The Importance of Collagen for Healthy Skin

By Ross Pelton, RPh, PhD, CCN
Scientific Director, Essential Formulas


Collagen is the most abundant protein in the human body. It is a protein fiber the comprises the vast majority of the body’s joints, fascia, and skin. Consequently, collagen is intimately tied to our ability to move, and healthy collagen is critical for functional fitness and overall health.

Amino acids are the primary building blocks for proteins. When we eat, the body digests dietary proteins into their component amino acids and then uses them for protein synthesis, tissue repair, and various other biochemical processes. Since collagen is the most abundant protein in humans, it is critically important for people to consume adequate dietary protein.

The word collagen originates from the Greek word “kolla,” which means glue. Hence, collagen is the structural “glue” that holds the entire body together. The body naturally produces collagen, but unfortunately, collagen production starts to decline around age 20, and by age 80, collagen production has declined by about 75%.i

What Causes Collagen Loss?

Lifestyle factors that decrease collagen production include smoking, high sugar consumption, inflammation, low intake of dietary protein, and exposure to ultraviolet rays. Also, declining levels of estrogen in menopausal-age women are responsible for accelerated decline in collagen synthesis.ii

Sugar is a major destroyer of collagen. When blood glucose levels are elevated, sugar molecules bind with some amino acids in proteins forming complexes called crosslinks. Crosslinking alters the structure of proteins, which renders the proteins nonfunctional. This process, which is called glycation, explains why hyperglycemia, metabolic syndrome, and diabetes are associated with accelerated aging. Crosslinking results in the formation of compounds called advanced glycation end products or AGEs.

Crosslinking of collagen impairs the functional properties of collagen molecules throughout the body. Crosslinked collagen in the cardiovascular system renders arteries stiff, which results in high blood pressure, and increased risk of heart attack, stroke, and heart failure.iii

Skin: A Biomarker of Aging

Skin is an important indicator of health and aging because it is where the first signs of aging are most visible. The crosslinking of collagen in the skin is a major cause of skin aging.iv You can’t measure your collagen levels, but you can visually observe when your collagen levels fall because crosslinks in skin collagen decrease the structure and function of the skin. The visible results of progressive collagen crosslinks in the skin are dryer, thinner and stiffer skin, and the appearance of age spots, wrinkles, and sagging skin.

Collagen Synthesis & Deficiency

Collagen consists of long chains of amino acids that fold into a triple helix. The triple helix structure enables collagen fibrils to have enormous tensile strength, which allows it to undergo stretching without being broken.v

The best collagen-containing foods are fish, chicken, beef, bone broth, egg whites, citrus fruits, berries, red and yellow vegetables, and garlic. However, many people do not eat a diet that enables optimal collagen production. Our hunter-gatherer ancestors consumed much higher levels of collagen because they cooked an animal from head-to-tail. Thus, our ancestors’ diet contained an abundance of connective tissue and cartilage, which provided the necessary amino acids for collagen synthesis.

The amino acid glycine is essential for collagen synthesis. In collagen chains, every third amino acid is glycine.vi In humans, glycine can be synthesized from the essential amino acid serine. However, studies have shown that the amount of serine obtained from the diet falls far from the amount needed for collagen synthesis.vii Orally absorbed collagen peptides have been shown to improve collagen synthesis, which results in stronger, healthier skin.viii

Reversing Skin Aging

Numerous studies have reported that low molecular weight collagen peptides increase the body’s production of healthy new collagen.ix,x This results in a noticeable improvement in skin conditions, such as increased moisture and elasticity and a decrease in roughness and wrinkles.xi For example, in human clinical trials, women who ingested collagen peptides for eight weeks were found to have a 20% reduction in the volume of eye wrinkles, a 65% increase in type 1 skin collagen and an 18% increase in skin elastin content.xii

Dr. Ohhira’s Premium Collagen Plus

Essential Formulas is happy to announce the availability of Collagen Plus® which contains a combination of low molecular weight marine collagen peptides, hyaluronic acid Japanese cherry blossom extract. These synergistical ingredients promote the synthesis of collagen, which helps to reverse skin aging by increasing the skin’s strength, elasticity and moisture content.

 


i Varani J, et al. Decreased collagen production in chronologically aged skin: roles of age-dependent alteration in fibroblast function and defective mechanical stimulation. Am. J. Pathol. 2006;168:1861–1868.
ii Affinito P, et al. Effects of postmenopausal hypoestrogenism on skin collagen. Maturitas. Dec 1999;33(3):239-247.
iii Safar M, et al. Arterial stiffness, pulse pressure, and cardiovascular disease—Is it possible to break the vicious circle? Atherosclerosis. Oct 2011;218(2):263*271.
iv Yamauchi M, et al. Aging and Crosslinking of Skin Collagen. Biochem Biophys Res Commun. 1988 Apr 29;152(2):898-903.
v Lodish H, et al. Molecular Cell Biology. 4th edition. New York: W. H. Freeman; 2000. Section 22.3, Collagen: The Fibrous Proteins of the Matrix.
vi Wu M,et al. Biochemistry, Collagen Synthesis. [Updated 2020 May 4]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2020 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK507709/
vii Melendez-Hevia E, et al. A weak link in metabolism: the metabolic capacity for glycine biosynthesis does not satisfy the need for collagen synthesis. J Biosci. Dec 2009;34(6):853-72.
viii Borumand M and Sibilia S. Effects of a nutritional supplement containing collagen peptides on skin elasticity, hydration and wrinkles.
ix Hexsel D, et al. Oral supplementation with specific bioactive collagen peptides improves nail growth and reduces symptoms of brittle nails. J. Cosmet Dermatol. 2017 Dec;16(4):520-526.
x Zague V, et al. Collagen Hydrolysate Intake Increases Skin Collagen Expression and Suppresses Matrix Metalloproteinase 2 Activity. Journal of Medicinal Food. May 26, 2011;14(6):618-624.
xi Inoue N, et al. Ingestion of bioactive collagen hydrolysates enhance facial skin moisture and elasticity and reduce facial aging signs in a randomized, double-blind placebo-controlled clinical study. J Sci. Food Agric. 2016;96(12):4077-4081.
xii Proksch E. et al. Oral Supplementation of Specific Collagen Peptides Has Beneficial Effects on Human Skin Physiology: A Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Study. Skin Pharmacol Physiol. 2014;27;47-55.