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Collagen - Types, Functions, Natural Sources, Benefits, Causes & Supplements

Collagen - Types, Functions, Natural Sources, Benefits, Causes & Supplements

Lately, collagen is becoming more and more popular. It’s being discussed by the beauty-conscious public for its benefits for skin and among sportsmen for muscle repair properties. The general public is yet unfamiliar with how collagen can be so beneficial to health and may be confused about if it’s worth spending a few bucks. In this article, we will elaborate on what collagen is and how it is helpful in so many ways.

What is Collagen?

Collagen is the most abundant protein in the human body and makes up about one-third of the total protein in the human body. It is a major component of connective tissue and provides structure and strength to the body. Besides that, it is responsible for holding body tissues together.

Collagen consists of amino acids bound together to form a fiber-like structure. Degrees of mineralization cause the collagen tissue to be rigid, as in bone, compliant, as in tendon, or semi-rigid, as in cartilage.

Types of Collagens

Collagen can be categorized into twenty-eight (28) types based on structure and function of which the following are the most common.

  • Type 1: 90% of your body’s total collagen is made up of Type I collagen. It is the most densely packed form and is present in the skin, bones, and muscles.
  • Type 2: Type 2 is found in elastic cartilage and provides joint support.
  • Type 3: It is found in muscles, arteries, gut, and uterus.
  • Type 5: collagen is known to support bone matrix, corneal stroma, and the interstitial matrix of muscles, liver, lungs, and placenta.
  • Type 10: It is also present in cartilage and promotes bone health.

Collagen can be categorized into two major types depending on its source

  • Endogenous collagen: Endogenous collagen is naturally synthesized inside the body and performs various functions like repair and provides strength, structure, and elasticity to different body tissues.
  • Exogenous collagen: Exogenous collagen is synthesized and comes from an outside source like a supplement. It provides additional benefits to the body and is often used for cosmetic purposes and wound healing.

Function of Collagen

Both endogenous and exogenous collagen perform various functions.

The function of endogenous collagen

Our body synthesizes its own collagen using different nutrients for the following functions

  • In case of hemorrhage, collagen is exposed and attracts platelets at the site to cause blood clotting. Thus, it plays a role in wound healing.
  • It prevents wrinkling of skin as collagen provides elasticity and with age, it deteriorates causing the skin to loosen.
  • Being a major component of bone and cartilage, it promotes joint health.

The function of exogenous collagen

Sometimes exogenous collagen in the form of a supplement is used for additional benefits or if the body fails to synthesize enough collagen for certain roles.

  • Wound healing: Collagen in the form of powder, dressing, or gel accelerates wound healing.
  • Cosmetic industry: It is used in the cosmetic industry in combination with hyaluronic acid in dermal fillers to increase skin elasticity. It is also added to creams and hydrating serums.
  • Treatment of osteoarthritis: Collagen supplements taken orally can improve bone health.
  • Tissue regeneration: Doctors sometimes use it to form scaffolds to provide structural support to treat fractures and dental wounds.
  • Muscle building: Collagen supplement is taken by bodybuilders to increase muscle mass.

Benefits of Collagen

  1. Collagen improves hydration and elasticity of skin thus preventing wrinkling and aging of the skin.
  2. Collagen is a major constituent of cartilage, improves symptoms of osteoarthritis, and relieves overall joint pain.
  3. Collagen is responsible for the strength and structure of bones. Collagen supplementation can be beneficial for bone health and the prevention of bone losses.
  4. Oral intake of collagen supplements can help to gain muscle mass after exercise and in people with sarcopenia.
  5. Collagen promotes flexibility and elasticity of arteries and thus promotes heart health.
  6. Collagen supplements are also observed to improve hair loss and nail brittleness and promote hair and nail growth.

Natural Sources of Collagen 

The human body can synthesize collagen using up the amino acids accompanied by vitamin C. The amino acids, proline, lysine, and glycine are responsible for collagen synthesis in the human body. Both plant and animal-based foods rich in protein, vitamins, antioxidants, and anti-inflammatory compounds aid collagen synthesis in your body. Some important foods that support collagen formation include,

  • Bone broth
  • Fish and chicken skin
  • Meat
  • Egg whites
  • Beans
  • Nuts (almonds and cashew nuts specifically)
  • Garlic
  • Vitamin C-rich foods including citrus fruits, peppers, guava, and pineapple.

However, collagen absorption from food is reported to be not as good and effective as collagen supplements.

Collagen Supplements

Despite being the most abundant protein in our bodies, collagen supplements are widely used for their aforementioned benefits for skin, nails, hair, and bones. Who wouldn’t like a magic pill that is purported to keep your skin and bones young for a little longer?

Collagen in the initial stages of research was found to improve elasticity and thus used in skin creams and serums. Lately, other benefits for joints and bones are studied as well. This led to its application in the treatment of wounds and fractures.

Collagen in supplements is used in either peptide or in hydrolyzed form for easier absorption and often in combination with other vitamins like vitamin C or minerals for better utilization and absorption.

Collagen Supplements in Pakistan

Generally, collagen is present in three forms: Hydrolyzed collagen, gelatin, and undenatured type II collagen. Most supplements contain hydrolyzed collagen as it’s the easiest to digest and utilized in the body. Besides that, gelatin is also widely used as a gelling agent in desserts and is a degraded form of collagen.

Based on the source, the most common are marine collagen, which is extracted from fish scales and skin, and bovine collage, which is derived from cows. The collagen supplement is available in the form of tablets, powder, serums, and creams, and now also a pancake mix.

In Pakistan, the most common is bovine or marine collagen in the form of pills, capsules, and powder. Another source is gelatin, which is commonly used in dessert industries, but the public is not yet aware of its potential benefit as a form of collagen.

What is Collagen for?

Collagen supplements are becoming more common due to their wide application in the beauty, pharmaceutical, and health industries. It is a supplement with the least reported side effects and is beneficial for people of all ages and genders. Teenagers and adolescents may use it for beauty purposes, whereas women at later ages may supplement their diet with collagen for joint and bone health and to reverse signs of aging. It is also taken for muscle repair and growth to treat sarcopenia in older adults.

What Causes Collagen Loss?

Sometimes collagen in our bodies starts to deplete due to the following reasons,

  • Age: The body begins to produce less collagen as you age and therefore, an increase in joint pain and muscle cramps is common in older adults.
  • Menopause:  Women experience a noticeable reduction in collagen production in menopausal age around 40+.
  • Smoking:  Smoking damages collagen and also affects collagen production causing wrinkles on the skin.
  • Eating habits:  Too much sugar and refined carbs damages collagen making it weaker, brittle, and drier.
  • Lack of sleep:  Sleep deprivation also causes collagen loss and getting adequate i.e., 7-8 hours of sleep can reduce collagen loss
  • Ultraviolet rays:  Exposure to sunlight can break down collagen in the skin.
  • Stress:  Chronic stress elevates levels of cortisol which can decrease collagen production.

FAQs About Collagen 

  1. How much collagen should I take?

An adult is recommended to take 2.5-10g of collagen in a day to avail its health benefits. Generally, a capsule or a scoop available with powder contains recommended serving of collagen making it easier for you to measure. Rest it depends on the reason you are taking it.

       2. Is collagen safe to use?

No serious side effects of taking collagen orally are reported. The source and ingredients may contain allergens, which will be mentioned in the container. However, you should immediately stop using it and seek medical help if you observe any adverse side effects.

       3. Is collagen safe for pregnant and lactating/breastfeeding mothers?

In some studies, collagen is reported to be beneficial for pregnant women due to its role in joint health. Yet there is not enough research regarding this topic. Although poses no serious health risks, collagen supplements should be taken by pregnant and lactating mothers only on the advice of certified medical/ gyne/obs professionals.

       4. Do collagen supplements have side effects?

Collagen supplements have zero to minimal side effects. The most common side effects reported include feelings of fullness, nausea, and bloating. Regardless, these supplements are considered safe for most people.

       5. How can I get collagen naturally?

Dietary sources of collagen are already discussed in this article. Protein-rich foods along with minerals and vitamins are beneficial for collagen synthesis in your body. Besides, that chicken and fish skin and bone broth is a good sources of collagen.

       6. What type of collagen is best?

The most easily absorbable form of collagen is hydrolyzed collagen or collagen peptides. The best product for you is the one you like. If you prefer adding your supplement to your daily meals, the powder is the best for you. Otherwise, pills or capsules can make you feel better about taking self-care.

Collagen makes up almost 30 percent of the total protein present in the body. It is present in skin, tendons, bones, cartilage, and blood vessels, and provides elasticity, structure, and support to the tissue.  Due to its application in the medical and beauty industries and benefits for skin, nails, hair, joints, and bones its supplementation is becoming more and more common. Collagen can be taken through the diet and different forms are also available in supplements.

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