Collagen: A Microscopic Spring That Plumps Up Skin and Cushions Joints
Lack of collagen is one of the prime reasons that skin wrinkles over time. No wonder anti-aging supplements are so popular!
It's in most of the skin cells in your body, as well as your bones and tendons, the fish and beef you eat, and many of the nutritional health supplements you take every day: Collagen.
This substance may not get mentioned on an ingredients list, but it's essential for healthy skin, joints, hair and connective tissue. In fact, lack of collagen is one of the prime reasons that skin wrinkles over time.
No wonder anti-aging supplements (link to essen youth, title=Essential Youth Anti-Aging Supplement) are so popular!
I'm Rubber, You're Glue...
You might be familiar with collagen from its uses in plastic surgery. If you've watched any news stories on non-invasive cosmetic procedures, you've probably seen collagen being injected into lips, cheeks or foreheads as a way to plump up the skin.
While this is certainly one way the substance gets used today, humans have been taking advantage of collagen for millennia.
The word "collagen" comes from the Greek word kolla, which means "glue." This is pretty appropriate, since pure collagen is a sticky, springy, whitish substance.
In fact, the oldest glue ever used by humans was made with collagen! In 1983, scientists excavated the Nahal Hemar Cave (in a cliff on the shores of the Dead Sea) and found something surprising: Tools, utensils, masks and even decorated skulls, all covered with what appeared to be naturally occurring asphalt.
This stuff turned out to be an 8,000-year-old glue made with collagen.
Over the centuries, collagen has found a whole host of uses, both as an adhesive and an alternative medicine. Ancient Egyptians used it to glue furniture together and to thicken paint. More recently, Native Americans boiled down collagen to use on their bows.
Most of the collagen was derived from animal skins. After all, skin is largely composed of collagen, which is why your body needs more of it as you age.
A Springy Triple Helix For Health
Your skin is made of hundreds of different proteins, but by far the most common is collagen. This molecule comes in two main types.
Collagen I is what toughens your epidermis, strengthens tendons, cushions joints and hardens bones. Collagen II makes up the cartilage in your ears and nose.
Why don't we hear about collagen more often? Well, it is so widespread in your body that it's possible that we consider it a constant, rather than a variable. But take it from the experts—you need more collagen as you get older. That's because your skin and bones produce less and less, resulting in wrinkles, creaky joints and weaker bones.
If you looked at collagen under an extremely powerful microscope, you'd see something surprising: The molecule is a triple helix! Collagen is made of three strands of proteins all winding around each other. (DNA, in contrast, is a double helix.)
This unique shape makes collagen springy yet firm. It gives it its special health properties, and makes collagen an essential part of your herbal supplement regimen.
How to Get More Collagen in Your System
Part of the difficulty in getting enough collagen in your diet is that it's mainly found in animal and fish flesh, bones and tendons. In addition to these dietary sources, you can try the following tips for consuming and maintaining healthy amounts of collagen:
1. Get more vitamin C. This nutrient is critical for keeping your body's collagen plump and stiff. Too little vitamin C can lead to scurvy, in which gums, hair, teeth and other collagen-rich tissues begin to degrade. By taking vitamin C, you help your body refresh its collagen supply.
2. Try supplements made with collagen or gelatin. When collagen is heated up, it loses its molecular shape and turns into a thick goop, called gelatin, which was once used to make (what else) glue. Today, gelatin can be found in all sorts of food products, perhaps the most famous being Jell-O. You can also consume collagen by way of herbal supplements or multivitamins.
3. Eat fatty fish. Salmon, for example, contains large amounts of collagen, especially just beneath the skin. As a bonus, you'll also get a hefty dose of omega-3s!