Nature's Beauty Protein
Collagen is one of the most important proteins in your body. It is the main building block of many of your body’s tissues, comprising 70% of your bones and 30% of your skin. Collagen is thus responsible for ensuring smooth youthful skin and strong healthy hair and nails.For this reason, collagen is often referred to as “nature’s beauty protein”. However, the importance of collagen in your body is much more than skin deep. As a key component of tissues throughout the body, this protein is also essential for maintaining strong healthy bones, teeth, organs and blood vessels.
Collagen and Aging
The problem is that as we age collagen production naturally begins to decrease. In young people, there is a rich abundance of collagen, which arranges itself into a resilient and flexible “tight mesh” matrix. This ideal collagen condition prevents wrinkles from forming, gives skin elasticity and helps create thick and strong hair. Over the years, however, collagen diminishes and undergoes significant structural changes. Starting around age 21, collagen begins to diminish at a rate of about 1% per year. It is estimated that in elderly individuals collagen synthesis in all tissues is about 10 times less than in youthful tissues. The loss of collagen also reduces skin thickness, with the average woman’s skin thinning by 7% every 10 years.
Not only does collagen quantity decrease with age, but the quality of the collagen is reduced as well. With age the vital collagen mesh becomes less dense and ordered, making the skin less firm and less elastic. Collagen fibres become thicker, much less flexible and more prone to tearing. By age 30, the signs of reduced collagen on skin, hair and nails become visible. The effect of this reduction on bones and joints also become measurable. After menopause, collagen reduction accelerates even further, resulting in even greater changes to skin and hair appearance. Other factors can exacerbate the effects of normal aging, further contributing to the effects of collagen reduction. For example, excessive exposure to sunlight can accelerate changes in collagen, leading to the formation of wrinkles. Diabetes also contributes to the degradation of collagen. When sugar levels in the blood are elevated, sugar molecules can become attached to tissues in a process called glycation. Research has shown that the glycation of collagen is an important factor in age-related changes to collagen structure, and diabetes can result in an acceleration of this process.
Natural Solutions to Increase Collagen Production
The good news is that there are ways to help slow down and prevent the loss of collagen that occurs with aging. The most obvious solution may be to take collagen supplements to provide the body with a greater supply of collagen, but it is not that simple. Collagen is a very large protein, and is not absorbed intact from the digestive tract. Instead, it is broken down into smaller peptides or amino acids before being absorbed. At best, oral collagen provides the amino acid building blocks needed to make collagen, but this is of limited use if the body is not making very much collagen to start with! The key to getting around age-related collagen loss is not to provide the body with more collagen, but to stimulate the body’s own collagen generating pathways.
Studies have shown that a specific choline and silica-based complex, called choline-stabilized orthosilicic acid (ch-OSA) is able to do just this. This molecule has been shown to activate the body’s collagen-generating cells, known as fibroblasts. Clinical trials have consistently shown that ch-OSA is safe and effective for stimulating collagen regeneration and improving the appearance of skin, hair and nails. In one study, 50 women with sun damaged skin took ch-OSA or a placebo tablet for 20 weeks. At the end of the trial, women taking ch-OSA showed significant improvements in skin smoothness and strength, and in nail and hair strength. In another study, supplementation with this nutrient for nine months increased hair thickness, elasticity and strength in women with fine hair. The effects of ch-OSA on other collagen containing tissues, like bones or joints, are not yet known, but future studies may show additional benefits.
It is clear that collagen is an essential protein in the body; however, as we age the quality and quantity of this protein naturally start to decline, leading to wrinkles, changes to skin, hair and nail texture and even weakened bones and joints. Taking oral collagen supplements is ineffective and has no effect on increasing the body’s own collagen synthesis. Ch-OSA has been shown to stimulate collagen production in the body, and appears to be an excellent option for helping to slow down the effects of aging on this essential protein.
Dr. Brunel is a naturopathic physician trained at the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine in Toronto. Prior to his training as a doctor, he studied human nutrition at McGill University in Montreal. Dr Brunel has spent the last 7 years formulating dietary supplements, preparing literature, educating the public and other health professionals on the safe and effective use of natural therapies.