Collagen, a fibrous protein found mainly in connective tissues, exists throughout body tissue. It is important for creating and maintaining healthy cartilage, bones and other tissues despite being better known for its cosmetic use as a skin rejuvenator. Collagen, working with other body components, provides a strong and flexible frame that's able to withstand stress and stretching and heal wounds by connecting torn skin. The human body has at least 16 types of collagen, but the most prominent types are I, II and III.
Bones are living and growing tissue made up primarily of collagen and calcium. Beginning around age 30, the body loses bone substance faster than it can produce it. Due to hormone changes and other age-related factors, the level of collagen produced decreases with age as well. Osteoporosis occurs when bone mass and mineral are lost too quickly or replaced too slowly, causing brittle or weak bones that can break more easily. People who have a type l collagen genetic mutation can develop osteoporosis due to too little or poor quality collagen in their bones. Women are particularly at risk for osteoporosis beginning in the early postmenopausal years, as estrogen levels decrease.
Cartilage, while also made of mostly collagen, is more flexible and less dense than bone while still retaining a stable appearance. It’s found in the nose, ears and throat and in joints all over the body. In joints, cartilage prevents bones from rubbing against each other, promotes ease of motion and aids in repair. Collagen does not merely make up cartilage; an April 2013 study, "Induced Collagen Cross-links Enhance Cartilage Integration," published in "Plos One," found collagen can also help connect natural cartilage to engineered cartilage in cases where cartilage is degraded or absent to help repair tissue.
Human skin contains 14 types of collagen, but 80 percent of that is type I collagen and 15 percent is type III. Collagen type I supports skin strength, while type III involves maintaining elasticity. After a scrape or cut of the skin, the body produces collagen to reconnect skin tissues and help heal the injury. When collagen breaks down due to aging or disease, the skin can thin, dry out, wrinkle and become fragile. This leaves the skin more susceptible to injury. Some diseases can also interfere with or attack collagen in the skin and other tissues, such as systemic lupus erythematosus, rheumatoid arthritis and scleroderma.
Anti-Aging Effects of Collagen
Skin aging is characterized by fine lines, laxity and pigment issues. These age marks are in part due to deficiencies and breakdown of collagen related to skin damage, age or disease. Excessive exposure to the sun or indoor tanning can accelerate or exacerbate these signs of aging. Various treatments to attempt to produce collagen include creams, injections and laser skin treatments. After skin treatments, collagen levels can mildly increase, helping the body repair skin damage. The treatments do not add collagen to the body; most simply prompt the body to begin creating or increasing collagen levels in the skin. These treatments have not been shown to help in other areas of the body deficient in collagen.