You’ve probably heard that collagen is an important part of your body, but have you ever wondered why it’s so important or why so many health supplements and cosmetic products contain collagen?
I consider collagen to be “the missing protein” in many people’s lives. While muscle-building proteins are typically at the forefront of the protein world, collagen is often overlooked, even though it’s vital to the building up and maintaining of joints, connective tissues, hair, and skin — plus, your digestive system craves it.
Collagen is the most abundant protein in the human body. Overall, it accounts for about 30 percent of total protein, and 70 percent of the protein found in joints, hair, skin, nails, and connective tissue.
While the different types of collagen have many functions in the body, collagen is usually associated most closely with the aging process.
As you get older, your internal collagen stores deplete — that’s why wrinkles and a decline in the look and feel of skin are a normal part of aging (and why collagen is a part of many anti-aging cosmetics).
Of course, there’s no way to stop the process of aging; however, if you are able to consume more collagen regularly, it’s possible to improve the look and feel of not only your skin, but also help your joints and connective tissues from degrading as quickly as they might on their own.
You should also know that age-related collagen loss is an issue for your canine friends, too — their bodies contain five percent more collagen from protein than the human body. I make sure my dogs get plenty of collagen in their diets, because this allows their bodies to better protect against joint and mobility issues as they get older.
Collagen also impacts your digestive system. Connective tissues in your GI tract need collagen to stay properly “sealed and healed,” which is an important way your body protects itself from the many complications of leaky gut syndrome. People with inflammatory bowel disease often test for lower-than-normal levels of collagen.
Seven benefits of collagen
- Collagen improves the health of skin. “Gold-standard” studies found that collagen supplementation has the potential to improve skin elasticity and decrease dryness and roughness of skin without unsavory side effects. There’s also some evidence that collagen-rich diets may help reduce the dimpling of cellulite.
- Collagen may reduce joint pain and degeneration. Research suggests that the age-related loss of collagen may lead to joint pain and degradation of joints and connective tissue. By adding more collagen into the diets of subjects, researchers have seen marked improvements in joint pain, including some in patients with varying forms of arthritis.
- Collagen may be a part of healing a leaky gut. People with inflammatory bowel disease have lower levels of collagen in their gut than others. Amino acids found in collagen help build the lining of the colon and GI tract, which is why it’s possible extra collagen might be beneficial in reinforcing the health of the digestive system.
- Collagen boosts metabolism, muscle mass, and energy input. When you consume collagen, you’re giving your body an extra advantage for producing its own proteins. That’s one reason why it can help maintain and even build muscle mass.
- Collagen strengthens nails, hair, and teeth. Just like your skin, your nails, hair, and teeth contain collagen and need it to stay strong. The connection between collagen and regeneration of cells is essential to maintaining or rebuilding weak nails, hair, and teeth.
- Collagen supports the liver. One of the three major amino acids in collagen, glycine, has been found to reduce the severity of certain types of liver damage.
- Collagen may protect the heart. Proline, another of the three most abundant amino acids in collagen, plays a role in several bodily processes that protect the heart and reduces the risk of developing arteriosclerosis (hardening of the arteries).
The five types of collagen and why they matter
Type I: This is the strongest, most abundant collagen form in the human body. Type I collagen is found in the GI tract, used in bone formation, aids in wound healing and keeps skin elastic and pliant.
Type II: Your body uses Type II collagen to build cartilage found in connective tissues. This is one of the most researched types of collagen in age-related joint pain, including pain caused by arthritis.
Type III: Type III collagen is a major component of the fibers that make up your organs and skin. Found frequently with Type I, this type of collagen also helps maintain the elasticity of skin. A deficiency in Type III collagen has been associated with cardiovascular problems, as it helps to form blood vessels and heart tissue.
Type V: You’ll find Type V collagen in cell surfaces, hair follicles, and placenta tissues. It’s responsible for creating the tiny fibers in collagen, a process called “fibrillogenesis.”
Type X: Type X collagen is involved in the formation of bones and articular cartilage. Research shows it plays a big role in the repair of synovial joints and broken bones.
Dr. Josh Axe, DNM, DC, CNS, is a certified doctor of natural medicine, doctor of chiropractic, and clinical nutritionist with a passion to help people get healthy by using food as medicine. For more information, please visit www.draxe.com.