is an illustration of collagen's molecular structure:

What Does It Do In Your Body?

There are at least 16 types of collagen. The four main types are type I, II, III and IV. Here is a closer look at the four main types of collagen and their role in our body.

Type I : This type accounts for 90% of your body's collagen and is made of densely packed fibers. It provides structure to skin, bones, tendons, fibrous cartilage, connective tissue, and teeth.

Type II : This type is made up of loosely packed fibers and is found in elastic cartilage which cushions joints.

Type III : This type supports the structure of muscles, organs and arteries.

Type IV : This type helps with filtration and is found in layers of your skin.

As we age, our body produces less and lower-quality collagen.

One of the visible signs of this is in your skin which becomes less firm and supple. Cartilage also weakens with age.

Nutrients That Increases Collagen Production

All collagen starts off as procollagen. 

Our body produces procollagen by combining two amino acids : glycine and proline. This process uses vitamin C.

You can help your body to produce this important protein by making sure you get plenty of the following nutrients :

Vitamin C : Large amounts are found in citrus fruits, bell peppers and strawberries.

Proline : Large amounts are found in egg whites, wheat germ, dairy products, cabbage, asparagus and mushrooms.

Glycine : Large amounts are found in pork skin, chicken skin and gelatin but glycine is also found in various protein-containing foods.

Copper : Large amounts are found in organ meats, sesame seeds, cocoa powder, cashews and lentils.

In addition, our body needs high quality protein that contains the amino acids needed to make new proteins. Meat, poultry, seafood, dairy, legumes and tofu are all excellent sources of amino acids.

Thing That Damage Collagen

Perhaps its even more important to avoid the following collagen-destroying behaviors:

Sugar and refined carbs : Sugar interferes with collagen's ability to repair itself. Minimize your intake of added sugar and refined carbs.

Too much sunshine : Ultraviolet radiation can reduce collagen production. Avoid excessive sun exposure.

Smoking : Smoking reduces collagen production. This can impair wound healing and lead to wrinkles.

Some autoimmune disorders, such as lupus, can also damage collagen.

Natural Food Sources

Collagen is found in the connective tissues of animal foods. For example, it is found in large amounts in chicken and pork skin.

One particularly rich source is bone broth, which is made by boiling down the bones of chicken and other animals.

Gelatin is basically cooked collagen which contains very high amounts of amino acids needed to produce it.

But there is a debate over whether consuming collagen-rich foods actually increases the levels in our body.

When you consume protein, its broken down into amino acids and then reassembled, so the collagen you eat would not translate into higher levels in your body.

Benefits Of Collagen Supplements

Two types of supplements are gaining popularity : hydrolyzed collagen (collagen hydrolysate) and gelatin. Gelatin is created when collagen is cooked.

These processes have broken the large protein down into smaller peptides, which are more easily absorbed in the body.

There are not many studies on collagen supplements but those that exist show promise for benefits in the following areas :

Muscle Mass : A 2019 study in recreation active man showed that a combination of collagen peptide supplements and strength training increases muscle mass and strength more than a placebo.

Arthritis : A 2017 animal study looked at the effects of giving collagen supplements to mice with post-traumatic osteoarthritis (PTOA). The results indicate that supplementation may play a protective role in the disease's development and progression.

Skin Elasticity : Women who took a supplement showed improvement in skin appearance and elasticity in a 2019 study. Collagen is also used in topical treatments to improve the appearance of skin by minimizing lines and wrinkles.

Some alternative medicine practitioners also advocate using collagen supplements to treat leaky gut syndrome.

Safety And Side Effects

So far, there is limited information available on the safety and efficacy of collagen supplements.

The potential side effects of gelatin supplements include a lingering unpleasant taste and sensations of heaviness and heartburn.

Also, if you are allergic to the source of the supplement, you could have an allergic reaction.

How To Supplement

Collagen peptide comes in a powder that can be easily incorporated into foods.

The peptide form does not gel, so you can mix it into smoothies, soups or baked items without affecting the texture.

You can use gelatin to make homemade jello or gummies. 

When considering supplements, you should look for a high quality source. 

Other Uses

Collagen has many uses from food to medication to manufacturing.

For thousands of years, collagen was used to create glue. Today, it is still used to create strings for musical instruments.

In food, collagen is heated to create gelatin and used to make casings for sausages. In the medical field, it is used as a filler in plastic surgery and as a dressing for severe burns.

The Bottom Line

Collagen is an important protein that provides structure for many parts of the body. Interestingly, the foods and nutrients you eat can help your body to produce this protein.

Alternatively, collagen supplements may be beneficial as well. Some preliminary studies showed that it may improve skin quality, muscle function and reduce the pain associated with osteoarthritis.

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