Collagen - The most abundant protein in your body

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Did you know that up to 35% of all body protein content is made up of one type of protein? This protein is a key component of our connective tissue – the most widely distributed tissue in the body, which binds, holds, supports and strengthens other body tissues, as well as insulates and protecting the organs.  It makes up our ligaments, tendons, skin, joints, cartilage, bone and even the gut lining, blood vessels and our teeth!

It is, therefore, absolutely vital to the health and proper integrity and function of ALL body tissues and organs. 
 
So, what is this protein? 
 
We are talking about collagen, of course. You may have heard about collagen from face cream adverts, but as you can see, it does so much more than just preventing wrinkles! 


Like any protein, collagen is made up of long chains of amino acids, however, the high concentration of proline and glycine make collagen quite unique. There are several steps and enzymatic processes in collagen synthesis, and by the end, we end up with a three-dimensional and adaptable structure. The important bit to remember here, is that those enzymes require vitamin C. Without an adequate supply of vitamin C, this process won’t work efficiently, and without continuous collagen supply, we can end up with weak connective tissue and problems with our joints, skin, bones and so on. 

Each of those tissues, whether it’s your joints or your skin, are structurally different. Some are more elastic and stretchy (e.g. tendons), whereas some are tough and rigid (e.g. bone). 


Apart from collagen, there are other important molecules that bind with each other forming a  distinctive blend of material, each with different characteristics and functions. These include hyaluronic acid, glucosamine or chondroitin. Collagen often forms the backbone, onto which those other components attach,for example minerals such as calcium, phosphorus and magnesium in bones. 

 

Common signs of weak connective tissue and decreased collagen synthesis:

  • Decreased skin elasticity, sagging, wrinkles, easy bruising
  • Joint problems such as arthritis, stiffness and pain
  • Frequent sport injuries e.g. torn ligaments
  • Broken facial capillaries - so called ‘spider veins’
  • Bone problems – osteopenia, osteoporosis, fractures
  • Rare conditions such as Benign Joint Hypermobility Syndrome  (BJHS) or Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, which are caused by genetic mutations which disrupt the structure, production, or processing of collagen
  • Intestinal permeability, aka ‘leaky gut’
  • If you have an inflammatory condition, there is a higher chance of collagen damage 

Collagen synthesis generally decreases with age Making our skin less elastic. Some studies indicated that the collagen production of sun-protected skin of 80 years old decreases by approximately 75% compared to 18-29 years of age.​(1)

 

Not all collagen is equal 
 
In fact, our body produces various types of collagen, for example type I, II, III and so on. Type I forms the vast majority of body collagen However, our cartilage mainly consists of collagen type II. They both have similar molecular structure, but different chain composition.(​2)​

Although we can buy collagen in powders or supplements, it is not guaranteed that it will be used properly in the body, because it is quite a big molecule and it gets broken down in the stomach, rendering it less useful. That’s why it is important to get the right type of collagen, with proven benefits.

Marine Collagen displays high resemblance to human collagen and is, therefore, easily absorbed through the gut wall and quickly delivered to the target tissues.​(3–5)​ It contains 8 out of 9 essential amino acids which cannot be produced by human body itself.  Research showed that marine collagen can improve skin elasticity,​3​iv hydration and reduce the appearance of wrinkles.​6 This form can also improve the synthesis of glycosaminoglycans (GAGs) – another component of joints, ligaments and tendons.​(7​)
 
 In turn, collagen type II is the main fibril-forming collagen in cartilage, consisting of 95% of all collagen types. It has a similar structure to collagen type I but a different chain composition (2).​ Its deficiency is associated with many diseases, such as skeletal dysplasia, rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis (8).​ It can support joint health, stiffness and mobility (9,10)​. Studies have shown that collagen type II can improve joint flexibility and extensibility​ (11)​. It can also decrease serum levels of inflammatory cytokines such as IL-1β, IL-6, and TNF-a ipso facto, decreasing joint degradation,​12​ joint inflammation and pain in osteoarthritis (12​).

 

Hydrolysed or undenatured collagen – which is better? 
 
Hydrolysed collagen can be obtained from cartilage or other connective tissue while undenatured collagen can only be obtained from cartilage.​13​ They have different structures and, thus, mechanisms of action. Hydrolysed collagen is broken down into smaller chains called peptides, which are more easily absorbed by the body, making it more bioavailable. 
 
We also need to support the body’s ability to produce collagen and prevent it from getting damaged. In addition, we can provide other nutrients to support general connective tissue health. Here are some of the main ones: 

  • Vitamin C increases collagen synthesis by acting as a co-factor for hydroxylase enzymes.​(14​)
  • Rutin is a flavonoid which has antioxidant properties​ (15​,​16​). It supports circulation, decreasing blood vessel fragility and permeability. It can be helpful for thread and varicose veins and reduce the tendency to bruise easily.​(17​)
  • Hesperidin helps to spare collagen in connective tissue​ (18​) and reduces inflammation (19​).
  • Hyaluronic Acid is a viscous substance found in different types of connective tissue like skin and cartilage, muscles, organs –e.g. brain and eyes. It can reduce wrinkles​ (20​), and increase skin moisture (21)​ 
  • Methyl Sulphonyl Methane (MSM) is a naturally occurring sulfur compound with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties​(22​). MSM can support skin, hair and nail quality​ (23​), and reduce facial wrinkles (​24)​
  • Rosehips provide more vitamin C than citrus fruits ​(25​) and have high antioxidant activity (26). Rosehip’s anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties makes it a potential agent for protecting joints and supporting osteoarthritis (27), by reducing degradation of joint cartilage (28).
  • Nucleotides are organic compounds which are part of DNA and RNA, essential for cell division, repair (29) and regeneration of damaged tissue ​(30).
  • Boswellia – Traditionally used in folk medicine for centuries. It has been shown to be beneficial in  inflammatory diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, chronic bronchitis, asthma and chronic inflammatory bowel diseases (ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease) (31-32​).
  • Glucosamine (and related compounds like chondroitin) form glycosaminoglycans and prevent collagen degradation and free radical production (33)
    Antioxidants such as berry/cherry extracts, grapeseed​ (34) and pine bark​ (35)​ reduce collagen breakdown. 

All of those nutrients together are much more powerful than a single ingredient. Because of the abundance of collagen in the body, supporting its production can potentially have many positive effects on our health. 


References

1.  Varani J, Dame MK, Rittie L, et al. Decreased Collagen Production in Chronologically Aged Skin: Roles of Age-Dependent Alteration in Fibroblast Function and Defective Mechanical Stimulation. Am J Pathol. 2006;168(6):1861-1868. doi:10.2353/AJPATH.2006.051302 
2.  Collagen Type 2 - an overview | ScienceDirect Topics. Accessed September 7, 2023. https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/nursing-and-health-professions/collagen-type-2 
3.  De Luca C, Mikhal’Chik E V, Suprun M V, Papacharalambous M, Truhanov AI, Korkina LG. Skin antiageing and systemic Redox effects of supplementation with marine collagen peptides and plant-derived antioxidants: A single-blind case-control clinical study. Oxid Med Cell Longev. 2016;2016. doi:10.1155/2016/4389410 
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10.  Sadigursky D, Magnavita VFS, de Sá CKC, de Sousa Monteiro H, Braghiroli OFM, Matos MAA. UNDENATURED COLLAGEN TYPE II FOR THE TREATMENT OF OSTEOARTHRITIS OF THE KNEE. Acta Ortop Bras. 2022;30(2):e240572. doi:10.1590/1413-785220223002240572 
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19.  Choi IY, Kim SJ, Jeong HJ, et al. Hesperidin inhibits expression of hypoxia inducible factor-1 alpha and inflammatory cytokine production from mast cells. Mol Cell Biochem. 2007;305(1-2):153-161. doi:10.1007/s11010-007-9539-x 
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23.  Beneficial Effects of a Sulfur-Containing Supplement on Hair and Nail Condition | Natural Medicine Journal. Accessed May 17, 2022. https://www.naturalmedicinejournal.com/journal/beneficial-effects-sulfur-containing-supplement-hair-and-nail-condition 
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February 6, 2024
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