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What Is Collagen & How It Helps To Support Body Functions?

collagen and its types

Collagen and its types - (Image Credit: Shutterstock); Author picture - (Image Credit: Author)

Definition

The connective tissue in your body is made up of an extracellular matrix which is composed of proteins. Collagen is the main protein found here. It actually makes up nearly 30% of all protein found in the body, making it the most abundant type. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein necessary for healthy skin, nails, hair, muscles, ligaments, and tendons.

It is also good for your teeth, corneas, and blood vessels. It’s all about structural help. For something that has such an important role in our bodies, it has been given little attention until recently when supplement companies have started selling different types on their shelves.

Although generally attracted to customers looking to fight the affects of aging, collagen actually has many purposes and reasons that it can be taken and can help so many different faucets in our bodies.

Types

There are 16 types, but 4 main types which include the following:

Type I: These make up about 90% of all the collagen in your body which is the type that helps with skin, bones, tendons, cartilage, and connective tissue

Type II: This is the type that cushions your joints

Type III: This type provides structural support to your organs, arteries, and muscles

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

Collagen Structure

Time Factor

The problem is that after age 20, collagen rate turnover slows down. This means that with aging, elasticity and the structural support collagen provides, slowly diminishes. Visible signs of this can be seen in your skin. Although the body naturally produces cartilage for us, there are some self-care measures we can take to help this process.

If your body lacks collagen in part due to natural aging the telltale sign is premature aging and wrinkles, caused by lack of moisture retention and elasticity that collagen aids with. Joint pain is another indication because friction is occurring between the bones and ligaments. As collagen fibers decrease, muscles can also become achy. Low back pain seems to be the most common low collagen level muscle related ache.

Blood pressure can also become abnormal because collagen is found in the lining of blood vessels which the blood travels through. Low collagen levels can lead to low blood pressure levels and symptoms of this include fatigue, headaches, and dizziness.

Hair loss, gray hair, and brittle nails can also be due in part to low collagen levels. Collagen can also be used as an appetite suppressant because it helps regulate hormones associated with feeling satiated. Digestion and gut health are also affected by low collagen. Nutrient absorption can be impeded as well as feeling of being bloated become more frequent.

What you can do

The following nutrients are vital for collagen production, so make sure diet is readily sufficient in the following:

  • Vitamin C: This is the major one, so eat plenty of citrus, strawberries, and bell peppers
  • Glycine: It is mostly found in meats, particularly the skin of chicken and pork
  • Proline: This can be found in egg whites, dairy products, asparagus, cabbage, and mushrooms
  • Copper: This is found in cocoa powder, cashews, lentils, and sesame seeds

Supplements as an option

Like anything, ideally, we want to obtain nutrients from the real foods that we eat. However, if we are told that our body doesn’t produce as much collogen with age, we might then wonder what else we can do to possibly expediate or help the process even more.

When taking any supplement, it is always important to consider what supplement you are already taking and/or medications. Consult your doctor.

Collagen Supplement

Here’s what on the market:

  • Hydrolyzed collogen
  • Gelatin (cooked collogen)

The research behind the effects of these is still underway but they’re attractive because manufacturers claim improvements in muscle mass, skin elasticity, and even arthritis relief. Advertisements reveal topical, pill, and powder forms. With the powders people even add it to their coffee. The truth would lie in your own personal results and how you body absorbs the product.

Supplements also claim to help make your bones stronger by making them less dense. Because collagen production lessens, bones do become more brittle with age and the healing process is altered so adding collagen could help. There are claims that collagen supplements also hydrate your skin which helps reduce wrinkles and their appearance. Your hair could also become thicker.

Ageing can be associated with thinning hair or even hair loss in certain areas of the scalp and collagen products say they can help with hair thickness which would then help this problem be less visible. These supplements also clam to help with nails, making them less brittle and grow faster.

Medical perspective

Collagen Production
Collagen is located in the middle layer of your skin. Its role is to help the formation of fibroblasts which are needed for cells to grow. At the same time, collagen is helping replace dead cells. Think of collogen as a protector in your body, helping major organs such as your kidney.

As mentioned, collagen production slows with age which is particularly true for post-menopausal women. Although this is completely normal, when we start to see aging on ourselves, we don’t always embrace it with admiration.

Professional help

A popular approach for women is to have a cosmetic procedure done with collagen fillers. This can help reduce the appearance of wrinkles and even scarring. These fillers either comes from cows or fillers. Medical professionals also use collagen.

Certain wounds that don’t heal, skin grafts, and second-degree burns, all can benefit from collagen dressing. Dentists have even used collagen therapy methods to help with a site in the mouth that needs healing or where a tooth needs to re-generate and grow.

Collagen barriers are even used for some dental surgeries that don’t want the gum to grow or regenerate new cells to let the tooth cells regenerate. Also, at this point in time there is not research to back topical collagen being effective because there is not evidence that the body can absorb collagen through the skin.

What you shouldn’t do:

  • Smoking: This habit reduces collagen production which in turn leads to wrinkles in the skin
  • Eating a lot of sugar and simple carbohydrates: This hurts the ability of collagen to repair itself
  • Too much sun: Exposure to ultraviolent rays in excess reduces collagen production

Final thoughts

Collagen Pills
Collagen has been overlooked and deemphasized in our overall health profile. The use of supplements can be controversial and debatable in terms of what our body can actually absorb or benefit from them. A little extra help with your system can add up and go a long way.

Personally, I put collagen powder in my coffee every morning. This may seem odd, but the powder can in fact be added to hot or cold drinks, it isn’t a shake you drink.

Since taking it for about four weeks, I’m feeling more appetite control in the morning especially since my day starts with intense exercising and there is a long period before I am able to eat again. In a sense, this can be deemed as fasted cardio.

Furthermore, I have seen improvements in my skin, specially, my face and chest areas. My recovery from exercise and soreness has been better especially with knees not feeling so beat up by the end of the day.

Finally, I have liked the coffee creamer taste that collagen adds to my morning beverage. It has been a positive addition to my healthy lifestyle choices and one I will certainly continue.

As a professional natural bodybuilder, I often question any supplement and rarely use them. After performing an exam for school and researching the benefits of collagen, I felt compelled to add this regimen in my own life and feel that if I start it early on before my levels deplete, I can offset some of the signs of premature aging.

There are no specific tests to detect collagen deficiency. A doctor is not able to specifically screen for this exact matter. This also goes with saying that there are no tests for the different types of collagen that may be lacking. There are actually autoimmune deficiencies that can affect the way your body uses collagen and those may help with low level detection.

These include lupus, systemic sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, Sjogren’s syndrome, and polymyositis dermatomyositis. These diseases are all affected by having low collagen which would then affect joints, glands, and muscles.

It is not always easy to pinpoint and then treat auto immune diseases, which again perpetuates why collagen supplements could be beneficial. As with taking anytime of supplement it is always important to consult a physician first. This is recommended for allergies or interactions with other medications that could put you at risk.

Always read nutrition and labels and be weary of products on the market that are laced with added ingredients and unnecessary chemicals. Some products, like anything, or of better quality than others. Collagen may or may not be right for you, however, our bodies do need it and making sure we have adequate amounts should be given attention.

Disclaimer: This article is intended for informational purposes only. The content on our website is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, treatment, or therapy. You should NEVER disregard professional medical advice or delay seeking treatment due to something you have read on our website and we will not be held responsible for any adverse health condition or injury that occurs as a result of doing so.
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Megan Johnson McCullough

Bodybuilder, Author, and Fitness Model

Megan Johnson McCullough is the owner of Every BODY’s Fit, fitness studio in Oceanside CA. She is an NASM Ma...

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