Collagen is actually a protein made up of numerous amino acids. It’s the most abundant protein in the human body (1).
In fact, if water is excluded (so dry weight), collagen represents:
Collagen is the protein which gives firmness and elasticity to almost all the body’s tissues.
So it’s collagen that ensures the skin stays supple and radiant. It’s also responsible for the resistance of tendons, ligaments and bones and is thus essential for maintaining healthy joints (2).
While the body produces collagen naturally from proteins supplied by the diet, this production starts to diminish from the age of 30, mainly due to declining hormone production. And this is exacerbated by the fact that modern diets tend to be low in collagen-building nutrients.
It’s thought that from the age of 40, natural collagen production declines by 1% a year, potentially reaching a rate of 30% a year at the age of 70 (3).
That’s why, as we get older, wrinkles appear, our joints become weaker and sometimes painful, we suffer more frequently from tendinopathy, our bones become more fragile, etc.
All the more so because smoking, alcohol consumption and excessive sports activity all lower the production and quality of collagen fibres (4).
That’s why cosmetic surgery has been championing this protein since the 1980s: surgeons inject collagen into wrinkles to make them disappear, temporarily restoring tone and radiance to the skin. But the effects are short-lived: within a few weeks, the collagen is eliminated by the body and the wrinkles reappear.
Many people who reject the cosmetic surgery route but who want to minimise the effects of ageing choose to take collagen in the form of a dietary supplement. But there’s huge range of products to choose from.
While there are actually 28 types collagen in living organisms, the main forms used in supplements are types I, II and III (5):
However, for these large collagen proteins to be absorbed by the body, they have to undergo a process of reduction, usually by hydrolysis, in order to break them down into amino acid chains: collagen peptides (6).
Indeed in its native state, collagen is too large a protein for uptake by the body. This ‘reduction’, whereby collagen is converted into peptides, helps to make it absorbable.
As a result, whether the collagen is originally type I, II or III, following hydrolysis, it no longer corresponds to a particular type: the collagen peptides are used by the body as required, and cannot be specifically targeted (to the skin, joints, cartilage, tendons, muscles, etc.). (7)
There is one type of collagen, however, that’s an exception to this rule. While native collagen cannot be absorbed by the body for boosting the skin, joints, tendons, bones or muscles, there is a form of native collagen which acts in a different way: collagen UCII.
A unique, patented ingredient, this is a type II native collagen which potentially has an immunomodulatory effect in the gut, and an impact on joint inflammation (8-10). It’s found, for example, in the supplement UC II®.
Aside from for addressing these specific needs, we’d suggest opting for hydrolysed marine collagen (ie, in the form of collagen peptides), which is absorbed better by the body than bovine or porcine collagen because of its lower molecular weight. This means it can cross the intestinal barrier more easily to reach the bloodstream (try, for example, the excellent Marine Collagen, a patented, hydrolysed marine collagen with high bioavailability).
To take care of your skin, you can also opt for synergistic formulations which combine the effects of several ingredients.
In particular, there are supplements that combine hydrolysed collagen, hyaluronic acid, the antioxidant resveratrol and biotin, a vitamin which helps to maintain healthy skin (try the product Natural Skin Formula) (11).
For a more complete approach that tackles not only the skin but the hair and nails, other synergistic formulations combine collagen peptides with keratin, the protein that hair and nails are composed of, as well as biotin, vitamin B3 and zinc, all three of which help to maintain healthy skin (such as you’ll find in the supplement Daily Beauty) (12-13).
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Collagen is an essential protein present in all the body’s tissues. In particular, it plays a key role in keeping the skin supple and hydrated. Here’s a brief overview of collagen and the ways of boosting its production.
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