Image of skin cells and collagen being absorbed into it as banner for blog on why you need collagen.

Why You Need Collagen

Written by: Wan SofaSyifa
Reviewed by: Fenny Lim, BSc. (Hons) Nutrition, UKM

What is Collagen?

Collagen is a type of protein molecule that is naturally found in your body – it’s also the most abundant one. You can find it in your bones, muscles, skin, and tendons. Collagen is mainly made up of the amino acid glycine with a small amount of hydroxyproline [1].  In general, you can classify collagen into two; endogenous and exogenous collagen. 

Endogenous collagen is your body’s natural collagen, while exogenous collagen is synthetic or from an outside source, such as collagen supplements. The first classification, endogenous collagen, has up to 28 types, each named by order of their discovery [2]

Meanwhile, exogenous collagen is typically limited – often sourced and used to supplement your body’s needs.

Why Do You Need Collagen?

Collagen molecules are a major part of the extracellular matrix (ECM). ECM is a network in your body consisting of various molecules arranged as cells or tissue [3]. Some of the functions of your endogenous collagen are;

  • Acting as the main structure of your skin, tendons, blood vessels, cartilage, bones, and connective tissues
  • Encouraging joint health by providing strong connective tissues and tendons
  • Protecting your kidneys and other organs
  • Providing skin elasticity
  • Contributing to a healthy cardiovascular system by giving strength to your blood vessels

Despite being an important molecule in the body, collagen production decreases as you age as part of your natural aging process. 

Aside from natural aging, continuous exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light from the sun, smoking, and sugar can also affect collagen production. These conditions can weaken your collagen structure, damage them, or even make them tangle and unable to function properly [4]

This steady decline is one of the reasons why we search for outside alternatives for collagen, exogenous collagen. A natural-occurring protein molecule, collagen can be found in many natural sources and is present in various living organisms.

Sources of Collagen

The two main natural sources of exogenous collagen come from plants and animals. There is typically three widely marketed collagen from these two sources; bovine, marine, and vegan.

Collage on the sources of collagen; cows, plants, and fishes.

Bovine Collagen

Bovine collagen is an exogenous collagen sourced from mammals. Common mammals sourced for bovine collagen are pigs and cows, with cows being the more popular choice. To extract it, cow bones or other byproducts are boiled in water, filtered for extraction, dried, and then powdered [5].

There are generally two forms of bovine collagen; gelatin and hydrolyzed collagen. Gelatin is cooked collagen normally used in food. Hydrolyzed collagen has added processes to break it down into smaller proteins for better absorption. These can come in powders, tablets, or capsules and are often used as dietary supplements ingredient

Bovine collagen is one of the earliest sources of exogenous collagen and has been widely researched since it was first introduced as gelatin.

Marine Collagen

Marine collagen is a more recent source of collagen, taken from marine animals. Marine collagen is typically extracted from fish skin, and the method of extracting them is quite similar to what is used in bovine collagen. Marine collagen starts gaining traction as an alternative to bovine collagen for many reasons, including;

Religious Concerns: Bovine collagen from pigs or cows may contradict the teachings of several religions, so marine collagen is a good alternative.

Risk of Diseases: In parts of Europe and America, bovine collagen may carry certain risks of diseases that you might want to avoid, especially if you have a pre-existing medical condition. 

Economic and Environmental Sustainability: Fish skins are an overlooked raw material from the fishing industry. Plus, more fish species than bovine are available for this purpose, so it can be a sustainable option.

You can find marine collagen in powder, capsule, or liquid form [6]. As a popular alternative to bovine collagen, marine collagen is currently being widely researched to understand its full potential.

Vegan Collagen

Vegan collagen is a great option for those following a vegan diet. It is currently sourced from yeast and bacteria, but researchers are still searching for ways to bioengineer an option to cater to your vegan needs. As such, you should be extra vigilant when looking for vegan collagen as a dietary supplement. 

Additionally, studies are still being conducted to understand whether vegan collagen can replicate other sources. Due to the limited resources and research, you should source your collagen from whole foods with other nutrients that can help boost collagen production, such as vitamin C [7]

Benefits of Collagen

Regardless of the sources, exogenous collagen has a few unifying health benefits closely tied to its primary functions. These benefits can be both for beauty and health.

Collage of man holding scraped knee, an old man being checked by a doctor, and a woman looking at herself in the mirror.

Collagen Improves Skin Health and Appearance

Wrinkles and fine lines are the earliest sign of aging. It is directly linked to reduced collagen production in your body. This is what collagen supplements are most famous for – their ability to improve skin elasticity and provide moisture. Collagens are widely used as a supplement to help slow skin aging and are often used in dermatic fillers for cosmetic surgery. 

Less known is that regular intake of collagen supplements may also help with wound healing. Natural aging and certain medical condition can reduce your healing capabilities. Taking collagen is believed to be able to help improve this condition. 

Collagen helps control bleeding, reduce inflammation, strengthen blood vessels, attracts cells that promote wound healing, and help prepare new tissue growth [8].

Collagen Improves Bone and Joint Health

It is a known fact that endogenous collagen helps with your joints by essentially becoming the “glue” for your connective tissues. Exogenous collagen aims to help contribute to this function, especially when your own collagen production decreases. Another benefit of collagen we aim to achieve is improving bone density – utilizing the collagen’s function as a structural molecule.

A study done in 2016 showed possible positive effects of collagen supplementation on osteoporosis and osteoarthritis. These conditions involve the loss of bone density and joint elasticity [9]. Certain dietary supplements targeting joint and bone health will include collagen in their formulation based on similar studies.

Collagen Improves Heart Health

One of the functions of collagen is to help protect your blood vessels. Collagens form a part of the structure in our blood vessels, and it is a unifying medicinal theory that blood vessels play a huge part in your cardiovascular system. You are more prone to heart disease when your blood vessels are stiff or blocked due to aging and an unhealthy lifestyle.

A study done in 2016 showed a significant reduction of stiff arteries among a group of research participants after taking collagen consistently for six months [10]. This study is one of the positive findings on collagen’s effectiveness in improving heart health. 

Scientists are still researching other potential benefits of collagen, so collagen supplements should be treated as dietary supplements, not as drugs or alternative medications.

Who Should Take Collagen?

Collagen can be found in most food, especially those with high protein, such as beef, bone broth, chicken, turkey, fish, and shellfish. Food high in copper, vitamin C, and zinc is also a good option, as they help boost your body’s natural collagen production. Technically, even children can benefit from whole food high in collagen, which does not pose any substantial side effects – except for certain allergic conditions.

However, this is not the case for collagen supplements. Most experts recommend taking them as early as your twenties. For a more cost-effective solution, we suggest you take a nuanced formulation that includes collagen as one of the ingredients. 

Formulations that feature collagen and multiple sources of antioxidants are the best option if you’re looking for an anti-aging solution. An example is our CellLabs® CLASSaaNTA featuring a seven-in-one formulation with potent sources of antioxidants, sheep placenta, and marine collagen.

As always, we advise you to check with your nutritionist or health practitioner if you have any concerns before taking the available collagen-based supplements. 

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