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Collagen 101

What the heck is collagen and why do I need to take it?

Some form of this question is usually uttered the first time someone sees a collagen product online or at a vitamin store. You may think you don’t know what collagen is, but you know what it looks like…

Just take a glance in the mirror, and there it is. Your skin, your hair, your shoulders and elbows and knees. Collagen is in them all, plus a lot of other vital bodily structures you can’t see (bones, muscles, for example).

What is collagen and why do you need it? Because it’s essentially the glue that keeps everything together in your body. But like many things, collagen doesn’t always hold up well to the wear and tear we put our bodies through, resulting in many undesirable effects: sagging skin, painful joints, hair that doesn’t glow and grow like it used to. That’s where collagen supplements come in. Research shows that the right products could help slow these inevitable signs of aging.

The Basics of Collagen

Collagen is the most abundant protein in the human body, comprising roughly one-third of the body’s protein. Proteins are what hold our bodies together, as they provide structure and function to all of our tissues and organs.

Collagen is the major component of connective tissue – cartilage, bones, tendons, ligaments, skin (the largest organ in our body). It’s also found to a lesser extent in muscles. Collagen can be very hard (as in bones), yet it can also be pliable, as in tendons and other connective tissue.

Above all, collagen is strong, as it needs to be. You want your joints and skin to be strong, right? The body naturally produces collagen by breaking down proteins from the foods we eat. Those proteins are broken down into amino acids, and those amino acids are used to build collagen.

Collagen and Aging

Unfortunately, collagen production gradually declines with age. At around age 20, our bodies start making slightly less collagen year after year. A couple decades later (give or take) we start to really see the effects of this – it’s called wrinkles. Collagen is strong. It’s also hard and has an elastic property to it, particularly in the skin. Less collagen produced by the body means decreased support and elasticity, which causes the skin to sag and not look as tight as it did when we were young. Wrinkles usually start to show up in our 40s, and by 60 we can really see them. In women, menopause causes a significant drop in collagen production, hence more wrinkles. The older you are, the more issues you’re likely to have in terms of wrinkles and other aging-related skin conditions. That said, there are a handful of measures you can take to delay and minimize these issues. Taking a high-quality collagen supplement is one, and the American Academy of Dermatology offers several more helpful strategies with these 11 ways to reduce skin aging (for explanations on these tips, click the previous link):

 

1. Protect your skin from the sun every day.
2. Apply self-tanner rather than get a tan.
3. If you smoke, stop.
4. Avoid repetitive facial expressions.
5. Eat a healthy, well-balanced diet.
6. Drink less alcohol.
7. Exercise most days of the week.
8. Cleanse your skin gently.
9. Wash your face twice a day and after sweating heavily.
10. Apply a facial moisturizer every day.
11. Stop using skin care products that sting or burn.

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