Do we all need collagen for health and beauty?

Do we all need collagen for health and beauty?

Collagen is actually the most abundant protein found in our body. In fact, it makes up for a third of the protein found in the human body. Collagen is responsible for the elasticity of our skin and for keeping those wrinkles at bay. It also plays a crucial role in keeping our bones and joints strong and flexible.

The human body has some 28 types of collagen but there are four of them which are most common. The first or Type 1, is what is found in all connective tissue. Type 2 is found in our joints as well as the intervertebral discs while Type 3 is the main component of reticular fibers found in our skin and blood vessels. Type 4 is found in our kidneys, inner ear and eye lens.

Why does the body need collagen?

Collagen is a complex protein with 19 different amino acids (the others are proline, glycine, glutamine, arginine). Your body needs amino acids to build muscle, skin, cartilage, hair and skin for which collagen has the types of amino acids; that help skin repair, hair, nails, and new tissue formation – this also includes repairing ‘leaky gut’ syndrome as the intestinal lining is primarily just muscle and skin (type 1 collagen). Collagen is like the band-aid for a leaky gut, I use it for my 'leaky gut' clients but also for my arthritis clients; as it helps alleviate joint pain symptoms, also boosts energy and helps build muscle mass, therefore reduces fat/cellulite and cleanses the liver (a lot of people go on bone broth fasts – recipe below). While most are using it for their skin, hair and nails; if their digestive system is compromised, it will help in sealing the gut as well (glycine) reduces GI (gastrointestinal) inflammation and aid digestion.

Collagen is the most important component of the connective tissue in our bodies and is found in our bones, tendons, ligaments, muscles and skin. However, as with most things, collagen starts depleting as we age.

What happens is that the existing collagen in the body breaks down and it becomes harder for the body to produce it. So, as we age, our body produces lesser amounts of collagen which leads to dry skin, sagging and the formation of wrinkles. It also leads to stiff and immobile joints.

Signs that your collagen levels are decreasing

  1. Wrinkled and saggy skin
  2. Weakening muscles and muscle aches
  3. Stiff and decreased flexibility in ligaments and tendons
  4. Joint pain or osteoarthritis
  5. Loss of mobility due to joint damage
  6. Gastrointestinal problems due to thinning of digestive tract lining

Some lifestyle choices that damage collagen

Smoking – It damages collagen and elastin, which leads to wrinkles and slow healing of wounds. Nicotine constricts the blood vessels near the skin, thus preventing the flow of oxygen and nutrients to the skin.

Exposure to ultraviolet light – Too much sunlight destroys collagen production and also causes wrinkles. Wear sunscreen if you are outside and avoid excessive exposure to the sun.

Consuming too much sugar and refined carbs – It causes the collagen to become weak, brittle and dry.

Besides the above, autoimmune connective tissue diseases like Lupus, Rheumatoid arthritis, thyroid (hyper or hypo) and scleroderma can also damage collagen.

While it’s a given that as we age, the collagen production in our bodies will come down, one can take care of one’s diet and exercise among other things, to slow down the process of ageing.

Of course, it’s not just about collagen. Factors like diet, exercise, the quality of our life, the quality of our thoughts, our physical environment and many more contribute to it.

How to get collagen from foods

A Mediterranean or macrobiotic diet rich in vegetables, beans, whole grains, nuts and fruits along with some fish or poultry/meat and eggs [if you eat non-vegetarian foods] in moderate amounts could definitely help in keeping your skin and joints supple and healthy.

However, speaking specifically of collagen, some foods that contain gelatin, like bone broth, are a good source of collagen. Other good sources include chicken skin, pork skin, beef and fish. Vitamin C plays a major role in collagen synthesis so it makes sense to include foods rich in this vitamin like citrus fruits, bell peppers and broccoli etc.

One can always increase one’s intake of collagen with supplements since absorption from food may not be easy.

Supplementing Collagen

Collagen supplements are generally sold as collagen peptides, which are basically broken down forms of collagen that can be easily absorbed by the body. They mainly contain amino acids, which are the building blocks of protein, found in our body as long chains of amino acids.

Collagen can also be taken in the form of injections to reduce wrinkles in specific areas like the, nose, eyes (crow’s feet), mouth (frown lines) and forehead. Soft-tissue fillers such as collagen are also used for improving the appearance of depressed or hollow scars and to plump up the lips.

However these days, hyaluronic acid dermal fillers are very popular in adding volume to the skin and filling out wrinkles and lines on the face and neck. Collagen injections are a more natural alternative to dermal fillers.

Other benefits of taking collagen supplements

Protects your joints – Studies have indicated that collagen supplements may reduce joint pain and play a positive role in reducing the symptoms of osteoarthritis, the risk of which increases as we age.

Is there such a thing as vegetarian collagen?

I get asked this question every time I wrote about collagen. You must first understand the science behind collagen.

Many in India are following a vegetarian approach and if you are one of them looking for a plant-based collagen supplement there are none. Collagen in itself when made in supplement form comes from bovine (cows) or marine (fish) forms of collagen. Most collagen is naturally found in bones and connective tissue of animal foods. So the big question is what do vegetarians do?

  1. Eat a balanced diet with the required protein, essential to break down the protein to amino acids to create collagen.
  2. Eating foods that will boost collagen production, as mentioned above.

Vegetarian or plant-based collagen is just a name that is being used for supplements that include collagen-boosting foods. Very often yeasts, bacteria, Vitamin C, pearl powder, Sea buckthorn, and Vitamin E are being used to make vegan collagen supplements. Our bodies also need hyaluronic acid, phytoceramides and antioxidants and a rich array of amino acids to make collagen. Some supplements called collagen peptides (basically shorter chains of amino acids) stimulate the bodies collage.

Do these vegetarian collagen supplements work?

The critical question with consuming anything external is how strong is your gut? This means if you have poor digestion you will not absorb a supplement well in any case, then it's better to first start strengthening your gut. Your body will not assimilate the collagen supplement well, vegetarian or otherwise. Is plant-based collagen effective? Since I use it every once n a while, I would say yes.

Helps to prevent bone loss - Collagen gives our bones structure and strength but as you age your bone mass as well as the collagen in our body deteriorates. Collagen supplements are likely to help prevent conditions like osteoporosis.

Promotes heart health - Since ccollagen gives structure to our arteries, insufficient quantities of it may lead to arteries becoming less flexible and elastic. This could lead to the narrowing of the arteries which may result in a heart attack or stroke.

Others - It is also believed to positively impact the health of our hair and nails.

Tips to Choose Collagen

  1. Choose one that is a pure collagen protein powder hydrolyzed collagen or collagen peptides. Hydrolyzed collagen is supposed to have an absorption rate of 90% compared to 20% or so from foods.
  2. Don't use one with added flavourings.
  3. Check for the 'credibility' of the brand, see product reviews before buying.
  4. There are types of collagen to choose from.
  5. Type I: Important to heal wounds, and tissue repair.
  6. Type II: Builds cartilage.
  7. Type III: Gives skin elasticity.
  8. Type IV: Important for tissues that surround organs (with muscle and fat).
  9. Type V: Makes up a woman's placenta (tissue/hair).
  10. Type X: New bone formation.
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