How to Ensure Healthy and Prolonged Levels of Collagen in Your Body


Updated article previously published in 2019 (Spanish)

Collagen is the main structural protein of the extracellular matrix found in the various connective tissues of the body. As the main component of connective tissue, it is the most abundant protein in mammals, which involves between 25%-35% of the protein content of the whole organism.

Collagen is made up of amino acids linked together to form a triple helix of elongated fibrils known as the collagen helix. It is found mainly in connective tissues such as cartilage, bones, tendons, ligaments, and skin.

Among collagen's main functions are to provide strength, structure and elasticity to connective tissues, but as you age, your body becomes less efficient at producing collagen, which is the most abundant protein in your body. In addition, lifestyle factors such as excessive sun exposure, smoking and lack of sleep prevent adequate collagen production.

According to a US National Library of Medicine study published in 2019, from the age of 40 onwards you start to lose around 1% of collagen each year, and by around the age of 80 you have 75% less collagen than a young adult.  The decrease in collagen production can lead to changes such as loss of skin firmness and elasticity, as well as loss of bone mass.


Types of Collagen

Although a total of 28 types of collagens have been discovered, five are the best known and three are the most commonly supplemented nowadays.

Type I makes up 90% of the body's collagen and comprises skin, hair, nails, organs, bones, and ligaments. 

Type II makes up cartilage.

Type III is found in bone, cartilage, dentin, tendons, and other connective tissues.

Type IV is found in the so-called epithelial tissue layers, which cover body surfaces and cavities.

Type V is one of the main elements of cell surfaces and the placenta. 

Types I, II and III are the most popular for their anti-ageing effects.


Collagen is deficient in some of the nutritionally essential amino acids, such as isoleucine, phenylalanine/tyrosine, and sulphur amino acids. For this reason, gelatine (denatured collagen) is not considered a good source of dietary protein.

Another controversy with collagen supplements is that they are often made from the remains of chicken, beef and/or fish, and it is difficult to determine their purity, percentage of heavy metals in their content and quality of the product.

For this reason, not all health specialists agree on recommending collagen in supplement form.  Some nutritionists and dermatologists prescribe to their patients simply the preparation of a homemade beef rib broth which should generally contain the daily requirement of collagen.

If you choose to supplement, you should know that a high-quality product will show on its label that the supplement has been tested for heavy metal contamination, origin of ingredients, etc.


Currently, you will find collagen supplements in two forms: 

- Peptides or hydrolysates which feature shorter chains of collagen that break down and are more easily absorbed. 

- Gelatine which is essentially a degraded and cooked form of collagen from bones, skin and animal cartilage.

There are foods that are naturally rich in collagen and perhaps the cheapest and most effective way to supplement.  This is by consuming bone broth, especially beef rib bone.  There are other forms of collagen supplementation, such as capsules, powder, and liquid.

On the other hand, there are so-called vegan collagen supplements on the market, which do not actually contain collagen (collagen is not vegan in nature). Instead, these products are made up of other ingredients that are said to stimulate collagen production and you will find them as "Collagen Boosters".

In the 1980s collagen boomed because it was injected in order to make lips fuller and smooth fine lines.  But this practice fell into disuse because the effect was short-lived at the injection site compared to other products, and many people had allergic reactions to collagen.

A couple of years ago, people started taking it, and apparently with better results.  In 2014, a study of 300 people aged 18-74 from various European Caucasian groups found that people who consumed a daily dose of Pure Gold Collagen type 1 collagen before breakfast for 12 weeks showed an improvement in the properties of their skin, particularly fine lines, as well as a 24% reduction in the depth of the nasolabial fold (the fold that connects the sides of the nose to the corners of the lips), which increases with age.

In another group in the same study, greater skin firmness was observed in the crow's feet area and in the measurement of the radial forearm (1).

Another study of 53 older men suffering from sarcopenia (age-related loss of muscle mass) found that those who consumed 15 grams of collagen a day plus a weight training routine 3 times a week for 3 months gained a significant amount of muscle mass compared to those who only lifted weights.

Although research is still contrasting, several studies have shown that collagen supplements do help relieve arthritis pain and joint pain from exercise.


How to Detect Collagen Loss in Your Body and Decide if You Need Supplementation

In the skin: collagen provides firmness and structure to the skin.  As the decline in collagen production progresses, the skin becomes dehydrated and loses its thickness; this is when the signs of ageing appear.

In bones: as collagen and mineral levels decline, bones weaken, eventually making them vulnerable to fracture.

In joints: the use and abuse of joints throughout life reduces the efficiency of their function and range of motion.  As we age, this wear and tear is reflected in joint discomfort that hinders physical activity and efficiency of movement.

In muscles: the loss of muscle with age decreases the integrity of the connective tissue that binds muscle fibres into strong, efficient muscle. Age is linked to decreased muscle strength and performance, which affects balance, walking posture and overall mobility.


Collagen Supplementation for Vegans - How Does it Work?

Collagen is naturally derived from animal waste and people who do not consume animal protein would be at a disadvantage in benefiting from this supplement.  However, science has succeeded in producing human collagen with genetically modified yeast and bacteria.

P.pastoris bacteria have been identified as particularly effective and commonly used to produce high quality collagen.

In order to produce collagen, 4 human genes for the collagen code are needed and are added to the genetic structure of the microbes.  Once the genes are in place, the yeast or bacteria start to form the human collagen structures.

To this is added pepsin which is a digestive enzyme and aids in the shaping of the collagen into exact human collagen molecules.  This is vegan collagen.

So far, the vegetable collagen to consume is not actual collagen, but a set of vegan ingredients designed to help stimulate the body's own collagen production.

You will notice that most vegan collagen supplements say "collagen booster" or "collagen builder" on their packaging. These boosters and builders contain elements that help increase your body's natural collagen production.

However, thanks to genetic engineering, we now have real vegan collagen for skin care, which, it seems, has been shown to be very effective. (study)


Specific Benefits of Vegan Collagen

Vegan collagen would be most effective when used topically especially in cases of,

  • Dermatological sutures
  • Stimulation of skin and tissue production
  • Adjuvant in the scarring process
  • It also serves as a transport of medicines in the body and for the treatment of certain tumours.


On an aesthetic level, creams containing vegan collagen,

  • Help to give the skin a more youthful appearance by reducing visible wrinkles and promoting skin elasticity.
  • Reduce fine lines, as well as the appearance of fine lines on the face, neck and other areas of the body.
  • Improve skin elasticity by reducing sagging while providing a smoother and softer appearance.
  • Increase the body's natural collagen production as they contain what is known as a "collagen booster".


How and when is the best time to take collagen?

Most collagen supplements come in either powder or capsule form, either of which is well absorbed into the body.  Most people prefer powdered collagen because of its versatility - you can add it to coffee, a smoothie or in a soup.

As for the time of day, some people take it in their coffee or tea in the morning; if you are following an exercise routine, it is ideal to take it during those workout days; consume it perhaps an hour after you have finished your workout and before eating.

Regarding topical collagen, there are many brands that offer collagen peptide creams or serums with collagen boosters that seem to work, although they vary in price and presentation. 

Choose products with high concentrations of peptides.  Also, select products that keep the skin in contact with the peptides for as long as possible.  In this respect, serums and creams work better than wet wipes.  Also, collagen peptides go best with vitamin C, retinol, niacinamide and hyaluronic acid.

Finally, there are several natural ways to promote and enhance collagen production in your body that you can take advantage of such as your diet, lifestyle habits, environmental factors and of course, some collagen-based products.  Once again, the formula for feeling and maintaining a youthful appearance for a long time is in your hands.


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