Collagen in a Nutshell

Collagen is the most abundant protein in the human body and is the ‘glue’ that holds the whole body together. Learn more here with Dr Arien van der Merwe about the many uses of the different types of collagen.

Collagen can be compared to a scaffold or matrix that provides strength, structure, elasticity and support for the bones, muscles, tendons, ligaments, organs, skin, blood vessels, digestive system, and so on.

Collagen synthesised by the body itself (endogenous) has many important roles in supporting our health and well-being, and even our appearance! Accelerated breakdown and depletion of the body’s natural collagen are associated with many health challenges. Supplemental (exogenous) collagen is used increasingly for medical and cosmetic purposes, including support, healing and repair of the body’s tissues, such as wound healing after burns.

Our body’s collagen production begins to slow down as we age, causing the tell-tale signs of ageing, such as wrinkles, sagging skin and joint pains due to weaker or decreased cartilage. Other lifestyle factors, such as stress, eating a diet high in refi ned sugar, smoking, and too much sun exposure over a long period, also contribute to accelerated collagen depletion.

5 MOST COMMON TYPES OF COLLAGEN

  • Type I: found in skin, tendon and ligaments, blood vessels, organs, bone (main component of the organic part of bone).
  • Type II: cartilage.
  • Type III: reticulate (main component of reticular fibre), commonly found alongside type I.
  • Type IV: forms basal lamina, the epithelium-secreted layer of the skin.
  • Type V: cell surfaces, hair and placenta.

MEDICAL USES OF COLLAGEN

Collagen, originating from human, bovine, porcine and egg-based (ovine) sources, is widely used in the medical and cosmetic industry:

  1. As fillers, collagen injections are used to improve signs of ageing skin, such as wrinkles and lines, sagging skin and scars.
  2. For wound dressing to encourage healing by attracting new skin cells to the site, providing a scaffold as a platform for the growth of new tissue to cover the wound. Collagen dressings are used for second degree burns, skin grafts, non-healing wounds, etc.
  3. Collagen membranes are used in periodontal and dental implants. In oral surgery, barriers can be used to prevent fast-growing cells of the gingival epithelium from migrating to a wound in a tooth and overtaking the cavity. Collagen then prevents this migration and provides a supportive matrix with space for cells to regenerate.
  4. Collagen tissue grafts from donors are used in nerve regeneration, cardiac valve surgery and vascular reconstruction.
  5. Collagen supplements or formulations may be beneficial in the treatment of osteoarthritis.

HEALTH BENEFITS OF COLLAGEN

  1. Supports the repair and maintenance of the heart and blood vessels, teeth, nails, bone, joints, skin and hair.
  2. Supports healing of leaky gut syndrome.
  3. May boost metabolism.
  4. May support detoxification processes and liver health.
  5. May reduce cellulite and stretch marks.

BEAUTY BENEFITS OF COLLAGEN

Cellulite control

Collagen constitutes about 90% of total skin volume which is why enough of it is required to maintain firm skin layers, thereby preventing the appearance of cellulite bumps. Dietary supplementation with collagen peptides (a bioavailable food supplement with no side effects) has been shown to restore dermal structure.1

Wrinkle control

Some studies suggest that the intake of dietary collagen supplements may treat skin ageing. A decrease in connective tissue causes loss of skin elasticity and tone, resulting in unwanted crinkles and wrinkles. Research has shown that after as little as four weeks of the consumption of a bioactive collagen peptide, there was a significant improvement in the appearance of eye wrinkles.2 In the research supporting the cellulite and wrinkle control properties of collagen, participants consumed a daily dose of 2.5 g of either the placebo or the collagen powder which was dissolved in water or any other appropriate liquid.

FACTORS THAT ACCELERATE THE DEPLETION OF COLLAGEN

  • A diet high in refined sugar increases the rate of glycation, a process whereby sugar in the blood attaches to proteins to form new molecules called advanced glycation end products (AGEs). AGEs damage adjacent proteins and can make collagen dry, brittle and weak.
  • Smoking: Many of the chemicals present in cigarettes (tobacco) damage collagen and elastin in the skin. Nicotine also narrows the blood vessels in the outer layers of the skin, which reduces the delivery of nutrients and oxygen to the skin, thereby negatively impacting skin health.
  • Overexposure to sunlight: Ultraviolet rays in sunlight cause collagen to break down at an increased rate, damaging collagen fibres and inducing the accumulation of abnormal elastin, which leads to the production of an enzyme that can also break down collagen. This process can lead to the formation of solar keratosis and deep wrinkles. This does not include the healthy, early morning and late afternoon exposure to the sun to optimise the synthesis of vitamin D, of course!
  • Autoimmune disorders: Some autoimmune disorders cause antibodies to target collagen. Mutations to the genes responsible for the coding of collagen alpha chains can affect the extracellular matrix, leading to a decrease in the amount of collagen secreted, or to the secretion of dysfunctional collagen (called keloid formation – thick scarring).

Collagen levels may become depleted over time, but by taking precautionary measures, it is possible to slow down and reduce ageing, by protecting collagen, and keeping the skin, bones, heart, muscles and joints healthy, well into your 100s!

HOW TO OPTIMISE AND SUPPORT COLLAGEN FORMATION

Collagen, like all proteins, is made up of amino acids. Amino acids are obtained from the proteins you eat, such as nuts, seeds, fish, poultry and meat; or from shakes high in amino acids as meal replacement for weight loss support or when you’re too busy to prepare lunch. Therefore, eating enough good quality proteins will optimise your collagen formation.

Specific herbal remedies that support your DNA telomerase enzyme support will ensure optimally functioning DNA. This would support cell replication, repair and recovery for collagen synthesis, while preventing the accumulation of free radicals that accelerate collagen breakdown. I would recommend a powerful antioxidant formulation combined with herbal remedies like Astragalus membranocus, which has been well researched for its supportive effect on the telomerase enzyme, as well as Ginkgo biloba and Centella asiatica (pennywort or gotu kola). These serve to support the scaffolding or matrix of the collagen structure beneath the skin’s surface as well as the DNA inside the cell nucleus.

Nutrients to support collagen formation

  • Proline and lysine (amino acids): found in egg whites, meat, cheese, soy, fish and chicken – refer to many food source lists on the Internet.
  • Pro-anthocyanidins: found in blackberries, blueberries, cherries and raspberries (berries are examples of superfoods to be taken daily).
  • Vitamin C: found in oranges, lemons, limes, strawberries, kiwi, peppers and broccoli.
  • Copper: can be found in shellfi sh, nuts and red meat.
  • Vitamin A: found in animal-derived foods and in plant foods containing carotenes such as butternut, carrots and peppers.
  • Soups containing bone broth.
  • Omega-3s as found in salmon and cod liver oil, sardines, trout and pilchards.

To top up all the above-mentioned nutrients found in your healthy eating plan, take a supplemental optimal natural antioxidant and mineral formulation.

Many products containing collagen, including creams and powders, claim to support the skin’s texture and plumpness. However, despite the marketing of these products as ways to increase the levels of collagen within the body, collagen molecules themselves are too big to be absorbed through the skin. Therefore, using a serum and a food supplement that support the body’s own collagen formation would be more effective.

CONCLUSION

There are many natural solutions to protect, optimise and encourage your own collagen production as a scaffold of tissue support, well into your 100s!

References

  1. Schunck M, Zague V, et al. Dietary supplementation with specific collagen peptides has a body mass index-dependent beneficial effect on cellulite morphology. J Med Food. 2015; 00(0):1-9.
  2. Proksch E, Schunck M, et al. Oral intake of specific bioactive collagen peptides reduces skin wrinkles and increases dermal matrix synthesis. Skin Pharmacol Physiol. 2014; 27:113-19.
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Collagen in a Nutshell

Dr Arien van der Merwe
About The Author
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MBChB NHA MISMA.
is a natural, integrative medical doctor and registered Holistic Counsellor, an experienced public speaker, bestselling author and has developed a number of online health courses. Arien specialises in natural integrative medicine, stress management and workplace wellness. She is a registered trainer with the ASCHP and NHA, as well as a member of the International Stress Management Association. Her latest book is Managing Diabetes and Related Health Challenges. Other books include Health & Happiness and the newly edited and revised Stress Solutions.