Collagen: Deeper Than Skin
It is said that beauty is only skin deep. But we would say that beauty goes deeper than skin. Why? Because unless we are in good shape on the inside, even a person with the features of a supermodel would not radiate health and vitality and move with grace. A significant way to keep ourselves in good shape — both inside and out — is by supporting collagen production and hindering its breakdown.
What Is Collagen?
Collagen is a major component of the endomysium of muscles and the extracellular matrix of connective tissues. In fact, it is the most abundant (25% to 35%) protein in our bodies. This ubiquitous protein is found in skin, hair and nails; muscles and fascia; bones, tendons, ligaments and cartilage; intervertebral discs; the heart and lungs as well as blood and lymph vessels; the eyes; kidneys and bladder; tooth dentin and the digestive tract. Collagen is also necessary for healing wounds and ulcers. It is easy to see the important role collagen plays in a maintaining a healthy body.
Collagen is made mostly from glycine and proline, but lysine and vitamin C play important roles in collagen synthesis. Structurally, collagen is mainly in the form of long, triple-helix glycoprotein fibers called fibrils. These bundles of fiber have incredible tensile strength — stronger than similarly-sized steel wires. Collagen and two other scleroproteins, elastin and keratin, protect and give structure, strength and elasticity to our tissues. They also make our skin germ- and water-resistant. Collagen is literally the "glue" that holds our bodies together. Without it, we would hang limp on our bones like watches in a Dali landscape.
As we get older and produce less collagen our cell structure weakens. The outward evidence of this is thin, wrinkled, sagging skin and lack-luster hair. On the inside it may be most obvious as stiff, painful joints. Factors that contribute to collagen degradation at any age are poor diet, high sugar consumption, excessive intake of chlorine and fluorine, excessive alcohol, tobacco and steroid use, cortisol ("the stress hormone"), inflammation and free-radical damage, dehydration, excessive exposure to UVA sunlight as well as some drugs, sunless tanners and genetic conditions.
Although it is not a complete protein, supplemental hydrolyzed collagen is very well absorbed (95%), utilized and well tolerated by the body. Research in Poland found that it enters the bloodstream via the intestines and "become[s] available for metabolic processes." The study also showed that hydrolyzed collagen can be used to improve joint health and decrease joint pain in those suffering from osteoarthritis and osteoporosis due to its role in the synthesis of cartilage and extracellular matrix (ECM). Collagen can help to maintain healthy blood pressure because it gives strength and elasticity to blood vessels and it contains angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors. And although this study found that hydrolyzed collagen is not absorbed directly by the skin, taking it orally hydrates the skin and benefits the hair and nails as well.
Collagen is an animal protein, but vegetarians need not worry. There are non-animal ways to help enhance collagen production and decrease its breakdown. A nutrient-rich diet (especially vitamins A, B1, B2, C, and the minerals copper, sulfur and zinc) is important. Also, eating a variety of plant proteins to ensure adequate amounts of amino acids (arginine, glycine, lysine, proline, taurine and threonine in particular).
Gotu kola can stimulate the production of Type I collagen which is found in our skin, bones, tendons, ligaments and teeth as well as in scar tissue. Type I is the most abundant form of collagen in our bodies (90%).
Bilberry, hawthorne and grape seeds contain oligomeric proanthocyanosides (OPCs) that inhibit collagen breakdown by the enzyme collagenase. Goji berries also inhibit collagenase. Green tea helps counter the damaging effects of ultra violet radiation on collagen while topical use of Ginkgo biloba can stimulate collagen production in the skin. And Aloe vera's ability to increase collagen production (especially Type III) contributes to its well-known wound-healing ability. Aloe may be taken internally or applied topically for this purpose.
Using skin care products containing carrot seed and/or clary sage essential oils will also enhance collagen helping to keep the skin smooth and wrinkle free. But, of course, we know that beauty goes deeper than skin — thanks to ubiquitous collagen.
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