What Is Collagen? The Best Health Benefits
Did you know that collagen makes up 70% of your skin, hair, nails, and joints? These products and supplements have been growing in popularity recently, especially in the anti-aging industry. But people who buy these products don’t tend to know much about what collagen really is. So, what is it?
What Is Collagen?
Most people think of this substance as existing only in the skin. However, while collagen does play a very important part in the skin, it also is important for other parts of the body. The amount in your body also tends to change over time which can change the appearance and function of certain connective tissues.
Collagen is a protein. There are many proteins in our bodies besides this one, but collagen makes up 30% of those total proteins which is a significant percentage. Beyond the skin, collagen is also in our joints, ligaments, muscles, and bones. There are many types of collagen.
Endogenous collagen is made inside the body and is natural. Exogenous collagen comes from outside the body and is often synthetic such as supplements. These protein fibers along with elastin and other proteins make up an incredibly strong extracellular matrix that holds together connective tissue. In fact, a single fiber is stronger than steel per gram of weight.
You can think of these fibers as the fibers of a spider web. They are very strong and have a lot of elasticity. In essence, they hold together everything in your body from your skin to your joints. The main types of collagen are types I, II, and III. Skin is mainly of the I and III types blended with elastic fibers.
Thanks to these different proteins, young people have bright, plump, and springy skin. If you are young, try pulling on your skin. It will immediately spring back into place. However, if you are older, you will find that your skin will take its time springing back into place. Why might this be?
Without this protein, your tissues, especially your skin, would be thin and papery. You can see this in the elderly. Their skin can often be as thin as tissue paper. As a result, the elderly tend to bruise and get cuts easily.
This is because as we age, we lose collagen. In fact, starting in your early 20s, you will lose about 1% of your body’s collagen every year. One of the reasons why this protein is so important for your skin strength and elasticity is because of how it creates a framework in your dermis or the deep layer of your skin.
In the dermis, there is the extracellular matrix which is a durable space filled with scaffolding-like proteins. These proteins are collagen and elastin, and these proteins allow another substance, the fibroblast, to develop. Fibroblasts are essential to the replacement of dead skin cells. As collagen declines, your skin cells will not be replaced as often and your skin will literally start to grow old.
While you can’t slow down the natural loss of this protein, there are things that can speed it up such as sun exposure, poor nutrition, and pollution. The collagen in your joints, bones, and muscles also decreases with age which is why a lot of seniors experience joint problems. Fortunately, however, with some self-care, we don’t have to be destined to shrink into prunes in our old age.
The Exogenous Type
By using exogenous protein, that is, supplements, there may be hope for maintaining your protein levels as you age. While a senior will never be able to have the same amount of collagen as a 20-year-old, by using supplements, not as much collagen will be lost. Many different scientific studies have shown an improvement in skin and joint health over 4 to 8 weeks when people start taking supplements.
Compared to a placebo group, the group that took oral supplements for several weeks saw an increase in skin elasticity and hydration as well as a reduction in fine lines and wrinkles. Don’t be fooled with skincare products that contain this protein, however.
Collagen molecules are too large to penetrate the skin and ultimately don’t do anything. The only way to reap the benefits of collagen is to consume it orally. Besides supplements, you can also consume protein-rich foods such as bone broth. To get a head start on your skincare, click here.