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Nutrient - Collagen - All you need to know

Itís talked about a lot, especially in relation to beauty products, but what does it actually do?

By Debbie Paddington DipION

Collagen, the most abundant protein in the body, forms connective fibres in tissues such as skin, ligaments, cartilage, muscles, bones and teeth. Collagen also acts as a kind of intracellular "glue" that gives support, bulk and shape to bones, blood vessels and organs such as the liver, heart and kidneys.

Collagen is composed of three chains wound together in a triple helix. A special amino acid sequence makes the tight collagen triple helix particularly stable: every third amino acid is a glycine and many of the remaining amino acids are proline or hydroxyproline. There are at least fourteen different types of collagen, but the most common ones are:

·        Type I– makes up the fibres found in connective tissues of the skin, bone, teeth, tendons and ligaments

·        Type II– round fibres found in cartilage

·        Type III– forms connective tissues that give shape and strength to organs, such as the liver, heart, kidneys, etc

·        Type IV– forms sheets that lie between layers of cells in the blood vessels, muscles and eye

Our body is continually manufacturing collagen to maintain and repair connective tissues lost to daily wear and tear. However, after the age of 30, we lose around 1.5% a year of collagen. In addition, sun exposure and free-radical damage reduce the production of collagen in the body. Eating good-quality protein, such chicken, beans, lentils and eggs, will help the body produce more. Research has shown that collagen supplements are generally well tolerated and digested and may be helpful for some health conditions.

Vitamin C

Vitamin C is essential for the formation of collagen. It is actually used up as it combines with certain amino acids to form procollagen. Procollagen is then used to manufacture the collagen found in different tissues throughout the body. Without vitamin C, collagen formation is reduced, resulting in a wide variety of problems throughout the body. In fact, the signs and symptoms of scurvy are the same as the signs and symptoms of collagen deficiency. 

Nutrients such as lysine, L-arginine, vitamin B3, iron and copper also enhance the production of collagen.

Skin

The top layer of our skin, which helps to protect us from the environment, is called the epidermis. Collagen is found in the thickest layer of the skin beneath the epidermis, called the dermis. The main functions of the dermis are to regulate temperature and to supply the epidermis with nutrient-saturated blood. Much of the body's water supply is stored within the dermis as well as most of the skin’s specialised cells and structures, including blood vessels, hair follicles and sweat glands. Collagen is made from skin cells called fibroblasts that give the skin its strength and resilience. The collagen in the dermis determines the strength of the structural base for the skin and provides both support and elasticity. The dermis remains solid and intact for many years, but with age, free-radical damage and sun exposure, skin begins to lose its strength and stability. Young skin quickly heals and repairs itself. Ageing skin is not as resilient and with the loss of elasticity and collagen, it loses its shape, and lines and wrinkles can form where collagen previously plumped up the under layers of skin. Studies have found that taking a collagen drink over a five-week period may significantly increase skin flexibility, smoothness, elasticity, water absorption and generally improve the function of both the epidermis and the dermis of the skin.

Topically, collagen creams help to moisturise skin and may prevent loss of moisture, which can be particularly beneficial to dry skin and may help to reduce the appearance of fine lines.

Osteoarthritis

According to Arthritis Research UK, there are over six million people in the UK who suffer from painful osteoarthritis. In osteoarthritis, wear and tear causes damage to cartilage, which can result in bone grinding directly on bone. Typical symptoms of osteoarthritis include pain, inflammation and restricted movement of joints. This wear and tear can occur over many years, or it can be hastened by a joint injury or infection. 

Studies show that collagen, which is found in high quantities in bone, cartilage, tendon, ligament and joint tissue, is essential for joint health. Collagen keeps bones strong and cushions the end of bones so that our joints move smoothly and comfortably. Research has shown that oral collagen supplements accumulate in cartilage and can assist with the formation of new tissue, renew existing cartilage and can, therefore, help aid mobility. Collagen has also been shown to have a positive effect on the metabolism of cells in cartilage called chondrocytes, and the stability of the cartilage matrix.

Rheumatoid arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic inflammatory disorder, which typically affects the small joints in the hands and feet. Unlike the wear and tear damage of osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis affects the lining of joints, causing a painful swelling that can eventually result in bone erosion and joint deformity. Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease and occurs when the immune system mistakenly attacks the body's tissues. In addition to causing joint problems, rheumatoid arthritis can also affect the whole body with fevers and fatigue. Over 400,000 people in the UK suffer with rheumatoid arthritis, with approximately 20,000 new cases being diagnosed very year. So, it really is a very important protein for keeping joints healthy!


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