Collagen is having a moment in health circles from joint support to hair and skin all-star. Endless tubs of it line the shelves of your fave warehouse store. And it’s hard to miss this buzzword when shopping for beauty products, promising to transform your skin.
But are you asking what collagen is, exactly? And what about its health benefits, food sources, supplements, types, and more? Yup, we wondered the same thing. Read on as we solve the collagen conundrum.
What is collagen?
Collagen is the most abundant protein in your body. It’s the primary building block of skin. Yes, collagen plays a starring role in the perceived youthfulness of your skin, but that’s not all.
“Collagen is a protein and is one of the main building blocks of our skin. It’s also found in our bones, tendons, and ligaments,” says Deanne Mraz Robinson, MD, a board-certified dermatologist.
It provides structural support to tissues and plays critical roles in tissue repair, immune response, cellular communication, and more.
What are the benefits of collagen for your body?
According to dermatologist Dr. Cyndi Yag-Howard, this protein has a mighty big job.
“Collagen gives body tissues structure, toughness, rigidity, and texture. In the skin, it’s akin to a layer of leather. And when it intermingles with elastic fibers, it gives skin strength and resilience,” says Dr. Yag-Howard.
When collagen tanks, you may notice wrinkles, stiffer tendons and ligaments, weaker muscles, joint pain, and even GI problems.
What are the different types of collagen?
There are five main types of collagen.
Type I provides structure to your skin, bones, tendons, and ligaments. Type II offers joint support, while Type III is found in muscles, arteries and organs.
And lastly, Type IV is found in the layers of your skin, and Type V is found in your eyes, skin, and hair.
What causes collagen loss?
• Age: As we age, collagen breaks down at a faster rate. Women’s collagen production dips after menopause. It’s normal for everyone to experience a decline in this skin-loving protein after age 60.
• Smoking: Smoking damages collagen and elastin, leading to wrinkles. And nicotine constricts blood vessels near your skin’s surface, putting a roadblock on the delivery of oxygen and nutrients.
• Sugar and refined carbs: Sugar attaches to proteins to form advanced glycation end products. These molecules damage nearby proteins and cause collagen to become weak, dry and brittle.
• Exposure to ultraviolet light: That’s the #1 reason (besides skin cancer) that you should slather on the SPF daily. Too much sun reduces collagen production and causes it to break down more quickly.
Can eating collagen-rich foods help?
That’s a loaded question. You see, collagen can’t be absorbed by your body in its whole form. So eating collagen-rich foods doesn’t directly result in higher collagen levels in your body.
But according to the Cleveland Clinic, many foods that provide the raw ingredients that support collagen production can be eaten as part of a healthy diet. These foods contain the amino acids proline and glycine. Vitamin C, zinc and copper are also needed for the process.
Where can you find this collagen collaborators? Head to Vitamin C rich fruits and veggies. And pile on the proline with mushrooms, fish, asparagus, and peanuts. Copper is found in organ meats, lobster, leafy greens, and tofu. And oysters, beans, meat, nuts, and whole grains are rich in zinc.
Need more collagen? Supplements, creams and more…
Let’s circle back to those tubs of collagen powder that are begging for your attention. There is some evidence that oral collagen powders and supplements can be help lessen the appearance of aging.
Most collagen supplements are hydrolyzed, meaning they’re already broken down and are easier to absorb. The powder can be added to smoothies, coffee and other beverages.
Then there’s bone broth, which is packed with collagen from animal bones. Find out how to make your own with our Beginners Guide to Making Bone Broth.
Our final advice? Eat a well-balanced diet full of healthy foods. If you’re lacking certain vitamins and minerals, consider supplementation. And, finally, to slow down collagen damage in your skin, don’t smoke and wear sunscreen daily.
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