For more than a decade, collagen has been in the spotlight and continues to gain mainstream interest. Being the most abundant protein in the body, it provides strength and structure to our skin, contributing to its youthful look.
Collagen is present throughout the body. But it can be found in higher amounts in our bones, skin, and connective tissues (like tendons and ligaments). The production of this protein diminishes with age along with other factors. This insoluble and fibrous protein is very strong yet flexible, hence its popularity.
What Does Collagen Do?
In the middle layer of the skin, also known as the dermis, this protein helps with the formation of fibroblasts where new skin cells can grow. This process also supports the replacement and restoration of dead skin cells. Since there are at least 16 different types of collagen, most of them belong to types 1, 2, and 3, protecting some body organs, including our skin.
A unique characteristic of the collagen protein is that it is resorbable. This means that it can be broken down and converted into gelatine. Then gelatine can be further broken down and absorbed back into the body. With this, it makes the protein very versatile, making it a subject of continuous investigation in the medical field.
For example, collagen is used as a key competent of skin fillers, often used in mainstream cosmetic procedures that are meant to remove wrinkles from the face and even scars. Collagen may also be used as a wound dressing. It has the ability to attract new skin cells to where the wound is, thus it promotes healing and provides a platform for new tissues to grow.
This multifunction protein is also used in periodontal and dental implant treatments because of its ability to prevent cells around the gum from getting into the wound in a tooth.
A scientific review also found that this protein may also help in the treatment of osteoarthritis as it aids the reduction of symptoms and at the same time it boosts joint function.
Of course, collagen is also very popular in the world of topical creams and cosmetics. In fact, there are now plenty of skin products that contain this protein and most of them claim to help revitalise the skin. However, there is no hardcore evidence on this matter yet, especially since the molecules in collagen are too big to be absorbed by the skin.
There are a number of factors that may contribute to collagen damage in your body such as:
• High sugar consumption
• UV rays from the sun
• Autoimmune disorders
• Genetic changes
In order to prevent this, boosting your body’s collagen production may help. Some individuals take supplements, whilst others prefer the natural route. And many opt for a mix of supplements and natural food sources.
Taking Collagen Supplements
Should you be taking collagen supplements? Research on collagen supplements remains limited. However, some studies have shown that these supplements may have a positive effect on individuals with osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, whilst others show that it does help to reduce the appearance of wrinkles.
Collagen type 2 may be safe when taken orally up to 2.5 mg daily for no longer than 24 weeks. On the other hand, hydrolysed collagen tends to have a different dosing strategy, with studies using 1 gram a day for 12 weeks showing an increase in skin collagen and a reduction of wrinkles. However, this supplement may not be suitable for everyone. Some of its side effects may include the following:
• Liver complications
• Difficulty sleeping
Although there is no specific evidence on its effect on pregnant and breastfeeding women, it is advised not to take this supplement during this time period. Also, those who are allergic to chicken or egg must avoid this supplement.
Natural Food Sources
For those who prefer to go the natural route instead of taking collagen supplements, it is essential to know some of the nutrients that may help boost and maintain collagen in tissue:
• Vitamin C
• Vitamin A
• Vitamin E
Now, here are some of the foods that you can easily purchase to help reinforce natural collagen production and protection:
• Fish - fish is known to be an excellent source of amino acids thus making it a great choice to support collagen production in the body
• Avocado or avocado oil - avocado contains plant sterols and other phytochemical compounds which help protect the skin from free radicals; the hexane in avocados are also known to help with skin regeneration
• Turkey - it contains the mineral zinc which is needed for the production of collagen in the body and it also essential for healing the skin
• Dark chocolate – the flavonoids founds in cocoa have been associated with the slowing down of collagen-damaging photo-ageing, with some studies showing increased skin elasticity from the intake of cocoa flavonoids
• Carrots – rich in the plant-form of vitamin A, beta-carotene, which the body converts into retinol aiding collagen synthesis
• Leafy greens – they contain vitamin C and chlorophyll which provide antioxidant protection helping to preserve collagen structure and biosynthesis
• Egg whites - a source of proline, a proteinogenic amino acid which makes up about 17% of collagen, supporting the health of the skin and joints
• Tomatoes – they are a good source of vitamin C and lycopene, both being photo-protective, helping to reduce damage to collagen structures
• Berries – they are a rich source of anthocyanidins and ellagic acid, two types of phytochemical compounds known to protect tissue from collagen breakdown and photo-ageing
• Soy - its genistein content is thought to help reduce the decline of collagen content in the skin through preventing disturbances to collagen biosynthesis
Whether or not you’re thinking of taking collagen supplements, collagen is a very important protein in your body. Luckily, there are now several options that can help improve collagen production and preservation.
The good news is that we have plenty of food alternatives that can help in the production and protection of this ‘beauty’ protein. On the other hand, scientific research on collagen supplements is growing as fellow scientists investigate how they can benefit our skin and joints.
Choosing the supplements route may need the expertise of a Dietary Supplements Advisor trained by The Health Sciences Academy because it requires an assessment of each supplement before it is being put forward and an understanding on how to best take it, including awareness of side effects and toxicity levels to mitigate health risks.