What is collagen?
Collagen is an important protein structure that is found in all connective tissue of the body. Connective tissue provides structure, protection, and connection for all the bodies structures. It surrounds organs, supports the skeleton, connects bones w each other, and keeps skin smooth and elastic. Collagen is the single most abundant protein in the animal kingdom, and its primary purpose is to help tissue withstand stretching forces.
Collagen is made up of three amino acids: glycine, proline, and hydroxyproline. The body binds these three “building blocks” together in a powerful triple helix structure. (1.) This molecular structure is responsible for collagens incredible tensile strength. In act, gram for gram it is stronger than steel! (1.)
There are at least 27 different types of collagen in the human body. Types 1,2, and 3 are by far the most prominent. Each type has a unique structure and function in the body. While it's true that all collagen matters, the type of supplement a person chooses should be based on their specific goals. Let's look at each type so you can decide which is best for you!
This type of collagen is most prolific in the human body. It can be found in tendons, ligaments, bone, skin, and teeth. Type 1 molecules pack tightly together, side-by-side, forming fibrils. These fibrils have enormous tensile strength (1), meaning they be intensely stretched without being broken.
Supplementing with this type of collagen may improve the health of bones, tendons, and skin. Benefits include:
- Smoother, more elastic skin
- Stronger bones
- Improved joint stability
Collagen type 2 is the “cartilage collagen”. Cartilage is the squishy substance that provides cushion for all your joints. It can be found supporting your ears, nose, and joints. Cartilage breakdown is the #1 cause of joint pain.
Supplementing with oral type 2 collagen has been shown (6.) to reduce pain and function in joints of patients with osteoarthritis. You may consider this supplement if you want to:
- Improve joint function
- Decrease joint pain
- Prevent osteoarthritis
This collagen type makes up much of the extracellular matrix, helping to provide support and structure for various organs in the body. It is often found alongside type 1 collagen, helping to build powerful fibrils. It is associated with gastrointestinal wellbeing and general health.
Type 3 collagen supplements are associated with:
- Gut health
- Improved skin elasticity
- Skin hydration
Why use collagen supplements?
In its youth, your body is quite good at producing and repairing collagen. Cells in your connective tissues called fibroblasts are constantly at work repairing damaged structures and piecing together amino acids to build new collagen. Unfortunately, our fibroblasts age right along with us. (2.) After about 25, fibroblasts begin to show signs of decreasing output and inability to keep up with their work. By the time we reach our golden years, our fibroblasts spend most of the day napping and our skin shows the signs.
Collagen supplements, when taken by mouth, provide your body with the building blocks required to make and repair its own collagen. Supplemental collagen is fully digested, broken down into the amino acid building blocks that our fibroblasts use to do their work. The idea is that if we can give them the raw materials they need in abundance, fibroblasts will be more effective at regenerating and repairing connective tissue.
Evidence suggests that supplementing in this way can significantly reduce eye wrinkle volume (3.) and improve joint pain.(4.) Collagen supplements are generally considered safe to take as prescribed (5.), and relatively few negative side effects have been reported. Of course, you should always speak with your doctor before starting any new treatment.
Are there any dietary sources of collagen?
Short answer, yes. However, they are somewhat hard to come by. It’s important to differentiate here between foods that with actually contain bioavailable collagen and foods that contain electrolytes and vitamins that support collagen production.
Foods like leafy greens, berries, pumpkin seeds, and citrus fruit contain specific vitamins and minerals that are necessary components of collagen production. Eating a balanced diet with these components may help to support collagen production.
In nature, collagen is only found in bones, tendons, and ligaments. The best source of dietary collagen is bone broth. When bones and cartilage are boiled in water, the collagen seeps out into the water, along with tons of beneficial minerals and vitamins. Adding a cup of beef or chicken broth to your daily health regimen will likely help boost collagen production.
So, what should I take?
Topical application has no supported benefit. The molecules are too large to be absorbed through the skin. So any collagen skin products are little more than expensive lotion.
Oral supplements are the best option. Each is created a little differently and targets different types of collagen. The supplement you choose will depend very much on why you are taking it.
If you have joint pain or osteoarthritis, then type 2 collagen is going to be the most effective option for you. Look for the words “Type 2 Collagen” and “Joint Support” on the label.
If you want smooth skin and strong bones, then you’ll want type 1 collagen.
If you are looking to support gut health and function, then choose a type 3 collagen supplement. Supplements often contain both type 1 and type 3 collagen, because they work together in the body.
Whatever supplement you choose, for best results be sure to combine it with a well-balanced diet that has adequate amounts of water, protein, zinc, and vitamins C, D, and E. Protect your skin from damaging UV radiation, and practice self-care to decrease stress. In short: Live well and your body will show it. Thank you for reading!
**This content is written for entertainment purposes only and is not intended to be medical advice, nor to diagnose or treat any condition. Please contact your physician before starting any new treatment**
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