What Does Collagen Do?
Collagen is secreted by various cells, but mostly by connective tissue cells. It’s found in the extracellular matrix, which is an intricate network of macromolecules that determines the physical properties of body tissues. A macromolecule is a molecule that contains a large number of atoms.
In the dermis, or the middle layer of the skin, collagen helps to form a fibrous network of cells known as fibroblasts, upon which new cells grow. It also plays a role in replacing and restoring dead skin cells. Some collagens act as protective layers for delicate organs such as the kidney.
With age, the body produces less collagen, resulting in the formation of wrinkles, and weaknesses in joint cartilage. Women experience a dramatic reduction in collagen synthesis straight after menopause.
Uses: Medical and Cosmetic
Collagen is resorbable which means it can be broken down, converted, and absorbed back into the body. Furthermore, it can also be formed into compacted solids or lattice-like gels. Its diverse range of functions, and the fact that it occurs naturally, makes it clinically versatile and suitable for a range of medical procedures.
Collagen injections can improve the contours of the skin and help fill out depressions. Fillers that contain collagen can be used to remover wrinkles and lines from the face. They can also help improve scars, as long as they do not have a sharp edge.
Collagen can help to heal wounds by attracting new skins cells to the wound site. It promotes healing and provides a new platform for tissue growth.
Collagen dressings can help heal:
• Chronic wounds that do not respond to other treatments
• Necrotic or rotting wounds
• Wounds that expel bodily fluids such as urine or sweat
• Granulating wounds, on which different tissues grow
• Partial and full-thickness wounds
• Second-degree burns
• Sites of skin donation and skin grafts
Guided Tissue Regeneration
Collagen-based membranes have been used in periodontal and implant therapy to promote the growth of specific types of cells. In oral surgery, collagen barriers can prevent fast-growing cells around the gum from migrating to a wound in a tooth. This preserves a space, allowing tooth cells the chance to regenerate.
Collagen tissue grafts from donors have been used in peripheral nerve regeneration, in arterial reconstruction, and in vascular prostheses.
While collagen prostheses are compatible with the human body, some have been found to be thrombogenic, or likely to cause coagulation of the blood.
Collagen supplements may help treat osteoarthritis. A study carried out back in 2006 found that supplements containing collagen helped decrease painful symptoms and improve joint function in people with osteoarthritis. As the supplement is absorbed, collagen accumulates in the cartilage, helping to rebuild the extracellular matrix.
Nutrients That promote Collagen Formation
• Proline: In egg whites, cheese, soy. Cabbage, and meat.
• Anthocyanidins: In blueberries, cherries, blackberries, and raspberries.
• Vitamin C: In strawberries, oranges, broccoli, and peppers.
• Copper: In shellfish, red meat, nuts, and some drinking water.
What Damages Collagen?
Some factors can deplete the levels of collagen in the body. Avoiding them could keep the skin healthier for longer.
High Sugar Consumption
A diet high in sugar increases the rate of glycation, a process where blood sugars attach to proteins to form new molecules called advanced glycation end products (AGEs). These damage nearby proteins and can make collagen brittle, dry, and weak.
Many of the chemicals found in tobacco smoke damage both collagen and elastin in the skin. Nicotine also narrows the blood vessels in the outer layers of the skin, which reduces the amount of nutrients and oxygen that can be delivered to the skin.
UV rays cause collagen to break down more rapidly, damaging collagen fibers and causing an abnormal buildup of elastin. When the collagen in the dermis is damaged by UV rays, the skin rebuilds incorrectly, forming wrinkles.
The Aging Process
Collagen levels decrease over time and there is nothing that can be done to prevent this. Avoiding tobacco, excess sun exposure, and following a healthy diet and exercise regime can help reduce visible aging and protect collagen, keeping the skin, muscles, bones, and joints healthy for longer.