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What Makes Collagen Essential for Your Health and Beauty?

Collagen is a hot topic, especially in the beauty industry, with promises of youthful, wrinkle-free skin. But it's not just about beauty—collagen benefits intestinal linings, joints, tendons, bones, ligaments, and cartilage, making it essential for everyone. With the collagen supplement market thriving, let's explore what collagen is and why it's crucial in keeping us together.

What is Collagen?

Collagen is the most abundant protein in the human body, comprising about 30% of our body’s protein weight and 70% of the skin’s protein. It is crucial for making connective tissue, hence its abundance in the parts of the body that need to be "connected." Scientists took a while to understand collagen, and it wasn’t until the 1950s that they figured it out. If you are familiar with the double-helix strand of DNA, collagen is similar but forms a triple-helix structure, like three strands of rope twined around each other, creating a much stronger strand. Each strand of the helix represents a chain of amino acids, the building blocks of protein. This unique structure provides stability, structure, elasticity, and flexibility to tissues, bones, blood vessels, and organs in the body. The word “collagen” is derived from the Greek words kolla (glue) and gen (gene), accurately summing it up—collagen is literally the glue that holds us together. Without collagen, the human body would be reduced to a clump of cells interconnected by a few neurons and would have been extinct years ago!

Types of Collagen and Their Functions

There are at least 28 different types of collagen, but the most common and well-studied types include Type I, Type II, Type III, and Type IV. Each type has unique properties and supports different tissues in the body:

Type I Collagen: found in skin, tendons, bones, and organs.

What it does: Provides strength and structure. It's the most common type and aids inwound healing and bone strength.


Type II Collagen: found in cartilage and eyes.

What it does: Gives cartilage strength and flexibility, crucial for joint health and cushioning. It also helps maintain eye structure.


Type III Collagen: found in skin, muscles and blood vessels

What it does: Supports muscles, organs, and arteries, aiding tissue repair and growth.


Type IV Collagen: found in basement membranes, underneath skin and organ linings

What it does: Forms layers that separate tissues and helps with kidney filtration.


Collagen Production and Degradation

The body produces its own collagen throughout its lifespan, maintaining a balance between collagen production and degradation (the breakdown or unravelling of the strands). In our youth, we produce more collagen than we break down, ensuring our body remains plump, strong, and resilient. As we age, collagen degradation accelerates while production slows down, leaving our strands of rope worn, frayed, and falling apart. This process ramps up after menopause, which is why women notice significant changes in their skin, bones, and joints during this time.

Aging is inevitable, but factors such as UV light, smoking, stress, environmental pollution, and free radical damage also speed up collagen decline and are more avoidable. Do not underestimate stress in this list; cortisol, the stress hormone, is a major driver in collagen breakdown, literally tearing it apart. The good news is that regardless of why you are falling apart, there are still plenty of ways to ensure you hold it together and stay healthy as you age.

Nutritional Support for Collagen Production

"You are what you eat" is especially true for collagen. Amino acids from protein, particularly glycine and proline, along with zinc, vitamin C, and copper, are vital for collagen production. Historical cases of scurvy, caused by vitamin C deficiency, illustrate the importance of these micro nutrients in making collagen, thus in turn, preventing issues like bleeding gums and tooth loss. Today, collagen, vitamin C, and other nutrients are used to improve wound healing, atherosclerosis, and ulcers.

Sources of Collagen-Building Nutrients

Most meats contain essential amino acids for collagen. Proline is in egg whites, cabbage, mushrooms, and dairy. Glycine is abundant in animal skin, organs, meat, fish, and eggs. Vitamin C is plentiful in colourful fruits and vegetables. Zinc is found in beef, lamb, pork, shellfish, chickpeas, lentils, beans, milk, cheese, and various nuts and seeds. Copper is in organ meats, cocoa powder, cashews, sesame seeds, and lentils. A balanced diet ensures you have the ingredients to make collagen. Bone broth is a ready-made source, easily absorbed and distributed by the body.

Collagen Supplements

Supplements can also significantly slow collagen decline. Most collagen supplements are made up of “collagen peptides” or “hydrolyzed collagen proteins,” meaning the collagen strands are reduced to tiny strands for easy absorption and assimilation in the body. Since collagen makes up the connective tissues of animals and fish, it is natural that collagen supplements are derived from bovine, porcine, or freshwater fish sources. These supplements are available in pills, liquids, and powders. Collagen powders are soluble in hot or cold liquids and are easy to incorporate into your diet. Vegan collagen is not yet available, although scientists are working on modified yeasts and bacteria to create animal-free collagen. The best vegan option is a specific amino acid blend derived from plants that may contribute to the formation of collagen when consumed. Some of these “vegan” collagens also contain additional nutrients such as vitamin C, zinc, and copper to help build the amino acids into collagen. However, research to date is not entirely convincing regarding their efficacy.

Effectiveness of Collagen Supplements

Studies on collagen supplements to increase skin elasticity, improve bone density, and enhance joint health are robust, plentiful, and very promising. Delivering collagen through the skin using topical creams raises many questions about its efficacy and requires more research. The overriding message for collagen supplements is to source organic, tested, and trusted products and be prepared to use them for several months before seeing results.

Irene Flannery June 2024

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