UNDERSTANDING COLLAGEN: THE BUILDING BLOCKS OF OUR BODY
- September 1, 2015
As collagen supplements gain more popularity in the beauty industry, it’s worth understanding exactly what collagen is and how supplementation can improve our skin’s health.
The most abundant protein in mammals, collagen comprises a significant portion of the substance that surrounds our cells. Think of it as the cement that binds cells together. The collagen structure itself is formed by the twisting and intertwining of long chains of certain amino acids (i.e., the building blocks of protein), to form a rope-like structure. Each of these further twist into each other, eventually forming a matrix that holds the body’s cells, nutrients and moisture.1 The smooth appearance of our skin is primarily due to the even consistency of these structures.2
Why Collagen Degrades
Exposure to certain factors like the sun’s UV rays, pollution, dust, etc. tends to create an excess of free radicals in the body. These are unstable molecules that damage cells, proteins and other molecules in their path, including collagen.
Our body produces fresh collagen every 30-45 days to repair this damage and replenish its structure. However, its ability to produce collagen slows down with age, with a drastic reduction occurring during our 20’s. Consequently, our skin structure gets compromised, as well as its ability to continue repairing damage. That’s what leads to signs of ageing like dullness, fine lines and wrinkles.2
Preventing Collagen Damage
Antioxidants are molecules that can stabilise free radicals, preventing the damage they’d otherwise cause.
Our body has its own antioxidant reserves in place to protect itself from free radical damage- but they need to be replenished so as to cope with the free-radical inducing elements of the environment and/or our lifestyles.
Obtaining sufficient amounts of antioxidants through the foods we eat can be an effective way to prevent free radical damage. Their ability to maintain or even improve certain aspects of our health makes them immensely powerful nutrients.3
Replenishing Collagen Structures
The decrease in collagen production can be combatted through something as simple as our diet.
We could start by providing our body with nutrients that facilitate its collagen production, like vitamin C. A far more efficient route, however, is to directly ingest collagen itself through meat.
There’s a catch, though. Collagen is mainly found in the organs, skin, bone and cartilage of animals. This means we’d have to consume every part of the animal, and not just the common muscle meats we eat today (chicken breasts, pork chops, ground beef). While our ancestors could eat all the collagen-rich parts of an animal, we’d find it far from appetising. Moreover, in its native form, collagen doesn’t necessarily get broken down in a way that’s useful to the skin. Like any other protein, it’s broken down into individual amino acids that may or may not form the chains required for a collagen molecule to be formed.4, 5
The answer lies in consuming collagen peptides: amino acids that are simply broken-down chains (aka peptides) of collagen. It’s comparable to forming a jigsaw puzzle when the pieces are already interlocked in two’s and three’s; the collagen peptides are much simpler for our skin to incorporate into its structures and start forming new collagen.
Studies have shown that more than 90% of collagen peptides are digested and absorbed by the skin after oral ingestion.6 In fact, a supplementary source of collagen peptides has been clinically demonstrated to improve our skin’s parameters, by helping it form new collagen and replenishing its collagen matrix.
The strengthened skin structure is once again smoother, more resilient to damage and can hold more moisture.7
Together, these improvements lead to visibly healthier skin that has a natural glow.
1. Lodish H, et al. Molecular Cell Biology, 4th edn. W. H. Freeman and Company: New York, 2000.
2. Farage MA, et al. Int J Cosmet Sci 2008, 30(2): 87-95.
3. Lobo V, et al. Pharmacognosy Reviews 2010, 4(8): 118-126.
4. Bhagavan NV, Ha CE. Essentials of Medical Biochemistry: With Clinical Cases. Elsevier Science, 2015.
5. Richards MP. Eur J Clin Nutr 2002, 56(12): 16 p following 1262.
6. Asghar A & Henrickson RL. Adv Food Res 1982, 28: 231-372.