Collagen is the most abundant protein in the human body, and it’s the “stuff” that holds critical parts of us together (e.g., bones, muscles, tendons, ligaments, skin). If that’s not a good enough reason to need collagen, I don’t know what is! This incredible substance plays several other roles in the body about which you should be aware.
First, however, it’s important to have a better understanding of what collagen is.
What is collagen?
The term “collagen” really refers to the more than 16 types of this protein present in the human body, among which the most prevalent amino acids are glycine, proline, alanine, and hydroxyproline. The types are numbered, and types 1, 2, and 3 account for the vast majority of collagen. In fact, type 1, which is dominant and believed to be the strongest, forms organs, skin, tendons, and ligaments and also is involved in the formation of bone. It is composed of eosinophilic fibers and has a role in wound healing and making skin elastic.
Type 2 collagen is mainly involved in building cartilage and thus helps maintain joint health. Type 3 is made of reticular fibers and is involved in the structure of skin and organs. It also works with type 1 to give skin elasticity and is a major player in forming blood vessels and heart tissue.
Reasons you need collagen
Another important thing to know about collagen is that production declines as we get older, which is why many people seek ways to boost their collagen levels through foods or supplements. Those efforts may become clearer once you know the reasons your body needs collagen. Here are seven of them.
1. Enhances skin, hair, and nail health. Collagen has a significant presence in our skin, hair, and nails. Declining collagen levels as we age often first become evident in our skin with the appearance of lines and wrinkles, rough or sagging skin, and a loss of elasticity. This latter sign of collagen decline also makes cellulite more visible (this alone is a great reason to take it!!). Hair loses its shine and becomes thinner as well. Research has shown that women who took 2.5 to 5 grams of collagen hydrolysate once a day for eight weeks showed a significant improvement in elasticity, skin moisture, roughness, and dryness.
Brittle nails and poor hair growth also are signs of low collagen. The addition of collagen to your daily routine can help prevent nail breakage and possibly even reverse hair loss.
2. Relieves leaky gut. When toxic particles can leak through your gut lining and into your bloodstream, where they can trigger systemic inflammation, you have leaky gut syndrome. Collagen can help manage the toxins by breaking down proteins, healing irritated cell walls, and providing healing amino acids to soothe your gut. Taking collagen supplements can provide the amino acids necessary to build the tissue that lines the gastrointestinal tract and help leaky gut symptoms as well as those associated with inflammatory bowel disease, irritable bowel syndrome, and acid reflux.
3. Reduces joint pain and disintegration. A loss of collagen can result in an inability to move like you used to and seriously affect your quality of life. If you’re beginning to feel like the scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz, then a lack of sufficient collagen may be the reason. Loss of collagen can cause stiffness, swollen joints, and pain when you move.
- Collagen is like a lubricant that covers joints and helps them move without pain while also reducing the risk of joint deterioration. Some scientists have found that collagen can help with the treatment of osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and other painful joint disorders. For example, supplementing with type 2 collagen reduced swelling in tender joints and helped individuals who had been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis.
- In another study, investigators at Harvard’s Beth Israel Deaconness Medical Center in Boston reported that collagen helped individuals who had rheumatoid arthritis by reducing swelling in tender joints.
- An article in the International Journal of Medical Sciences reported on how supplementing with type 2 collagen resulted in a better quality of life, allowing patients to perhaps walk upstairs with more confidence, get better sleep, and enjoy an improvement in daily activities.
4. Boosts metabolism and energy output. How would you like to rev up your metabolism? Taking collagen won’t provide an instant response, but over a period of several months, you may notice a difference. Collagen can add lean muscle mass to your body and help convert essential nutrients. It’s helpful to take extra vitamin C when using collagen as the nutrient assists in converting collagen into usable protein, which translates into better energy.
5. Improves liver health. The high glycine content in collagen is helpful for aiding the liver perform its detox function. Glycine has an ability to soften the damage caused by the absorption of toxic substances by the liver as it detoxes the body. Research has shown that glycine is helpful in reducing damage to the liver from alcohol and other unwelcome foreign substances. Collagen supplementation as well as a detox program during which you consume only bone broth for two to three days could help you cleanse your liver, reset your gut health, and improve overall immune system functioning.
6. Protects cardiovascular health. The proline in collagen can assist in eliminating fat that has accumulated in the artery walls, which in turn lowers the risk of atherosclerosis, high blood pressure, stroke, and heart attack. It plays a part in lowering blood pressure and cushioning your joints, acting as a type of shock absorber to protect cartilage. Use of collagen also can help with the production of nitric oxide, which widens the arteries and lowers blood pressure. This advantage of collagen is attributed to arginine, an amino acid found in collagen that supports the production of nitric oxide.
7. Protects and repairs the brain. Numerous studies have explored how collagen can protect and repair the brain; or more specifically, safeguard the brain from degenerating conditions such as Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease. The authors of a recent study from Austria, for example, reported that “collagen is a promising natural biomaterial with various applications which has the potential to progress the development of therapeutic strategies in central nervous system injuries and degeneration.” The scientists at Gladstone Institutes also have reported that collagen IV protects the brain against beta-amyloid plaques, which have been identified as likely causing Alzheimer’s disease.
[Editor’s Note: We recommend Collagen supplements from Neocell. They have a variety of collagen formulas based on the different types of collagen and different formulations like flavorless powders, capsules and chews.]
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Chen P et al. Lack of collagen VI promotes wound-induced hair growth. Journal of Investigative Dermatology 2015 Oct; 135(10): 2358-67
Clark KL et al. 24-week study on the use of collagen hydrolysate as a dietary supplement in athletes with activity-related joint pain. Current Medical Research and Opinion 2008 May; 24(5): 1485-96
Crawley DC et al. Safety and efficacy of undenatured type II collagen in the treatment of osteoarthritis of the knee: a clinical trial. International Journal of Medical Sciences 2009; 6(6): 312-21
Gladstone Institutes. Collagen may help protect gain against Alzheimer’s disease. ScienceDaily 10 December 2008.
Koutroubakis IE et al. Serum laminin and collagen IV in inflammatory bowel disease. Journal of Clinical Pathology 2003 Nov; 56(11): 817-20
Proksch E et al. Oral supplementation of specific collagen peptides has beneficial effects on human skin physiology: a double-blind, placebo-controlled study. Skin Pharmacology and Physiology 2014; 27(1): 47-55
Ucar B, Humpel C. Collagen for brain repair: therapeutic perspectives. Neural Regeneration Research 2018 Apr; 13(4): 595-98