Collagen is the most plentiful protein in your body. It has various important roles, including providing structure to your skin and helping your blood clot. In recent years, it has gained popularity as a nutritional supplement and ingredient in shampoos and body lotions. Still, you may wonder what collagen is, as well as what it’s good for. This article gives you a thorough overview of this important protein.
What is collagen?
Collagen is the most abundant protein in your body, accounting for about one-third of its protein composition.
It’s one of the major building blocks of bones, skin, muscles, tendons, and ligaments. Collagen is also found in many other body parts, including blood vessels, corneas, and teeth.
You can think of it as the “glue” that holds all these things together. In fact, the word comes from the Greek word “kólla,” which means glue.
What does it do in your body?
There are at least 16 types of collagen. The four main types are type I, II, III, and IV (1Trusted Source).
Here’s a closer look at the four main types of collagen and their roles in your body:
- Type I. This type accounts for 90% of your body’s collagen and is made of densely packed fibers. It provides structure to skin, bones, tendons, fibrous cartilage, connective tissue, and teeth.
- Type II. This type is made of more loosely packed fibers and found in elastic cartilage, which cushions your joints.
- Type III. This type supports the structure of muscles, organs, and arteries.
- Type IV. This type helps with filtration and is found in the layers of your skin.
As you age, your body produces less and lower quality collagen.
One of the visible signs of this is in your skin, which becomes less firm and supple. Cartilage also weakens with age.
Nutrients that increase collagen production
All collagen starts off as procollagen.
Your body makes procollagen by combining two amino acids — glycine and proline. This process uses vitamin C.
You may be able to help your body produce this important protein by making sure you get plenty of the following nutrients:
- Vitamin C. Large amounts are found in citrus fruits, bell peppers, and strawberries
- Proline. Large amounts are found in egg whites, wheat germ, dairy products, cabbage, asparagus, and mushrooms
- Glycine. Large amounts are found in pork skin, chicken skin, and gelatin, but glycine is also found in various protein-containing foods
- Copper. Large amounts are found in organ meats, sesame seeds, cocoa powder, cashews, and lentils
In addition, your body needs high quality protein that contains the amino acids needed to make new proteins. Meat, poultry, seafood, dairy, legumes, and tofu are all excellent sources of amino acids.
Benefits of Collagen for Skin
While collagen is beneficial to the entire body, it is most noticeably beneficial to the skin. This is because as a person ages, the epidermic (outer layer of skin) thins and loses elasticity in a process known as elastosis. As this happens, a person tends to show more signs of aging and acquire more wrinkles.
The good news is that these changes do not seem to be permanent or irreversible. In fact, a double-blind placebo study conducted last year found that women who took collagen hydrolysate (the peptide form) regularly for 8 weeks saw a 20% reduction in wrinkles!
Though not as immediately noticeable, there are other benefits that might be even more important. For instance, collagen has been studied for its role in:
- Bone and Joint Health– Collagen may be beneficial to bones and joints in the same way it benefits the skin. By helping the body’s natural production of collagen and providing a bioavailable source of these amino acids, collagen may improve bone and joint health over time. In fact, a double-blind, placebo study showed significant improvement in joint pain.
- Hormone Balance- Emerging research shows that the specific amino acids in collagen may help improve the amino acid balance in the body and support the body’s natural hormone production.
- Digestion– As mentioned, gelatin and collagen may help coat the digestive tract and improve digestion, and the consumption of gelatin is often recommended on gut-specific diets like GAPS and SCD.
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