Collagen – More than skin deep

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Though often touted primarily as a beauty aid, collagen plays a much more important role for our well being.

Our natural collagen level decreases as we age because our skin begins to thin. When collagen begins to break down in our skin, fine lines, wrinkles and age spots appear. Excessive sun exposure also contributes to collagen breakdown. Besides aesthetic reasons, collagen is indispensable to our well being in other ways as well. 

What is collagen?

Collagen is a long, fibrous protein that together with elastin and soft keratin forms the connective tissue which is responsible for our skin’s elasticity and strength. It is the major element of skin, bone, tendon, cartilage, blood vessels and teeth. Almost 75% of our skin is made up of collagen. Hair and nails also contain large amounts of collagen. Natural collagen makes up approximately 35% of the body’s protein content.

Why is collagen so important?

Collagen works as a cushion between muscles, bones and joints, and ensures that all these organs function normally. Collagen is purported to help people with arthritis and other joint-related problems by increasing mobility and reducing pain. It also helps skin to heal properly after injury or medical conditions such as acne.

Types of collagen and their uses

Marine or Fish collagen
Some manufacturers suggest that marine collagen is the easiest for humans to ingest due to the lower molecular weight which improves absorption. Although available in tablet form and in face creams, it is generally accepted that it is more readily absorbed in to the body when taken as a liquid.

Plant collagen

Plant collagen appears to be less successful than other types of collagen due to the difficulty of absorbing the product into the blood stream. For this reason, plant collagen is used extensively in the cosmetics industry in face creams and is possibly the least preferred in the fight against ageing.

Animal collagen

Animal collagen is more readily absorbed in to the human blood due to the similar nature of the tissue construction. Animal collagen is commonly used in wrinkle-reducing treatments in the form of direct injections.

Foods that are rich in collagen

Vitamin C is a critical antioxidant for collagen production in the skin. Many fruits and vegetables are excellent sources of Vitamin C.

Diets high in beta-carotene and Vitamin E also build collagen.

Cold water fish, such as salmon, sardines, cod, mackerel, and tuna are rich in Omega-3 fatty acids which keep skin soft and supple. Vegans can take flax seed oil daily instead.

Include lean meats, soy products and wheat germ in your diet to supply your body with sufficient amounts of lysine and proline needed to restore collagen. Egg whites, cheese and peanuts are high in lysine.

Garlic contains sulphur, which helps your body produce collagen. It also contains taurine and lipoid acid, which support damaged collagen fibres.

Tomatoes are rich in the antioxidant lycopene, which inhibits collagenases. Collagenases are enzymes that destroy collagen. Tomatoes contain greater amounts of lycopene when they are cooked.

Oolong, green and black teas contain anti-inflammatory ingredients and antioxidants that can restore collagen and temporarily reduce the appearance of wrinkles.

Supplements & Treatments

Collagen can be consumed, applied or injected into the body. Oral collagen supplements come in pill and liquid form. Liquid collagen is in the hydrolysed form, which means it is already broken down by the catalysts for easy absorption by the body. Powdered supplements have to be mixed with water or juice. Some collagen drinks may contain youth-enhancing ingredients such as seaweed extracts and collagen peptides.

The gel form is applied directly to the skin. Liquid collagen injected into skin acts as a temporary measure to replace collagen.

Doctors believe that that topical collagen cannot penetrate the epidermis because the molecules are too large. Collagen creams and face masks only moisturise, but don’t provide extra collagen to the body.

Possible side effects

People with sensitive skin may break out in a rash when using certain lotions or creams containing collagen.

High calcium levels or hypoglycemia may occur as a possible side effect of collagen supplements. Collagen tablets that come from marine sources contain high amounts of calcium, which can significantly raise one’s calcium level. Too much calcium in the body causes constipation, bone pain, fatigue, nausea, vomiting and abnormal heart rhythms. Taking calcium supplements together with this type of collagen tablet should be done with extreme caution.

As with any cosmetic procedure, side effects are possible. One of the most common side effects from injections includes excess swelling in and around the affected area.

How to restore collagen naturally

  1. Eat the right foods to protect the existing collagen in your skin and stimulate collagen regrowth.
  2. Drink about eight glasses of water per day. Water is very beneficial to your skin, which is your body’s largest organ. Water flushes toxins from the skin and promotes collagen fibre formation.
  3. Do not smoke. Nothing ages your skin as fast as smoking does.
  4. Limit your alcohol consumption as alcohol has a very similar effect on the skin as cigarettes.
  5. Exercise three to four times a week. Exercise is superb for every aspect of your health, including your skin.
  6. Get a facial massage to stimulate blood circulation.

Everyone wants to stimulate their collagen production to look and feel good. Whatever method you choose, make sure you find out about the possible risks involved beforehand.

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