By Corina Tan
Imagine a substance that cushions your joints, plumps your skin, and supports cells in your body. Collagen has that job, which is why it is the most abundant type of protein in the body. The connective tissues in your skin, cartilage, bones, tendons, ligaments, hair, nails, and even in your eyes and teeth are constructed of collagen.
Before the recent surge of collagen supplements, you probably didn’t give collagen too much thought. After all, there is an abundance of supplements in the market promising anti-ageing benefits, longevity and other miraculous results that one more supplement added to your daily regimen just seems like overkill. Plus, our bodies make their own collagen, so why would anyone need more? The issue lies in the fact that when you hit your 20s, the production of collagen begins to decline, and the quality also declines with age. In fact, it decreases about 1 per cent with each passing year. In the first 5 years of menopause, collagen decreases up to 30 per cent and eventually stops production altogether. This has led to a large acceptance of collagen supplements to not only look good but also feel great. The real question is whether collagen supplementation actually results in collagen being delivered to precise locations where it is actually needed.
The body makes collagen by breaking down protein from food into amino acids. Nutrients such as vitamin C, zinc and copper also aid the building process of collagen. There are at least 16 types of collagen in the body, but there are four main ones that play a critical role.
- Type I:Accounts for 90 per cent of collagen in the body. Its fibres form the structural and mechanical scaffold of skin, tendons, bones, ligaments, cornea, teeth, and arterial walls.
- Type II:Mainly found in the cartilage of the ears, nose, larynx, trachea, ribs, and many joint surfaces.
- Type III:A thinner version of type I, providing a protective covering for organs, muscles, and arteries.
- Type IV:Adds structure and serves as a barrier for the skin.
Seeing that collagen is so crucial to almost every part of the body, the idea that it decreases over time can be worrying. The growing concern and interest are apparent amongst the discerning, hence the advent of collagen supplements. From pills to powders, coffee creamers, gummies, beverages, teas and even baked goods, the abundance of these products are overwhelming, but where do their sources come from? There are three main sources namely – animal collagen(skin, muscle, bones, tendon), marine collagen(skin, bones, scales) and vegan collagen. Vegan collagen is the newest type of collagen that is made from genetically modified yeast and/or bacteria which have had human genes that code for collagen added to their genetic structure – hence the genetic modification. With the genes in place, the yeast or bacteria with the help of a digestive enzyme, start churning out what is an almost exact replica of human collagen.
The makers of collagen supplements say that they can improve skin, relieve achy joints, increase muscular strength, and improve heart health. While studies show promise, more research is needed to prove cause and effect, optimal dosage and how long the benefits actually last. Experts also need to decipher which types of collagen actually help with skin elasticity versus joint pain, or whether one type can help both. Some of the more promising findings state that it is effective in decreasing joint pain, increasing bone formation, reducing bone degradation, helps preserve elasticity in blood vessel walls thus encouraging healthy blood flow, increasing skin elasticity, hydration and dermal collagen density. Also, clinical data and studies show that collagen dressings like sheets, pads, gels and even topical powder could help heal wounds and ease pain associated with second and third-degree burns. Although the benefits listed show promise, the hype on collagen supplements is sometimes ahead of the actual science.
If you aren’t keen on supplementation, you can get dietary sources of collagen from fish, chicken, meat, beans, tofu, tempeh and quinoa, but you also need a good amount of vitamin C, zinc and copper to turn the wheels of collagen synthesis. Staying away from radiation and other forms of oxidative stress like smoking, pollution, pesticides, cleaners, excessive alcohol consumption and diets high in fats and sugar will help to show collagen in your body a little love and support. After all, is said and done, if the option to consume collagen supplements remains on the table, be sure to check the labels for a third-party certifier such as USP, UL or NSF International to ensure that there is no contamination with heavy metals and that the quality and source of collagen is the kind you want.