How Collagen Benefits Your Joint and Bone Health
Collagen is advertised as a secret weapon that’s essential for youthful skin, voluminous hair, and strong nails. Yet it’s important for far more than your appearance. Your entire body is held together by this vital protein. It impacts bone and joint health, optimizes your gut lining, and thus supports your immune system. Sadly, your collagen production not only decreases naturally with age, it can also be diminished through diet and lifestyle choices. That’s why a high-quality supplement such as the The Myers Way® Collagen Protein is ideal for optimal health no matter what your age.
With all the different types of collagen on the market, it is hard to know which kind is right for you. In this article, I will explain what it is, what causes it to decrease, and why it’s so important. I’ll also cover what happens if you don’t get enough in your diet, and what you can do about it.
What is Collagen?
Collagen is the most abundant protein in your body. It is the glue that holds your entire body together. In fact, the word actually originates from the Greek word kolla, or glue. Rather than one specific protein, it is a group of proteins made up of amino acids: glycine, proline, hydroxyproline, and arginine. This little protein is stronger than steel,1 gram per gram. That’s a powerful support system!
Collagen peptides are naturally occurring and function as the building blocks of your body. They provide structure to all your body’s tissues including connective tissues, blood vessels, the cornea of the eye, intervertebral discs, muscles, and your gastrointestinal tract. They also provide structure to your nails and even your bones and teeth. Collagen helps your skin cells renew and repair, and it gives your skin elasticity and strength. In fact, the second layer of your skin (the dermis) consists of about 75% collagen, so the loss of collagen promotes wrinkles and sagging skin, which no one wants!2
The 3 Critical Types of Collagen
Although there are many types of collagen in your body, between 80 and 90% of the collagen in your body consists of these three types.
Type I: This is the most abundant type in your body. It’s key to your skin’s elasticity and hydration, and in keeping fine lines and wrinkles at bay. It’s also a major player in the strength of your nails, teeth, and in thick, luxurious hair. Perhaps most importantly, it lends strength to your bones.
Type II: This type is found in cartilage, the connective tissue that links your bones and helps provide the structure for your body. It also supports the health of your spinal disks and eyes.
Type III: Critical for gut health, this type is a key component of your intestines, muscles, and blood vessels. Type III collagen also forms the outermost layer of articular cartilage, which covers the ends of your bones and protects your joints.3
What Causes Collagen to Decrease?
When we are young, collagen is produced in abundance promoting our vitality and strength, yet it decreases by 1% per year after the age of 20. It decreases even more significantly after the age of 40. This is caused by a process called cellular fibroblast aging. “Dermal fibroblasts” are responsible for collagen production in your skin, yet as we age, these fibroblasts “lose” their identity and therefore their ability to produce collagen.4 We also have lower levels of mechanical stimulation in our skin further contributing to reduced synthesis of this peptide. Menopause in women leads to a decrease in collagen production due to lower estrogen levels.
Another contributing factor to reduced collagen is that we simply don’t eat collagen-rich diets like our ancestors did. They ate the naturally occurring collagen protein found in organ meats, and stews made from simmering bones in broth. The modern diet relies on muscle meat which promotes rapid aging and causes an amino acid imbalance.
Lifestyle choices can also cause a decrease in collagen. Ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun can penetrate and reduce collagen levels, damaging your skin. Excess sugar consumption also leads to a reduction in your body, depletes your bones of minerals, and your skin of elasticity. High levels of cortisol, produced when your body is under stress, also causes a decrease because it breaks down both collagen5 and elastin, a protein in skin that provides elasticity. Finally, smoking causes a decrease in collagen levels, as nicotine in cigarettes reduces blood flow to organs, depriving the skin of nutrients and oxygen.6
Why is Collagen Important for Bones and Joints?
Let’s look further now in to why collagen is important, particularly for your bone and joint health.
Healthy bones are intrinsically tied to quality of life. Bones are actually living tissue, which support your body and give it shape, allow you to move, create blood cells, and protect vital organs.
Our bones are made primarily of two things: collagen and calcium. These two substances make your bones both strong and flexible. The softer collagen in your bones is encased in the harder mineral calcium phosphate. The main type of collagen in your bones is type I, which is in my collagen supplement. We always hear it said, “Take your calcium to have strong bones,” yet I would add, “Take your collagen too!” (You can read even more benefits of collagen here).7
Collagen not only gives us strong bones, but allows us to move them with fluidity via our hinge joints such as our knees, and our ball and socket joints such as our hips and shoulders. The basic function of a joint is to connect two or more bones; this would be painful without cartilage, synovial membranes, ligaments, and tendons. Collagen is the major component of all these connective tissues.
What Happens to Bones & Joints if You Don’t Get Enough Collagen?
A lack of collagen plays a particular role in:
- Autoimmune Joint Conditions
A host of autoimmune joint conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, lupus, and scleroderma can be impacted by depleted collagen levels. These autoimmune conditions are called collagen vascular diseases and impact skin health and joint pain, among other issues. They are the result of the body’s immune system attacking its own skin, tissues, and organs.
Osteoarthritis is the most common form of degenerative arthritis affecting all the joints of the body. It causes the deterioration of the cartilage and connective tissues of the joints, leading to pain, stiffness, and inflammation.
Bone is living tissue that is constantly regenerating. Osteoporosis, or bone loss, happens when new bone is not growing fast enough to replace the deterioration of old bone. Post-menopausal women have higher rates of osteoporosis than the rest of the population; women of Asian descent may be at higher risk for a lessening of bone density.8
What Can You Do?
There a few ways you can ensure you have optimal collagen levels throughout your body. Even though it is naturally occurring in your body, we can take a few steps to optimize collagen production. Avoid excess sugar in your diet, limit UV sun exposure, don’t smoke (of course!), and choose food sources that support collagen production such as:
- Bone broth, which contains high amounts of collagen.
- Grass fed beef, salmon, and nuts (if you tolerate them) which contain protein for the amino acids needed to produce collagen.
- Blueberries and dark leafy greens full of antioxidants (vitamins E, C, and beta-carotene) and B vitamins to manufacture collagen.
- Mango, eggs, and avocado oil that have minerals such as magnesium and zinc that play an important role in collagen production.
While all of these food sources are wonderful, I’ve found that one of the very best ways to ensure you’re getting enough collagen is to take a hydrolized collagen supplement, such as The Myers Way® Collagen Protein. Even those of us eating a clean, healthy, paleo-inspired diet have trouble getting as much collagen as our distant ancestors did — unless of course you keep a pot of bones simmering on the stove all day. While I do enjoy making bone broth every now and then, I certainly don’t have time for this on a regular basis!
The good news is that collagen is actually one of the most absorbable supplements through ingestion, however not topically. The collagen molecule is too big to be absorbed directly through the epidermis to the dermis where it is needed, so creams are not the best way to increase your collagen. My collagen protein is hydrolyzed, meaning that the collagen is processed more intensively, which actually breaks up the proteins into smaller pieces making it a much more bioavailable form. This means your body can actually use it!
There are at least 16 types of collagen, five of which are the main ones in your body. My collagen focuses on type I, the most common type in your body and an essential component of bone and tendons and type III, which is the second most common type. My collagen also comes from pasture-raised cows that are grass-fed, and never given hormones, GMO feed, or antibiotics. I recommend collagen sourced from animals rather than plant-based varieties, because collagen is actually a protein found primarily in animal bones, skin, and ligaments. These animal proteins contain the unique amino acids necessary to stimulate your cells to synthesize collagen.
Follow these suggestions, and supplement with The Myers Way® Collagen Protein to optimally support your hair, skin, and nails, in addition to your body’s entire structure. Your bones and joints will thank you!