What is collagen?
Collagen is a filamentous protein that forms the basis of connective tissue. Collagen makes up about a third of all the protein in our body.
It is one of the main components of joints, bones, tendons, hair, skin, nails, teeth. In addition, collagen forms the walls of veins, arteries and capillaries.
Its name comes from the Greek word kolla, which translates as “glue”. This is no accident: many experts compare the main function of collagen to glue. Collagen molecules form long thin protein fibers – fibrils. They serve to hold cells together, bind our bodies together, and allow tissues to withstand stretching.
Collagen supply decreases with age. Fibrils begin to break down faster, and collagen synthesis naturally slows down. This leads to the appearance of the first signs of aging – the skin becomes thinner and loses elasticity, wrinkles appear, bones become more fragile, and joints become less mobile.
Types of collagen
There are at least 16 types of collagen in nature, each of which contains a different set of amino acids and performs a specific role in the body. Experts distinguish four main types of collagen –
Type I. The most studied and common form – it makes up about 90% of the collagen in the human body. These are strong and elastic fibers woven from bundles of fibers. They are involved in the formation of skin, bones, tendons, teeth, blood vessels and connective tissue
Type II. Such collagen consists of looser fibers. It builds cartilage and makes joints flexible, strong and healthy
Type III. The second most common type of collagen in the body. consists of even thinner and more extensible fibrils. It maintains the structure of muscles, internal organs and large arteries and also participates in the assembly of type I collagen fibers. The main part of such collagen is concentrated in the intestinal walls. Its deficiency increases the risk of rupture of blood vessels
Type IV. It is the main component of basement membranes, the deepest layer of skin that connects the dermis and epidermis. In addition, type IV collagen is involved in the “construction” of the lens of the eye. Such protein cannot form collagen fibers. Unlike the first three types, it belongs to the class of non-fibrillar collagens and exists as a network of fine three-dimensional lattices.
What is collagen needed for?
Collagen has many beneficial properties. The most famous of them is probably the ability to slow down the appearance of wrinkles, increase the smoothness and protective properties of the skin. In addition, this protein is believed to reduce anxiety, improve mood, help control weight and normalize bowel function. However, studies that confirm all these properties are not yet available. Here are the scientifically proven benefits of collagen for the body.
Collagen improves skin health
Collagen fibers can be considered the “skeleton” of our skin: its elasticity, firmness and strength depend on them. Thanks to this protein, the skin looks smoother, tighter and more hydrated. Collagen also supports the natural self-healing of tissues in case of injury. For example, if there are scratches, wounds or burns on the body, collagen will accelerate their healing.
Conversely, with a lack of collagen, the skin becomes thinner and drier. It loses its elasticity, “reddens” unevenly and disappears. That is why it is important to maintain a high level of collagen in the body.
A group of German scientists conducted a study involving 69 women between the ages of 35 and 55. For two months, 46 participants received collagen hydrolyzate every day – the rest received a placebo. As a result, the skin of women who drank collagen became more elastic and moisturized. At the same time, the researchers did not observe any side effects.
Collagen soothes joint pain
Collagen protects cartilage tissue from destruction. Therefore, when its production slows down with age, the condition of the joints begins to deteriorate. In particular, the risk of developing osteoarthritis increases. According to a study by scientists from the University of Illinois at Chicago, adding collagen can reduce the symptoms of this disease.
In addition, collagen treats inflammation and helps with joint pain. American nutritionists conducted an interesting study. They invited 147 athletes and divided them into two groups. All participants were asked to supplement their daily diet with special nutritional supplements. At the same time, some consumed 10 g of collagen and others a placebo.
After 24 weeks, the researchers compared the results. Athletes who took the protein experienced a significant reduction in joint pain. Moreover, both during movement and at rest.
If you want to use collagen as a pain reliever, doctors recommend starting with a small dose – no more than 8-12 g per day.
Collagen strengthens bones
Collagen increases the strength of bones, protects them from destruction and reduces the risk of osteoporosis. This is confirmed by scientists from the University of Florida. Each day for a year, their study participants took a calcium supplement with 5 grams of collagen or a calcium supplement without collagen. In the blood of women of the first group, the level of proteins that contribute to the destruction of bones was significantly lower than in those who received only calcium.
German experts came to a similar conclusion. They evaluated the effect of collagen supplementation on bone mineral density. Study participants received 5 g of collagen daily. After one year, their bones were strengthened by 7% compared to the control group.
Collagen accelerates muscle growth
Collagen is one of the most important components of muscles. About 10% of muscle tissue consists of this protein. According to scientists, it also promotes the production of muscle proteins and increases the effectiveness of training.
A group of German specialists conducted a 12-week experiment. 50 elderly men with reduced muscle mass were invited to participate. At the same time, half of the volunteers took 15 g of collagen daily and did strength training three times a week, while the rest only exercised. The results showed that those who received collagen increased muscle mass and became stronger.
Collagen protects the heart
Some experts believe that collagen helps prevent heart disease. Since this protein forms the walls of the arteries that carry blood from the heart to the organs, in its deficiency they become brittle and break. In turn, this contributes to the development of atherosclerosis, the main possible complications of which are heart attack and stroke.
Japanese scientists found that taking collagen supplements has a positive effect on the vascular wall. 31 healthy people were monitored for six months. All subjects received an additional 16 g of protein daily with meals.
At the end of the study, doctors noted a significant reduction in arterial wall stiffness. In addition, the concentration of “good” cholesterol in the blood of all study participants increased by an average of 6%. The authors of the paper are convinced that collagen can help in the prevention and treatment of atherosclerosis.
Collagen increases nail strength
Collagen strengthens the nails and prevents them from breaking. In addition, it can stimulate their growth. A group of German and Brazilian scientists came to this conclusion. Each day, study participants received 2.5 g of natural bioactive collagen peptides. A month later, experts checked what had changed.
It was found that the subjects’ nails grew 12% faster and their brittleness was reduced by an average of 42% due to collagen intake. In addition, about 80% of volunteers confirmed that their nails became more even, smooth and shiny than before taking collagen.
Contraindications of collagen
Collagen supplements are considered safe for most people and have few contraindications. However, some of them are produced using common food allergens – eggs, cow’s milk, fish, seafood, nuts, wheat, soy. Therefore, before taking such drugs, you should always carefully study their composition. If you have an individual intolerance to any component of the dietary supplement, you will have to refuse to take it and find a safer analogue.
Collagen should also be taken with caution by people suffering from kidney failure and liver disease. The excess amount of protein in the diet significantly increases the load on these organs. Pregnant and lactating women should use collagen supplements only under the strict supervision of a physician.
In addition, in some cases, collagen supplements can leave an unpleasant taste in the mouth, cause heartburn and a feeling of heaviness.
Where to get collagen?
The natural collagen produced by the body is called endogenous. In youth, we synthesize a sufficient number of new molecules that have time to fill in time the destroyed areas of fibrils. These fibers are very sensitive.
With age, they begin to deform and break down faster, and collagen production slows down. The reduction of this protein starts already at the age of 20, and after 25-30 years, the processes of its destruction prevail over the processes of synthesis. In addition, collagen production is negatively affected by smoking, ultraviolet radiation, bad ecology, stress, abuse of refined sugar and carbohydrates.
Collagen that enters the body through external intake is called exogenous. The need for supplements depends on the condition of the body and lifestyle. For example, taking collagen-containing preparations is recommended during periods of stress and after serious illnesses.
In addition, they are necessary for vegans, because collagen is found only in animal products. In this case, you can make a choice in favor of a plant analogue derived from wheat. But it is important to understand that such collagen is not taken in its pure form – it is always mixed with animal. In addition, it cannot stimulate natural endogenous protein production.
What foods contain collagen?
You can maintain the required level of collagen in your body with the help of proper nutrition. For this, you should include foods rich in “youthful proteins” in your daily diet.
Here is a list of popular sources of collagen:
It is also recommended to increase the consumption of fruits and vegetables. They do not contain collagen, but they contain amino acids and vitamins necessary for the production of this protein. Citrus fruits, black currants, strawberries, carrots, broccoli, red peppers, lettuce, nuts and legumes are especially useful.
After entering the body, under the action of digestive enzymes, collagen is broken down into individual amino acids and peptides. At the same time, the protein in biosupplements is already split or hydrolyzed. Therefore, many experts believe that it is more efficiently absorbed than collagen obtained from food. In addition, taking collagen supplements promotes the synthesis of other proteins that improve the condition of the skin. For example, elastin and fibrillin.
It is better to give preference to marine collagen obtained from wild fish. It reaches the blood faster because its structure is closest to the natural human protein. Another option is animal collagen. It is cheaper, but less digestible.
Collagen powder is diluted in water or juices, added to smoothies and soups. It usually has an unpleasant smell. If you want to avoid it, buy collagen in liquid or tablet form. And to get more collagen naturally, eat a balanced diet with protein, copper, vitamins C and E.