Everyone around us is talking of collagen, the fountain of youth that can give you years of anti-aging benefits. Every grocery store you pass by has jars of collagen on display claiming itself the elixir of youthfulness and other health benefits.
Several studies have shown the benefits of collagen supplement on our skin and its ability to retain youthfulness for decades. But there is more to collagen – it is vital to good health and effects pretty much every system of our body, including hair, nails, bones, muscles and even gut health.
What is Collagen
Collagen is a vital protein present abundantly in our body. Each peptide of collagen is composed of three amino acids – glycine, proline and hydroxyproline. It’s a structural protein that forms the major part of your body’s connective tissues, holding together your skin, muscle tissues, bones, tendons and ligaments.
An individual molecule of collagen is shaped in the form of a triple helix (triple spiral), allowing it to combine easily with other collagen molecules in your skin. Thus, the collagen molecules form a mesh-like network in the dermis (skin layer below the epidermis and above the subcutaneous fat) working like a glue inside the body.
Role of collagen in your skin and body
Almost 80% of our skin is made up of collagen, and together with elastin it provides strength and resilience to the skin. The tissues in our body get structure, strength, rigidity and texture because of collagen.
Any depletion in the collagen level in our body leads to skin and health problems. Skin aging is the direct result of collagen breakdown caused by advancing age, photodamage due to sun’s UV rays and excess environmental pollution. Depletion of collagen is visible in skin conditions like dryness, wrinkles, fine lines and saggy skin. Besides the skin loses elasticity and also appears rough.
Lower levels of collagen in the body results in health condition such as stiffer tendons and ligaments; osteoarthritis and joint pain; impaired gut health; and weaker muscles in the body – all associated with advancing age.
Collagen is vital for the healthy functioning of our body. But the body’s natural process of replenishing collagen depletes with age. And the production of collagen by your body starts reducing in your 20s. Collagen breakdown is at the rate of 1% every year. So, it’s important to replenish collagen through your diet or via collagen supplements.
Collagen protein supplements are mostly available as pills, powders, topical creams and liquids, with promises of renewed skin and stronger bones. But powders are more popular as they are easy to consume as an addon to coffee, smoothies or mixed to a glass of drinking water. However, it’s best to consult your physician about the dosage.
Collagen supplements are basically hydrolysed collagen, i.e. collagen broken down to peptides. Natural collagens are huge molecules, but the smaller peptides ingested as a nutritional supplement can easily be absorbed from our intestines and enter into the bloodstream. From blood, the peptides are sent to the target tissues for production of more collagen. Thus, collagen supplement is useful in enhancing the appearance of skin (improves elasticity, increases collagen density and overall hydration); And also in aiding repairs to other parts of the body (read bone, tendons, ligaments, muscles, etc.)
Several studies have shown that taking collagen supplements for 3-4 months improves the signs of aging, like lesser dryness, fewer wrinkles, and better skin elasticity. Research also suggests that consuming collagen as supplements leads to increase in bone density, and also marked improvement in joint, back and knee pain.
Natural/food sources of collagen
Human body synthesises collagen by combining amino acids, using nutrition from the protein-rich food we consume. Production of collagen also requires vitamin C, zinc and copper in adequate amount.
Eating a healthy diet that includes wild salmon, cod, tuna, beef, chicken, avocados, kale, spinach, garlic and pumpkin seeds helps your body to replenish collagen at a faster rate.
However, sometimes, our body cannot synthesize the desired levels of collagen. In such case, it’s imperative to take collagen supplements for healthy functioning of our body.
Most studies have shown that ingesting collagen supplements is generally safe. However, like with any other supplements, it’s best to start taking collagen supplements only after consulting a health professional.
Some people have complained of mild side effects like diarrhea, feeling of fullness, heartburn and sometimes rashes may break out. Besides these symptoms, there are no other health risks of consuming collagen supplements.
So, you can safely take your daily dose of collagen and reap the benefits of anti-aging and youthful skin for decades.
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