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Collagen, often referred to as the “glue of life,” plays a key role in maintaining the health and vitality of our bodies. Although it is a naturally occurring substance in our bodies, over the years its levels begin to decline, leading to a number of health and aesthetic problems. In this article, we will explore the secrets of how this remarkable protein works, its impact on various aspects of our health and the consequences of its deficiency. We’ll also take a look at how science is currently handling the replenishment of collagen in our bodies, as well as who can benefit most from its supplementation. Read on to dispel any doubts and help understand why collagen is so important for each of us.

What is collagen responsible for? The role of this protein in the human body

Collagen is the most common protein found in the human body – it is an essential component of connective tissue. Depending on its location, it has various functions, including:

  1. complex throughout the body – it is a building block of various organs (skin, bones, teeth, blood vessels, cornea of the eye), as it is responsible for the interconnection of cells in the body. It protects internal organs such as the kidneys, liver and stomach, forming a resilient envelope around them;
  2. in the immune system – supports it in fighting pathogens of disease;
  3. In the skin – guarantees cell renewal, participates in regeneration processes – affects its condition, appearance, elasticity, tension, hydration, elasticity, density;
  4. In the skeletal system – is very important in the absorption of minerals, crucial for the health of bones, joints and cartilage tissue 1 .

Effects of collagen deficiency: how does the body react to a decrease in collagen levels?

Whatever the cause, collagen deficiencies can cause serious health consequences. Collagen naturally occurs in animal products, however, the basic diet, does not guarantee the supply of sufficient amounts of this protein for the proper functioning of the body. Studies show that the most effective method of supplementing collagen deficiencies today is to take high-quality supplements containing collagen hydrolysates, which the body absorbs and assimilates much more quickly 2 .

Over the years, the body loses the ability to regenerate collagen fibers. Collagen levels begin to slowly decline as early as 25. age, while it drastically decreases after 50. year of age. The body stops assimilating collagen after 60. year of age. Rapid collagen loss due to age causes a number of health ailments and visible physical changes – among them. Skin sagging, wrinkle formation, hair loss, joint problems. As a result, collagen supplementation is recommended to maintain physical fitness, especially if bone health problems are exacerbated that prevent or significantly impede normal functioning (including early osteoarthritis). Collagen improves joint function, helps regenerate joints and preserves cartilage tissue. It also has pain-relieving properties. A six-month follow-up of 243 patients (i.e.: 91 males and 152 females, ranging in age from ± 50-53 years to ± 68-73 years) diagnosed with early-stage knee osteoarthritis showed greater treatment and pain relief efficacy of therapy combined with type II collagen supplementation compared to placebo 3 . There are studies confirming the effectiveness of collagen as a preventive measure for cardiovascular disease, as it contributes to lowering blood cholesterol levels and decreasing systolic blood pressure 4 . Collagen supports the functioning of arteries and veins – prevents arteriosclerosis, which can eventually lead to heart attack or stroke 5 . It also positively influences the work of the brain itself 6 .

Supplements with collagen – who decides on supplementation and what is worth it?

U.S. research indicates that more than 75% of adult citizens overseas use dietary supplements daily 7 . Research published in 2022 is comparable – it showed that a similar group of Poles (as many as 67%) also consume dietary supplements 8 , and one in four consume them far more often than before the COVID-19 pandemic. 9 . Recent studies indicate that the most commonly used types of supplements are:

  • Mineral and vitamin supplements (81%),
  • supplements for improving the condition of skin, hair and nails (33%),
  • Supplements for improving the functioning of the skeletal system (joints and bones) (31%) 10 .

Currently, the market has been dominated by supplements for beauty (supplements containing collagen) and the digestive system (especially probiotics) 11 . Supplementation with these substances has become an important issue concerning not only beauty, but also health. A young and healthy body produces about 3 kg of collagen per year, which is subject to regular and systematic replacement. As we age (as early as 25 years of age), collagen is lost – by an average of 1% per year. Collagen loss is accelerated by, among other things: alcohol use, smoking, irregular meals, poor in nutrients (especially protein and vitamins) 12 .

It is worth supporting the body in the natural production of collagen by taking certain vitamins and minerals. One of them is vitamin C, which optimizes the absorption of collagen and elastin. It is also essential for the production of procollagen, which is then converted into actual collagen through a process of hydrolysis 13 . Studies have shown that consuming collagen in combination with vitamin C, increases its absorption in the body 14 . Zinc has also been shown to have properties that support collagen production in the body (it has an osteogenic effect – it stimulates collagen synthesis in osteoblasts) 15 . Copper is essential for collagen maturation by stimulating the production of the enzyme lysyl oxidase 16 . Manganese, in turn, is necessary for the production of an amino acid called proline, which is also part of collagen fibers 17 .

Collagen for athletes: collagen supplementation and physical activity

Various forms of physical activity, particularly those associated with regular visits to the gym or extreme sports, can lead to disorders related to collagen synthesis in the bones, as well as the destruction of existing collagen fibers 18 . The 2023 study, which looked at the effects of exercise on bone metabolism and included participants in an officer’s course during a 36-hour field exercise at the Royal Military Academy in Sandhurst, UK, was published. The study indicated that during field training and physical exertion undertaken in full military dress, soldiers were exposed to serious energy losses 19 . Bone metabolism marker levels (in skeletal muscle or tendon) were measured before field exercise, 24 hours and 96 hours after exercise. The results were clear: the level of type I collagen degradation factor (C-terminal telopeptide of type 1 collagen cross-links – ICTP) in soldiers definitely increased between exercise and rest time, while the level of collagen synthesis factor (N-terminal propeptide of type I procollagen – PINP) – decreased. It has been found that as a result of exertional military training (up to 8 weeks) under energy deficit, men’s cortisol levels rise and growth factor I (IGF-I) levels fall, as well as testosterone, estradiol and thyroid hormone levels, which in turn leads to endocrine problems. The soldiers also experienced changes in bone metabolism after short-distance exercise – a decrease (even inhibition for at least 96 hours) in levels of bone formation markers and an increase in levels of parathyroid hormone (PTH) responsible in the body for regulating calcium and phosphate metabolism. The reason for such results was probably due to energy deficits during demanding, exertional military training 20 .

The research provides clear evidence that with any prolonged physical activity, whether in the form of demanding military training, but also in the form of gym exercises or those associated with extreme sports, there is significant degeneration of collagen fibers and a significant slowdown in collagen synthesis in the body. Collagen deficiency (in particular, a significant decrease in the production of type I collagen) with regular physical activity can lead to more frequent injuries, fractures and trauma. In order to level them, supplements containing collagen are recommended to promote its absorption. Studies confirm that the use of substances containing collagen results in a decrease in inflammation in the body 21 . There is evidence that consuming gelatin (which has the same properties as hydrolyzed collagen) before exercise increases collagen synthesis. In addition, it supports the body in recovery and prevents injuries from occurring 22 .

Collagen for men – why should men supplement this protein?

For many men, strength is an important measure of their masculinity. A study was conducted in a group of men who had not previously played any sports, aged between 18 and 40. For a period of 12 weeks, the subjects attended three hours of strength and endurance training, and collagen peptide supplementation was included in their diet. It has been proven that the consumption of supplements containing collagen in combination with workouts significantly affects the level of recovery of muscle tissues after they have been damaged by exercise. It is believed that regular consumption of collagen peptides promotes muscle adaptation, which in turn increases force generation 23 .

Due to the fact that men have thicker skin and higher collagen content, it is widely believed that a woman’s face ages faster than a man’s. However, it is worth noting that in men, as testosterone levels decline, collagen levels also begin to decline. Decreasing testosterone levels have been shown to be directly proportional to decreasing skin thickness in men as young as 20 years old. In addition, men have richer facial expressions than women, which is likely to affect the formation of deeper wrinkles. In both sexes, internal aging is dictated by genetic as well as hormonal factors, while external aging is determined by environmental factors. Studies show that men are much more likely to use cigarettes than women and are reluctant to use protection against harmful UV rays, making their skin more susceptible to damage. Recent studies show that men are increasingly and willingly starting to turn to aesthetic medicine products and services to improve their appearance 24 .

The effects of collagen on skin, hair and nails – what effects can be expected?

Most cosmetic and pharmacological skin care products only work on the outer structure of the skin. According to recent literature reports, one of the most popular supplements today that also works in the deep layers of the skin causing skin rejuvenation is collagen. A 12-week clinical trial confirmed the effectiveness of oral collagen supplementation, which improved skin density and elasticity in study participants 25 . Another study found that consuming collagen significantly improved skin hydration 26 . The use of collagen makes the skin firm, supple, nourished and wrinkle-free 27 . In addition, it has a beneficial effect on both hair (improves its appearance and condition, hair does not fall out, is stronger) and nails (they are stronger, less brittle, grow faster) 28 , which was confirmed by as many as 88% of those surveyed 29 .

Collagen has many positive benefits in terms of its effects on the human body. Among the most important benefits are: reducing the risk of heart disease, improving the appearance of the skin, relieving joint pain, supporting the proper functioning of the skeletal system by reducing bone demineralization, combined with physical activity and combined with probiotics to increase muscle mass. Collagen deficiency causes many negative aesthetic effects (such as faster aging of the skin, hair loss, weakening of the nail plate, poor skin condition) and health effects (heart disease, arteriosclerosis, osteoarthritis, frequent bone injuries and fractures). Therefore, it is worth supplementing collagen deficiencies, which is becoming an increasingly desirable ingredient essential for health and beauty as time goes by.

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