How To Move Without Pain

Understanding Body's Collagen and Why it Breakdowns

by Meghan Griech, PT, DPT, cert MDT, CKTP

This article takes 6 minutes to read

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Collagen is found throughout our body, in our tendons, bones, muscles, and skin.  It provides structural support throughout all our tissues.  As we age, our collagen supply begins to deplete, which can lead to joint and bone degradation, which can then progress arthritis, osteoarthritis, and osteoporosis. 

Our body naturally makes collagen by breaking down proteins into amino acids. Amino acids are the building blocks to various proteins our body needs, including collagen. We get the specific nutrients for collagen production by eating a balanced diet of protein-rich foods (chicken, beef, eggs, dairy, legumes, nuts and whole grains, fresh fruit, leafy greens) Check out this article for a list of foods rich in collagen or helpers to collagen synthesis

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Several different types of collagen can be found in our bodies, each with its own function and composition.  Our bodies are made up of mainly type 1 collagen which is found in the skin, tendons, internal organs, and parts of the bone. And according to Healthline, type 1 collagen makes up 90% of our total collagen within our bodies. Type II collagen is made of more loosely packed fibers and found in elastic cartilage, which cushions your joints. Type III collagen supports the structure of muscles, organs, and arteries.  Type IV collagen helps with filtration and is found in the layers of your skin.

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As we age, our body naturally makes less collagen. This can start as early as our  mid-to-late 20s which causes a variety of conditions that we usually accept as part of getting older:

  • Loss of skin elasticity. 
  • Wrinkle formation
  • Skin that scratches or tears more easily and wounds that heal more slowly.
  • Tendons and ligaments become stiffer. 
  • Loss of flexibility 
  • Decrease in muscle mass which can lead to weakness.
  • Decrease in cartilage in our joints. 
  • Joint pain or osteoarthritis 
  • Digestive problems 

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There are supplements available to improve the collagen within our system. And studies have shown that oral collagen supplements helped relieve pain for some patients with osteoarthritis, yet collagen is not likely to begin regrowing itself to completely reverse arthritis.

The body’s ability to produce collagen naturally decreases as we age, but knowing what causes collagen to break down or reduce synthesis in our bodies can help us change bad habits or make dietary changes to help ourselves promote collagen within ourselves. 

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According to Medical News Today, a high-sugar diet increases the rate at which our body’s blood sugars attach to proteins to form new molecules called advanced glycation end products (AGEs).  AGEs damage nearby proteins and can make collagen dry, brittle, and weak.

Cigarettes contain many chemicals that cause the breakdown of collagen and elastin, causing the aging of the skin to progress at a faster rate. This can impair wound healing, progress wrinkles, and weaken the skin.

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Despite knowing collagen does break down faster as we age, we can help ourselves by making sure we get enough specific nutrients to replenish our collagen. The four of the nutrients that help produce collagen are vitamin C, proline (found in egg whites, dairy, cabbage, mushrooms, asparagus), glycine (found in pork skin, chicken skin, and gelatin), and copper (found in organ meats, sesame seeds, cocoa powder, cashews, and lentils).

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*Disclaimer: All information in this article is intended for instruction and informational purposes. The author(s) are not responsible for any harm or injury that may result.  This information is used to supplement not replace any advice you were provided from your doctor or another medical health professional.  No guarantees of specific results are expressly made or implied with this article.

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