What Is The Role Of Collagen In The Body?
September 28, 2018
Collagen, a word derived from the Greek word for “glue”, does indeed function similarly to glue in holding our bodies together. Collagen is the most predominant protein in the human body, accounting for 25 to 30% of total protein stores.
Collagen is a fibrous protein structurally arranged in a triple helix of two identical and one slightly different protein chains, similar to a spiral staircase. Each of these collagen structures are referred to as a collagen fibril. Amino acids (the building blocks of protein) most commonly found in collagen include glycine, proline, hydroxyproline, and alanine.
Collagen’s molecular structure
Although there are currently at least 16 different types of collagen recognized, only 5 are noteworthy for their functions in humans, and types I, II, and III account for 80 to 90% of collagen found in the body.
Type I collagen is the most common, making up approximately 90% of the body’s collagen stores. Type I collagen primarily plays a structural role, providing strength to bones, skin, teeth, tendons, corneas, cartilage, nails, and other types of connective tissues. Bone mass tends to decrease with aging, and impaired bone density and increased fracture risk are common in the elderly. Supplemental collagen can help older adults, especially post-menopausal women, avoid or minimize this bone breakdown. Similarly, collagen may improve muscle mass and strength in individuals whose muscles have atrophied due to aging.
The roles of type II collagen are flexibility and elasticity. Type II collagen contains loosely packed fibers in a fluid matrix, and it is typically found in the eyes and elastic cartilage within joints. Type II collagen is also involved in the development and protection of organs and some tissues. During the normal aging process, the amount of collagen in the body decreases, and many people develop conditions such as osteoarthritis when joint cartilage breaks down. Supplemental collagen may provide pain relief and reduce inflammation related to osteoarthritis.
Type III collagen is responsible for support, especially related to organs, muscles, and blood vessels. Approximately 1 to 2% of muscle tissue is comprised of collagen. Type III collagen also plays a major role in heart health by maintaining the structural integrity of arteries. Strong arteries are less likely to develop atherosclerosis, a condition that often causes strokes and heart attacks. Adequate collagen may also contribute to increased levels of beneficial HDL cholesterol, further decreasing heart disease risk.
Type IV collagen is widespread in the skin, functioning in a protective role. Type IV collagen defends the body from pathogens and toxin absorption through the layers of the skin. Collagen also assists skin cells with growth, regeneration, and removal of dead cells. Supplemental collagen can hydrate dry skin and improve the appearance of wrinkles by increasing skin elasticity. Collagen supplements may even prompt the body to produce additional collagen and other structural proteins such as elastin and fibrillin. Typically, skin repair occurs as a result of improved blood flow stimulated by collagen.
Type V collagen is present in hair, providing structure. When ample collagen is present, it ensures proper hair growth and minimal hair loss. Collagen works closely with keratin, the most widespread protein found in hair, to protect and strengthen each strand of hair.
With age, all types of collagen weaken, production decreases, and the quality of collagen that is produced declines. These effects are most obvious in joints such as the knees (due to decreased elastic cartilage) and the skin. Skin structure changes drastically with age, reducing skin elasticity and strength, and allowing for the development of wrinkles.
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