Collagen, the glue that holds everything together
Posted on 23rd August 2023 at 07:25
You may have heard about Collagen before, although most likely in connection with skin creams for “more mature skin” that promise a radiant, wrinkle free complexion. And, if that sounds far too good to be true, then you’d be right as you’ll find out a bit later.
However, Collagen is much more important than simply helping provide an age defying complexion (!). It’s a vital component of the body itself and plays an important part in good health.
So, this week, we’re going to take a closer look at Collagen, starting with the obvious question.
What is Collagen?
Collagen is a protein – and not just any protein, but the most abundant one the body. It makes up about 30% of the protein found in the body and is one of the basic building blocks of the Skin, Muscles, Bones, Tendons and Ligaments, as well as Connective Tissues. But that’s just the start. It’s also found in the Organs, Blood Vessels and lining of the Digestive System.
What does it do?
Collagen’s job is to provide support and strength. It provides the structure – the framework if you like – giving strength and support throughout the body. This is why it’s such an important building block in the Musculo Skeletal system, Skin and Connective Tissues.
As well as this, it plays a key role in replacing old Skin cells and the growth of new cells deep in the Dermis, the middle layer of the Skin. Collagen also makes up the protective coating – the tough elastic “bag” – surrounding Organs, as well as providing structure and elasticity to the Skin. Finally, it also plays an important part in blood clotting.
More generally, Collagen also plays a part in the immune response, communication between cells and the repair of cell damage.
Where does Collagen come from?
Like all proteins, Collagen is made from amino acids. It’s produced in the Connective Tissue, the tissue found between and around other tissues and organs in the body. If you think of Connective Tissue as being like the stuffing keeping everything in place you won’t go far wrong – although this may not be a picture you’d like to dwell too long on (!).
Without going into too much detail, Collagen is produced using three amino acids – Proline, Glycine and Hydroxyproline – as well as Vitamin C, Zinc, Copper and Manganese.
So far, 28 different types of Collagen have been found, with 5 of these being the most widespread and important. Top of the list comes Type 1, making up about 90% of the Collagen found in the body. It’s found in the Skin, Bones, Tendons and Ligaments. Next comes Type 2 giving elasticity to Cartilage. Type 3 is found in Muscles, Arteries and Organs. Type 4 in the Skin and Type 5 in the Cornea in the Eyes as well as the Skin and Hair.
Now the important bit, Collagen and the ageing process
As we all know – to a lesser or greater extent (!) – our bodies function less efficiently as we age and this is where Collagen comes in. Sadly, as we get older, our bodies naturally produce less Collagen. At the same time, that produced is not of as good quality AND breaks down much more quickly. While this affects everyone, it particularly hits women after Menopause.
At the present time, there’s no specific blood test to check Collagen levels. However, there are all those telltale ageing signs which we won’t dwell too much on. Wrinkles, muscle stiffening or weakness and the like. Others are less obvious, so easily overlooked. They include digestive problems, due to the thinning of the lining of the digestive tract and problems with blood flow, both of which are due to a weakening of the supporting structures.
What else affects Collagen?
There are no prizes for guessing that lifestyle factors play a large part in Collagen levels – and its quality. The top three are:
Smoking, which not only affects Collagen production but also damages it, leading to wrinkles and slow wound healing. At the same time, nicotine causes the narrowing of blood vessels close to the Skin’s surface, reducing the amount of oxygen and nutrients reaching the cells below, so exacerbating matters further.
Too much sugar and refined carbs which also disrupt the production of Collagen, as well as making the end result drier and more brittle.
Overexposure to damaging UV sunlight which not only reduces the production of Collagen, but causes it to break down more quickly. At the same time, too much UV light causes skin damage and wrinkles… So, all the commonsense advice about avoiding excess sun exposure apply. If you need a quick reminder, click here.
It’s also been found that Autoimmune Diseases – where the body’s the Immune System attacks its own tissues – can damage Collagen. So, diseases such as Lupus, Rheumatoid Arthritis and Scleroderma.
Where does Collagen come from?
The body can’t absorb Collagen directly but needs the raw materials – amino acids and other nutrients – to manufacture it. So, eating Collagen rich foods doesn’t directly increase Collagen levels but, indirectly, provides the raw materials. And, there are no prizes for guessing where these come from (!). A wholefood diet based around fruits, vegetables, salad, beans and nuts as well as healthy protein from seafood, grass fed meats, dairy and eggs.
Collagen supplements – Collagen Peptides – are now available, although the jury is still out on how effective they may be. It’s also important to remember that, as these provide the building blocks for ALL proteins, the body will use them where most needed and this may not be where we’d like (!).
So, what about all those age defying skin creams?
While these creams may help moisturise and plump up the surface of the Skin – so reducing the appearance of wrinkle – very little gets physically absorbed into the Skin. After all, one of the main functions of the Skin is to act as a physical barrier and stop substances passing through it and going deeper into the body. This means their effects are always going to be limited. And, yes, we appreciate that people may not want to hear this! So, a good quality natural moisturiser will produce similar results for a fraction of the cost.
It may not be one of the most exciting topics (!) but Collagen plays an important part in our healthy and fitness. And, once again, the message is the same. Eating a good diet while avoiding poor lifestyle choices whose effects spread far and wide.
As always, the choice is yours.
Photograph by unknown author
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