Collagen production is most commonly associated with skin benefits; however, collagen is vital for the health of every system in our body. Collagen is an essential protein that provides structure to your skin, tissue and bones. It is also found in your blood vessels, corneas, hair, and teeth. Think of collagen as the “glue” that holds everything together. When you are younger, your body produces an abundance of collagen; however, with age, its production slows. In most cases, the amount of collagen in your body will decrease from your twenties and onward. Continue reading to understand the natural loss of collagen with age.
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What is Collagen?
Collagens are the main structural component of connective tissue and they resist stretching forces, according to Yale University. It is a hard, insoluble, and fibrous protein that makes up one-third of the protein in the body. Collagens pack together to form long, thin fibrils. They act as supporting structures and anchor cells to each other. As stated above, collagen is found in the hair, skin, joints, and bones.
Types of Collagen
Collagens make up a large family of proteins of around 40 types, but there are four types that are most common:
- Type I collagen forms fibers and is found in connective tissues with bone, ligaments, tendon and skin. This type accounts for 90% of the collagen in your body.
- Type II collagen forms fibers but are less organized than type I fibers. Type II fibers are found in cartilage, which cushions the joints.
- Type III collagen forms extremely thin fibers. Type III collagen make up reticulin fibers in organs and help organize cells within organs.
- Type IV collagen form branched networks and help organize the basement membrane. This type helps with filtration and is found in the outer layers of the skin.
Why Does Collagen Decrease with Age?
Collagen starts to decrease in your twenties by roughly 1% every year. It begins to decrease more rapidly after menopause. In your twenties, the skin’s exfoliation process decreases by 28%, which causes dead skin cells to stick together for long periods of time. In your thirties, the transfer of moisture between your dermis and epidermis slows and fat cells begin to shrink. This results in duller-looking skin. In your forties, your collagen and elastin fibers become thicker and looser with age. Elastin fibers are responsible for providing your connective tissues, such as blood vessels, lungs, and skins with elasticity and resilience. In your fifties, the skin becomes dry and easily bruised as your sebaceous glands produce less oil.
Additional Causes of Collagen Loss
- UV Damage
Excessive sun exposure is linked to increased collagen loss. UV rays damage the DNA in the cells that make collagen. UV rays penetrate the dermis and cause an abnormal buildup of elastin. The accumulation in elastin’s causes enzymes to inadvertently break down collagen. These rays also create free radicals, which increase the number of enzymes that break down collagen.
When you smoke, the blood vessels from your epidermis narrow. The decreased blood flow to your skin prevents oxygen and other nutrients from reaching your skin. This directly damages collagen and elastin fibers in the skin. Lastly, smoking also allows free radicals to attack collagen fibrils.
Stress can spark inflammation in your body, which will slow collagen production. Stress also increases your cortisol levels, which is known to decrease the production of collagen.
- Inflammation-Triggering Diet
Inflammatory diets, which are high in sugar, simple carbohydrates, and processed meats, promote inflammation throughout your entire body. Furthermore, the increased levels in sugar can lead to hardening and fragmentation of collagen and a weakening of the skin’s foundation.
What Effect Does Collagen Loss Have on My Body?
It is impossible to measure your collagen levels; however, this is what a decelerated collagen production can look like:
- Skin Changes
Collagen is responsible for giving your skin a plump and youthful look. Also, collagen prevents the skin from sagging. However, as collagen production decreases, your skin loses elasticity and becomes dryer and thinner. Also, collagen is present in scar tissue and plays a major role in restoring skin integrity during the wound healing process. As you age, your collagen loss may lead to a slower healing time from injury.
- Hair Changes
Collagen helps to strengthen the hair and its elasticity. Furthermore, it provides hydration and promotes growth. Collagen is responsible for fighting the free radicals that destroy your hair’s follicles. As production slows, your hair may lose strength and moisture.
- Muscle Weakness
Collagen is a major component of your muscle tissue. The slowing production of collagen in your body can decrease your muscle mass. Collagen also contains glycine, which is an amino acid that builds muscle mass. Lastly, a loss in muscle strength and mass can loosen the tendons that connect muscles to bones in your joints.
- Joint Stiffness
Collagen provides structure and cushion in the joints. Collagen levels are high in the cartilage at the ends of bones. Cartilage is flexible tissue that absorbs shock and helps the bones in a joint glide together with ease. When collagen levels lower in your cartilage, joint paint often occurs. In other words, the cushion wears down and joint mobility decreases, which increases your risk of injury.
- Bone Loss
Your bones are made of 90% collagen, which keeps them strong and dense. It is vital for the body’s framework and flexibility. The loss of collagen can cause your bones to become weaker and more injury prone. A lack of collagen can contribute to osteoarthritis, osteoporosis, and autoimmune joint conditions.
How Can I Increase Collagen Production?
- Protein-Rich Diet
A colorful, protein-rich diet will aid collagen production and prevent further hair and skin damage. Your body makes collagen by combining amino acids, nutrients that help build tissue. Protein-rich foods like eggs, bone broth, lean meat, beans, and dairy can provide the nutrients (amino acids) to support collagen production.
- Vitamin C
Vitamin C is an essential component in the collagen building process. Vitamin C is critical for the synthesis of collagen. Vitamin C is the cofactor (non-protein chemical compound) for the two enzymes required for collagen synthesis: prolyl hydroxylase (to stabilize the collagen molecule) and lysyl hydroxylase (to give structural strength cross-linking). Vitamin C is also an antioxidant that prevents your cells from damage.
Consider implementing Vitamin-C rich foods, like citrus fruits, berries, broccoli, and peppers, into your diet.
- Zinc and Copper
Zinc and Copper also play a key role in the synthesis of collagen. Zinc stimulates the body to produce more collagen. Copper activates the enzyme that helps to mature and strengthen collagen. Consume whole grains, dairy, and red meat to increase your Zinc intake. For copper include nuts, seeds, and chocolate in your diet.
- UV Protection
To prevent further collagen loss, it is important to protect yourself from the sun. Limited exposure is an important habit for young people to practice to slow collagen loss as you age.
There is nothing wrong with taking a collagen supplement; however, if you’re feeding your body the right nutrients to make collagen, you probably don’t need a supplement. Collagen peptide will be a tasteless powder that you can mix into any drink or smoothie. Collagen peptides most commonly come from animal bone and tissue, and also from marine sources like fish skin.
There are also skin creams with synthetic collagen. This product will add a filmy layer to your skin to retain moisture and prevent environmental damage. Keep in mind that it isn’t easy for topical solutions to replenish the level of collagen within your skin. While the research on collagen supplements is promising, it won’t reverse the effects of smoking, excessive sun exposure or a bad diet. As with any supplement, it should be accompanied by a healthy diet and lifestyle.
Risks Associated with Collagen
If you are taking collagen supplements for hair or skin, it should be understood that when looking for a collagen supplement, ensure that you do your research and work with your healthcare team to choose a high-quality and trusted brand. Also, many collagen peptides are derived from eggs or fish, so be mindful of your food allergies.
Collagen is the most abundant protein in the body. This protein is the primary structural component of connective tissues, such as the skin and cartilage. Collagen promotes skin elasticity, hair strength, bone and joint health, and muscle mass. Naturally, your body’s collagen production decreases as you age; however, there are controllable lifestyle factors that speed up this decline.
The most efficient way to boost collagen production as you age is to consume a diet rich in protein, vitamin C, zinc, and copper. You can also choose to take a collagen supplement (from a credible brand) to consume the potent protein. It is important to live a healthy lifestyle, free of smoking and excessive sun exposure, to prevent further collagen loss.