All About Collagen: What It Is, What It Does, and How to Choose the Right Type for You

Did you know that without collagen, your body would look like a dumpling that was boiled for too long? It would just be a bunch of cells lying around in space. Collagen is the protein that knits those cells together. Collagen is most often associated with skin, and while it does provide strength and form to the skin, it’s  also the foundation of the bones, muscles and tendons.

As you age, your collagen breaks down. Unfortunately, many of the effects of collagen deterioration can be visibly detected. As your collagen weakens, you start to look older, making collagen a popular ingredient in many anti-aging products. Supplementing with a high-quality collagen product may help slow down the signs of aging.

Collagen 101

Thirty percent of the protein in the human body is collagen. Most of the collagen in the body is type I, II or III. However, there are approximately 16 different types of collagen. Imagine that collagen is a fiber that has been knitted together into a sweater. A sweater’s structure is strong as long as the fibers are intact.

As you age, the collagen fibers start breaking apart. Instead of staying interconnected, they become disorganized and float around piece by piece. It’s as though someone started cutting apart the yarn that makes up your sweater.

Type I Collagen – The most abundant type of collagen, this is found in the spinal discs, bones, skin and scar tissue.

Type II Collagen – The least plentiful type of collagen, this is found in the joints and the eyes.

Type III Collagen – This type of collagen is found in the same locations as type I collagen. It is also abundant in the muscles, blood vessels and intestinal lining.

Health & Beauty Benefits Of Collagen

Researchers have discovered how to isolate collagen and manufacture it into supplements that humans can consume. Why would you want to eat collagen? Taking collagen supplements can help restore lost collagen in the body.

By the time you’re 40, you make 25 percent less collagen than you did as a child. Your collagen production drops down to 50 percent by age 60.

Collagen in skinIf that tightly knitted sweater loses strength, it will develop cracks and crevices. That’s what happens when the collagen beneath your skin deteriorates. The top layer of your skin begins to sag, developing lines and wrinkles.

Type I and III collagen can help restore the levels of collagen beneath the skin’s surface. Taking these types in supplement form can lead to smoother, plumper skin. Supplementing with type I and III can also help your muscles and tendons recover from strenuous exercise. These more abundant forms of collagen can also make your nails and hair stronger.

Taking type II collagen can help support joint health as you age. If you continue to feel good as you get older, you’re more likely to keep up a consistent exercise routine that helps the blood bring oxygen to the skin, maintaining a more youthful appearance.

Marine, Bovine or Porcine Collagen?

All animals have collagen in their bodies. Even sea sponges contain collagen within their flexible forms.

Marine collagen is obtained from fish. This type of collagen is absorbed best by your body, because it reaches your bloodstream faster and can be used more readily.

Bovine collagen is isolated from the connective tissue in cows. This is cheaper to produce than marine collagen, but the body does not absorb it as efficiently. More people are likely to be allergic to bovine collagen than other types.

Porcine collagen is derived from pigs. It has some similarities to human collagen, but it’s not absorbed as easily as marine collagen.

Marine collagen can be extracted from the scales or the skin of the fish. Both contain type I collagen, but the extraction methods differ.

Collagen can be isolated from fish skin using a heat and enzyme process. Scales must be dissolved using hydrochloric acid.

Although collagen from fish scales is cheaper, it may contain residual acid. The acid can be hard on your digestive system and may destroy the benefits of the collagen.

What Kind Of Collagen Should You Take?

Collagen powder in bowlThere are so many different kinds of collagen supplements that choosing the best one can be confusing. Evidence shows that hydrolyzed collagen, which has been broken down into smaller particles, is absorbed well by the digestive system. It circulates to various tissues and can act as a scaffold or even help the body produce more of its own collagen.

If you’re looking for the type of collagen that your body can use most efficiently, a hydrolyzed form of marine collagen is probably the best.

To give your skin a boost, take type I or type III. They can be taken together but should not be taken with type II collagen. You should also take this type of supplement at least 30 minutes before eating protein.

To help your joints stay mobile, consider supplementing with type II collagen. However, if you experience soreness or tendonitis from exercising, types I and III will benefit you too.

When you’re looking for supplements, you’ll find collagen in powdered and capsule form. Many experts suggest consuming the powdered form mixed with water. Collagen hydrolysate will dissolve in any liquid and is virtually tasteless.

Gelatin, which is produced when collagen is heated, is also available in powdered form. You can also mix gelatin with a liquid, although it may produce a thicker texture. Gelatin can coat the intestinal walls, helping with digestive issues.

If you don’t like the idea of swallowing either powder in your water, juice, smoothie, tea or coffee, take it in tablet form. It may take longer to absorb because the coating must first dissolve, but it may be more palatable and convenient.

Your body needs vitamin C to create collagen. You don’t necessarily need to take the vitamin with a collagen supplement, but you want to make sure that you aren’t deficient in vitamin C to ensure adequate collagen production.

One form of collagen that doesn’t seem to be effective is topical collagen. The molecules are too large to be absorbed if you put it on your skin. Therefore, you may find more benefits from consuming your collagen than from buying lotions and serums that contain the protein.

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