What is collagen?
Collagen, the body’s main structural protein, makes up 25 to 35 percent of protein in humans and all other mammals. As a protein, collagen is made up of the amino acids arginine, glycine, hydroxyproline, and proline. The amino acids are comprised of the elements carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen.
Collagen is produced by fibroblasts, biological cells that help to form the structure of animal tissues. Fibroblasts, the most common type of connective tissue cells, also play a role in the healing of wounds.
Found primarily in connective tissue (e.g., skin), collagen is also present in fibrous tissues of ligaments, muscles, tendons. The tissues making up the blood vessels, bladder, digestive tract, heart, kidneys, and gallbladder contain collagen. The hair and nails are mostly collagen.
In total, there are five types of collagen:
- I: bone, organs, skin, tendon, vascular (type I makes up over 90% of body’s total collagen.)
- II: cartilage (flexible tissue found in the larynx and parts of the respiratory tract, joints, and ear.)
- III: reticulate (‘reticular fibers’)
- IV: basal lamina (cellular entanglement which supports the epithelium, one of the four types of animal tissue.)
- V: cellular surfaces, hair follicles, and placenta
Here are some interesting facts about this protein:
- Some collagen fibrils (thin, elongated arrangements of collagen molecules) are stronger than steel.
- Because of factors such as age, smoking, and UV light exposure, collagen levels decline in the body.
- Collagen dressings, derived from bovine, equine, and porcine sources, can be placed onto wounds (e.g., burns, cuts, lesions, etc.) to assist with healing.
- Cosmetic products such as lotions that claim to boost collagen production are often misleading. Collagen molecules are difficult for the skin – and therefore the body – to absorb.
What does collagen do?
The most important job of collagen is to act as a sort of “glue” holding the body together. Collagen in the skin, for example, gives it elasticity (“stretchiness”) to accommodate for changes to the internal or external environment. Besides giving skin its flexibility, collagen protects us by preventing the absorption of bacteria, pathogens, and toxins.
Most collagen is in the extracellular matrix, macromolecules that form the scaffold of cells. These matrixes are primary building and supporting blocks of tissue. The reasons for depletions of collagen in the body includes factors such as aging, post-menopause, smoking, and prolonged exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light.
There are two primary uses for collagen: cosmetic and medical. As our body can break down, convert. Absorb, and re-absorb collagen, manufactured sources of collagen exist.
Here are a few ways in which collagen is used:
Guided tissue regeneration:
As collagen barriers block the growth of gum tissue in the areas surrounding the tooth’s root, cells can successfully regenerate. In such cases, surgeons may use synthesized collagen membranes to expedite. And improve treatment outcomes for conditions such as a gingival recession.
Injections of manufactured collagen may help enhance the natural contours of the skin by filling in areas of collagen depletion. Collagen injections reduce the appearance of lines and wrinkles, for example.
As mentioned, collagen can assist with the healing of wounds. Collagen dressings help to heal:
- Granulating or rotting wounds
- Necrosis (cell injury resulting in premature cellular death.)
- Second-degree burns
- Wounds that don’t respond to alternative treatments
- Wounds that excrete bodily fluids
Collagen vascular disease
Besides natural and lifestyle factors, certain diseases may cause collagen depletion and, hence, deficiency. Collagen vascular disease applies to a group of diseases known to cause damage to the connective tissue. May target the blood vessels, joints, skin, or other vital organs.
Collagen vascular diseases are categorized into autoimmune and hereditary diseases. Autoimmune collagen vascular diseases are those that damage the immune system, causing it to turn the body on itself.
Collagen diseases include:
The most common type of lupus, systematic lupus erythematosus (SLE), is a chronic disease that affects at least 1.5 million Americans. Symptoms of SLE include anemia, blood clot, headaches, joint pain and swelling, hair loss. Severe fatigue, a rash of the cheek and nose (“butterfly rash”). And “Reynaud’s phenomenon” – the bluing and tingling of the fingers when exposed to cold temperatures.
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA):
RA is an autoimmune disease characterized by joint damage and joint pain occurring on both sides of the body. A chronic disease, the often erratic symptoms of RA include exacerbating issues known as “flares.” Other symptoms of RA include joint stiffness and loss of mobility.
Systematic sclerosis (SS):
SS, an autoimmune disease, occurs when the immune system attacks healthy body tissue. Symptoms of SS include changes to skin appearance and texture. Constipation, diarrhea, hair loss, joint pain, dry cough, visible narrowing of blood vessels, and white lumps under the skin (calcium deposits).
As the name implies, temporal arteritis (not “arthritis”) is a condition defined by changes – namely, damage and inflammation – to the arteries around the temples. Symptoms of temporal arteritis include double vision, fever, fatigue, hip pain, and stiffness. Loss of vision in one eye, jaw pain, loss of appetite, shoulder pain and stiffness, sudden weight loss, and severe headaches around the temples.
Signs of collagen deficiency
Now that we’ve discussed what collagen is, it’s functions, and conditions that may cause collagen depletion, here are eight sights of collagen deficiency:
Of all things that collagen does, spawning of skin lines and wrinkles tops the list – and for a good reason. Collagen is responsible for giving skin its structure. As such, when there’s less collagen, the skin isn’t quite as firm. When the skin loses elasticity and firmness, wrinkles often result.
Cellulite occurs when the layer of fat underneath the skin pushes up on the connective tissue, creating a dimpled or lumpy appearance. Loss of collagen causes the skin to lose some of its elasticity, which may contribute to the development of cellulite.
Problems with blood flow
Collagen makes up the walls of blood vessels which, as collagen depletes, are less able to regulate blood flow. Interruptions to blood flow may produce symptoms such as chest pain, dizziness, fatigue, and frequent headaches.
Most of our body’s supply of collagen is in our connective tissue, which “connects” the ligaments and muscles to our skeletal system. As collagen depletes, these connections weaken, which can cause complications like muscle aches and pains.
Loss of mobility
Collagen vascular diseases, particularly lupus and RA, can cause a loss of movement due to joint damage or stiffness leading to a loss of mobility. People with these diseases experience a compromised immune response, producing inflammation within the collagen surrounding the joints.
As mentioned, collagen can be found nearly everywhere in the body, including in the stomach. It wasn’t until recently that collagen was discovered as a key substance in the gut’s lining. Diminution of collagen in the gut may lead to intestinal permeability or “leaky gut syndrome.” Symptoms of leaky gut include constipation, diarrhea, brain fog, fatigue, nutrient deficiencies, and an impaired immune system.
Cartilage, the buoyant, rubber-like tissue that covers the ends of long bones at the joints, is made up of a lot of collagen. Collagen loss in these areas results in more bone-on-bone movement, which can cause joint pain. Aside from causing discomfort around the joints, collagen depletion may inhibit motion – including movement of the ligaments and tendons.
Hollowing of eyes and face
When you look at a child, one thing that you may notice is the fullness of their face and smooth skin. Aging causes this natural, glowing look to fade. Aging, of course, if one of the primary causes of collagen loss.
As a result of collagen depletion, you may notice that the area under your eyes appears hollower and darker. Your cheeks may begin to thin.
How to Get Collagen Naturally
Collagen supplementation is all the rage right now. But supplements contain additives and chemicals that can cause some allergic reactions. Or worse the symptoms of the disease you might be suffering from. Rather than supplement your body, add these all-natural collagen-rich foods to your diet:
If you don’t go vegan, this source of collagen is a great option for you. Not only does bone broth contain essential nutrients, but it has a bioavailable form of collagen in it, making it a healthier alternative to collagen supplements.
Prevent collagen breakdown by having a bowl of fresh leafy green salad. Leafy greens are a natural source of chlorophyll, which boosts the precursor to collagen (known as procollagen) in the skin. Thanks to their strong antioxidant content and a diversity of nutrients. Leafy greens help to protect your body against UV damage and fight the free radicals from toxins that often lead to premature aging and joint health.
Citrus fruits are plentiful in vitamin C, a powerful antioxidant that aids in the amino acid linking needed to form natural collagen. Like proline, a critical nutrient in the phase of pre-collagen production. Don’t overdo it, though. Citrus fruits can cause breakouts, acne, allergic reactions, and stomach pain if you consume them too much.
Vitamin C helps with skin cell repair and quick regeneration. As well as protects against toxins found in the water, air, and food that contribute to breaking down natural collagen and damaging the entire skin’s inner layer.
Surprised? If you only eat whites, you’re missing a serious natural source of collagen. The eggshell membranes and yolk contain collagen. Eating an organic whole egg will stimulate collagen production due to high sulfur level. Sulfur keeps phase II liver detox, the type of detoxification where your body tries to combat environmental toxins. Which interfere with the production of collagen and break it down.
Almost all berries contain ellagic acid, a nutrient that has been shown to delay collagen breakdown from UV damage. Eating berries daily can help your body to produce more collagen, reducing any signs of premature aging. Vitamin C found in most berries helps to link certain amino acids together for natural collagen formation.
Lycopene found in tomatoes has been proven to protect the skin from sun damage and slow down collagen breakdown. Moreover, tomatoes are loaded with a number of other potent antioxidants – especially vitamin C – that protect your skin at a cellular level.
Pumpkin seeds are an excellent source of zinc, which acts as a cofactor for the collagen synthesis. Can prevent collagen breakdown and maintain healthy cell membranes, contributing to overall skin health. Zinc in pumpkin seeds also helps to speed up wound healing and fight adult acne. Moderation is important here since the seeds are high in fats and calories.
Avocado itself doesn’t contain collagen. However, it does a great job! Being high in vitamin E, eating avocado regularly prevents collagen breakdown, improving the health of your skin cells. Moderate avocado consumption can also stimulate your body to produce collagen naturally.
One of the best sources of the plant-based omega-3 essential fatty acids, chia seeds boast powerful anti-aging properties and aids in building healthy skin cells.