Collagen is the hottest item in the world of beauty, and with good reason.
“Collagen forms a scaffold to provide strength and structure to our bones, muscles, skin and tendons,” says George Gavrila, MD, of ProMD Health in Baltimore. “Essentially, collagen holds the body together; its name comes from the Greek word kolla, meaning ‘glue.’ Collagen supports the major structures of the body and provides the overall shape.”
The most abundant protein in the body, accounting for about 30% of its total protein content, collagen is strong, about as strong as steel. What’s more, it fills all sorts of roles in the body, a versatility that stems from the fact that there are many types of collagen.
The world “collagen” covers a family of closely related proteins; Gavrila says that 28 types have been identified in the human body.
“All types of collagen have different functions, whether you’re talking about collagen in the eyelids, in the face, in the lips, in the tendons, in the nerves,” says Craig A. Vander Kolk, MD, of Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore.
Most of the body’s collagen, up to 90%, consists of types I, II and III. Of those, I and III are the kinds most commonly found in the skin as well as the hair and nails (type II is a major component of joint cartilage).
As with the rest of the body’s tissues, collagen is subject to degradation over time.
“As we age, our body’s natural ability to produce collagen declines. This reduces the structural integrity of the skin and causes the sagging, fine lines and wrinkles we see with aging,” says Gavrila. “Reduced collagen is also a key contributor to the weakening of the cartilage found in our joints.”
Gavrila explains that throughout our lives, our bodies are constantly breaking down and recycling collagen every day. We reach peak collagen in our mid-twenties.
What happens with age, however, is the body breaks collagen down faster and produces it more slowly. This is what causes the overall decrease in amounts of this vital protein, a process that destabilizes contact among the different skin layers.
Keeping collagen firm and healthy as the years pass requires the same basic lifestyle approach as that required to maintain overall health.
“Exercise, eating a healthy diet, taking multivitamins—these things have been shown to be helpful in the aging process,” says Vander Kolk. Also eliminate sugar, which damages collagen molecules, from your diet as much as possible while maintaining adequate hydration to help skin stay soft, supple and smooth.†
In addition, covering your skin with a good sunscreen can help reduce light-induced damage; look for products formulated with titanium dioxide or zinc oxide for protection against both UVA and UVB. (Don’t forget to wear protective clothing and a wide-brimmed hat.)
Of all the vitamins, vitamin C has a special affinity for the skin. In addition to fighting damage from free radicals generated by excessive sun exposure, toxins, stress and other sources, it also helps support collagen production.*
In its natural state, collagen’s large molecular structure means that it can’t be effectively absorbed by the body. However, supplements are often formulated with hydrolyzed collagen, in which the protein molecules are broken down into smaller units called peptidesfor better absorption.
Some peptide products provide not only collagen types I, II and III but other types as well, such as IV, V and X. Look for products that come from sustainably managed sources, such as grass-fed beef, and that contain enzymes which maximize collagen absorption.
No one wants to look, or feel, older than they are. Take care of your collagen and it will take care of you.
†The information provided is not an endorsement of any product, and is intended for educational purposes only. NaturesPlus does not provide medical advice and does not offer diagnosis of any conditions. Current research on this topic is not conclusive and further research may be needed in order to prove the benefits described.
The conditions and symptoms described may be indicative of serious health problems, and therefore should be brought to the attention of a qualified healthcare practitioner.
**These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.