Best known for its beautifying and youth-promoting properties, there's much more to Collagen than meets the eye.
But, what is Collagen exactly? Collagen is the most abundant and complex protein in your body, making up roughly one third of your body’s total protein count. Collagen is made of three individual amino acids - glycine, proline, and hydroxyproline.
Being the complex protein it is, there are at least 28 types of Collagen in your body, but it's Type I, II and III that make up the vast majority of your body’s total Collagen count. Each of these types of Collagen contains a slightly different sequence of amino acids, each of which have different purposes within your body.
Different types of Collagen
Type I Collagen
Type I Collagen is present in your connective tissue, including your skin, bones, tendons, ligaments, blood vessels and internal organs. It's the most abundant type of Collagen in your body, making up about 90% of your total collagen and bone mass.
Type II Collagen
Type II Collagen is found specifically in your joint cartilage. It's similar to Type I Collagen and forms a smooth, gel-like structure around your joints and bones to provide strength and toughness.
Type III Collagen
Type III Collagen is present in your skin, muscles and blood vessels, working together with Type I Collagen to keep your skin elastic and firm.
Collagen acts as the glue and scaffolding that holds your body together. Its strong fibres support the structure, function and strength of your connective tissue, skin, bones, joints and cartilage.
Collagen supports healthy skin
Collagen is the main component of your skin’s extracellular matrix, which determines the structure and function of your skin.
Its fibres form layers - like a scaffolding - for cells and other proteins to rest on. This is responsible for making your skin waterproof and maintaining its elasticity, strength and firmness. As you age, your body naturally produces less collagen, leading to a loss of elasticity and causing skin sagging, wrinkles and fine lines. It can also cause your skin to become dry, dehydrated and dull-looking. This slow-down starts from roughly age 25 and continues to reduce by 1-2% each year.
Several studies have shown that a key benefit of collagen supplements is that they may help slow the ageing of your skin by reducing wrinkles and dryness.
Other studies have also shown that taking collagen supplements may help promote the production of other proteins that help structure your skin, including elastin and fibrillin.
Collagen production can be affected by sunlight. Ultraviolet rays cause collagen to rapidly break down, damaging collagen fibres and causing an abnormal build-up of elastin. Environmental toxins like smoke, alcohol, air pollution and radiation can also damage collagen and elastin in your skin.
Wearing sunscreen daily to protect against UV damage is vital to protect your skin’s collagen levels. Looking after your skin from the inside out is also important. This includes drinking enough water (at least 2 litres a day), eating foods rich in vitamin C, antioxidants, collagen and proteins.
Collagen supports joint health
As well as forming the foundations of your skin, collagen supports your joints and muscles in a similar way.
Tendons are made up of 85% (mostly type I) collagen and connective tissue. They connect muscle to bone, enabling your joints to move and withstand tension.
Collagen is the main component of joint cartilage, with type II making up 85-90%. Water-attracting molecules are another element of joint cartilage. Collagen traps these molecules in its web, using the water to produce elasticity and lubricate your joints. In turn, this contributes to your joints’ shock-absorbing capacity. Decreased collagen production can lead to a variety of problems, including joint pain, arthritis, low bone mineral density, osteoporosis and loss of muscle mass.
Collagen supports muscle health
Arginine and glycine, two of the amino acids found in collagen, are used to make creatine, which plays a role in building muscle mass and strength. Research has suggested that taking collagen may promote the synthesis of muscle proteins like creatine, as well as stimulate muscle growth after exercise.
Studies have found taking collagen supplements in combination with regular resistance training improves muscle mass and strength in older men with sarcopenia, or the natural loss of muscle mass that occurs with ageing.
Similar results were found in studies involving young men and premenopausal women, who gained more fat-free muscle mass and strength than the placebo groups following 12 weeks of resistance training.
Collagen may support heart health
It's collagen that provides structure to your arteries, which are the blood vessels that carry blood from your heart to the rest of your body. Without enough collagen, arteries may become weak and fragile. Collagen is linked to the prevention of arteriosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) since it helps your arteries stay clear of dangerous plaque build up. Studies have shown that taking collagen supplements can help increase HDL “good” cholesterol levels as well as reduce artery stiffness.
Collagen may promote gut health
Collagen makes up part of your connective tissue, which forms the lining of your colon and gastrointestinal tract. Increasing your levels of collagen may help form connective tissue in the GI tract and therefore “seal and heal” this protective lining.
Poor gut health, including changes in your gut microbiome and permeability in your gut barrier (also known as leaky gut), allows foreign particles to pass into your bloodstream which can cause an inflammatory response.
Studies have found that serum collagen levels are decreased in patients with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Because the amino acids in collagen build the tissue that lines the colon and GI tract, supplementing with collagen can support gut health.
Collagen supports bone health
Your bones are mostly made of type I collagen, providing your bones with structure, support, strength and flexibility and enabling them to absorb energy.
Bone mineral density decreases as you age, which can lead to conditions like osteoporosis.
Hydrolysed collagen peptides are collagen that’s been broken down into small molecules, making it easier to absorb than when in its natural form.
In fact, the body can’t absorb collagen in its ‘whole’ form as the molecules are too large to pass through the gut barrier.
This gelatine is further broken down, or hydrolysed, into small molecules called peptides. These peptides are soluble in cold water, meaning they're more easily absorbed and get to where they are needed in your body.
Collagen peptides also hold unique information that helps to stimulate your body’s natural ability to produce collagen. Essentially, they give your body a nudge, triggering the cycle of healthy collagen production.
Of all the different types of collagen, it is type I, type II and type III which play the most significant part in our bodies, with type I collagen, most commonly found in marine sources of collagen, being particularly abundant.
With this in mind, when looking for collagen supplements, it’s especially important to look out for hydrolysed marine collagen, as this is the most likely to be effective.