Collagen is the most abundant protein found in the human body, and it provides flexibility and structural support to joints, skin, blood vessels, and a wide variety of other tissues. It is important because throughout our lives we may require protection for any damage that occurs to these tissues. Collagen is also involved in the repair process if any damage does happen.
Collagen is made up of three amino acids (protein molecules), glycine, proline and hydroxyproline which form a strong helical structure. It can be subdivided into 28 types based on how the amino acids are organized within the structure. Types I, II and III are most common and are described below .
|Type of Collagen
|Where is it Found?
|Skin, Bone, Tendons, Connective Tissue
|Muscles, Arteries, Organs
Collagen is made in the body, and as you already know, it is a source of protein. It starts as a molecule called “procollagen”, which requires amino acids glycine and proline to be made .
These amino acids can be found in certain foods such as:
Additionally, collagen requires vitamin C, zinc and copper for enzymatic reactions to form procollagen and collagen. Vitamin C is found in brightly coloured fruit and vegetables, such as bell peppers and citrus fruit. Copper can be found in nuts, seeds and lentils. This is why eating a nutritious and balanced diet is important for not only collagen formation, but overall health and wellness.
Collagen supplementation may be something to consider if you have particular health concerns or may not be meeting adequate dietary protein requirements each day. There is research that external hydrolyzed collagen intake can support various tissues of the body, from skin to joints [2,4]. However, it should be known that external collagen supplements break down in the body into its individual amino acids (glycine and proline). These amino acids can go to wherever they are needed, so may not necessarily go to the skin or joints where they are required. If at all, it offers additional protein support for those not meeting the daily requirements. This is why it is important to know what type of collagen the supplement is providing (eg. Type II for joint health).
Collagen is durable and can live a long time, but can be changed through a process called “glycation” . This occurs through the process of natural aging as well as environmental exposure to advanced glycation end-products (AGEs) which are found in foods high in animal fat and protein (eg. red meat, fried eggs) as well as certain cooking methods (eg. barbeque, grilling). On top of this, in certain health conditions and lifestyles, collagen can age at a faster rate if there is more wear and tear on structural components of the body.Improves skin elasticity and texture
Additional to the process of aging and damage from food, external trauma from sun exposure, tobacco smoke and pollution can impair the structure of collagen and its ability to form correctly. This can leave us with poorly-structured collagen, and can cause the external appearance of fine lines on the skin.
There is research which shows that when supplementing with hydrolyzed collagen and vitamin and mineral cofactors (eg. vitamin C, zinc), there is improvement in skin hydration, elasticity and texture [2, 3]. />Benefits bone and joint health:
Collagen supplementation has been used most often in research for osteoarthritis, which is when there is degradation of joint cartilage with overuse. This can cause increased pain and inflammation of the joint, as well as stiffness and lack of mobility. In one particular study, type II collagen was used for knee osteoarthritis, which is important to mention because we know this type of collagen is specific for joint health. The results showed that there were significant decreases in pain, stiffness and physical function/mobility of the knee after external collagen supplementation .
In another study with postmenopausal women, bone mineral density was assessed before and after collagen supplementation. It was seen that supplementation of collagen improved bone density in the lower spine as well as in the neck of the femur .
This is all promising information and research on collagen supplementation, as we know that collagen is used in essentially every system in the body. Although its supplementation should be taken with a grain of salt and you should be aware of what each type of collagen is used for in order to cater to your specific health needs. In general, a well-balanced diet is important to follow, as well as minimizing any environmental exposure to AGEs or external damage in order to produce our own collagen.