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The Collagen Connection

Supplements that impact collagen are growing in popularity. If you are not familiar with collagen, it is the abundant protein in the body and is the main component of connective tissue such as tendons, ligaments, cartilage, bone and blood vessels. As we age, it is critical that we strive to conserve the collagen content in our body.

Collagen Facts 

The word collagen comes from the Greek word for glue. It is an appropriate root as collagen along with hyaluronic acid (a sticky mucopolysaccharide) from the ground substance or “intracellular cement” that literally holds us together. There are several different types of collagen, but type II collagen is by far the most abundant in our body representing 30 percent of total body protein and up to 70 percent of the proteins in our connective tissues.

Collagen, Aging and Skin Health 

A lot happens in the collagen-rich support structure of the skin (i.e., the dermis) as we age. First and foremost, the activity of the fibroblasts, the cells responsible for making collagen, elastin, and hyaluronic acid, slows down. As we age the dermis is also less able to protect itself from damage and is more prone to dehydration. All of these factors ultimately lead to a thinner dermis and structural changes that lead to skin looking old and weathered.

Collagen, Joint and Bone Health 

As we grow older, natural collagen production also slows in our joints and may lead to osteoarthritis and the ligaments and tendons may also weaken. Bone is also rich in collagen. In fact, about 30 to 40 percent of bone is composed of collagen. It provides the structural matrix upon which mineralization of bone occurs. Collagen is to bone what two-by-fours are to the frame of a house. Decreased collagen content of the bone is a key underlying factor in osteoporosis and low bone density. The amount of collagen determines the number of “bone mineral binding sites.” If the collagen content is low, the bone becomes more brittle and fracture risk increases dramatically.

Increasing Collagen Content 

Obviously, the first thought that you may have to increase the collagen content of the body is to take collagen.However, it may not be that simple. Collagen supplements can provide the building blocks of collagen manufacture, but the key is to actually increase the activity of collagen-producing cells. Collagen supplements have shown mixed results in promoting joint health. In one recent study, a hydrolyzed collagen supplement at a dosage of 2 g per day was shown to produce considerable benefit in the treatment of osteoarthritis (OA) symptoms of the knee and hip. However, this collagen supplement also contains low molecular weight hyaluronic acid (HA). Studies with HA supplementation as well as natural eggshell membrane rich in HA in OA have also shown beneficial effects, so its hard to know if the study results with collagen are due to the collagen or HA.

Natural eggshell membrane (NEM) is another source of collagen, HA, and other connective tissue components.Recent studies show that NEM brings fast relief to people suffering from the pain, stiffness and impaired mobility of osteoarthritis and other joint health problems. In one clinical study, after 30 days of use NEM reduced pain by an average of 72 percent and improved flexibility by 44 percent, without side effects. Rather than simply supply collagen, it is thought that NEM boosts the production of critical joint molecules like type 2 collagen and glycosaminoglycans (GAGs), including chondroitin sulfate. GAGs are an important component of cartilage, providing resistance to compression and contributing to the tensile strength of cartilage, tendons and ligaments.

One of the most interesting and well-documented approaches to increasing the manufacture of collagen is the use of a highly bioavailable form of silica (choline stabilized orthosilicic acid or ChOSA [BioSil]). Initially research focused on the ability of ChOSA to increase the levels of hydroxyproline, the key amino acid required for the production of collagen and elastin. Clinical studies with ChOSA showed impressive results in women (ages 40 to 65 years) with signs of sun-damage and premature aging of the skin. Those receiving 10 mg of ChOSA daily experienced a 30 percent improvements in shallow, fine lines and 55 percent increased skin elasticity, and a significant reduction in brittle nails and hair.

The Link Between Wrinkles and Bone Health 

Changes in skin collagen with age correspond with changes in collagen in bone. Hence, evidence of decreased skin collagen (e.g., lots of wrinkles) is a clear indication of a lack of bone collagen and a risk for osteoporosis. ChOSA has also shown benefits in promoting bone health through increasing the manufacture of collagen. In a very detailed double-blind study in postmenopausal women with low bone density, ChOSA was able to increase the collagen content of the bone by 22 percent and increase bone density by 2 percent within the first year of use. The recommended dosage is 6-10 mg daily.

Flavonoids are Critical 

The flavonoids are a group of plant pigments that exert many beneficial effects in supporting healthy collagen. In general, flavonoids produce an antioxidant activity that is more potent and effective against a broader range of oxidants than the traditional antioxidant nutrients like vitamins C and E, beta-carotene, selenium and zinc. This effect goes a long way in protecting collagen structures from damage. Especially beneficial to collagen structures are the blue or purple pigments— the anthocyanidins and PCOs (short for proanthocyanidin oligomers)—that are found in grapes, blueberries, and many other foods. These flavonoids can also be found in pine bark and grape seed extracts.Anthocyanidins, PCOs and other flavonoids affect collagen metabolism in many ways:

• They have the unique ability to actually crosslink collagen fibers resulting in reinforcement of the natural crosslinking of collagen that forms the so-called collagen matrix of connective tissue (ground substance, cartilage, tendon, etc.).

• They prevent free radical damage with their potent antioxidant and free radical scavenging action.

• They inhibit destruction to collagen structures by enzymes secreted by our own white blood cells during inflammation.

• They prevent the release and synthesis of compounds that promote inflammation such as histamine.

To ensure sufficient levels of these beneficial flavonoids increase your intake of richly colored berries and other fruit. It is also a good idea to supplement your diet with a PCO extract such as grape seed or pine bark at a dosage of 50 to 150 mg daily for general support.

Michael T. Murray, ND, is widely regarded as one of the world’s leading author- ities on natural medicine. He is a graduate, former faculty member and serves on the Board of Regents of Bastyr University in Seattle, WA. The author of more than 30 books on health nutrition, Murray is also director of product development and education for Natural Factors Nutritional Products. For more information, visit www.doctormurray.com.

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