There are a number of collagen capsules available on the natural remedy market - vendors' claims for these products variously include everything from better joint health to younger looking skin, and even a better sex life. There is no question that it is an important constituent of cells and tissues, and it is clear that it begins to break down and decrease as we age. The scientific backup for many of the claims made for ingesting collagen, however, is not particularly strong.
A typical collagen supplement contains collagen obtained from chickens. It is a protein, or rather a group of related proteins abundant in the connective tissues of the body (bone, ligament, skin, cartilage etc.). In animals, these proteins are produced by cells called fibroblasts. Collagen fibers are very strong - they contribute to the great strength of bone and tendon, and the structure of organs, including the skin. Collagen in the body is continually reproduced, but the reproduction process slows down as we age, a loss most noticeable in the skin, which becomes thin and wrinkled. This slow progressive loss has inspired the idea of replacing it with collagen capsules.
The best evidence for anti aging properties of collagen supplementation lies in its potential to protect joints. Type II collagen has been extensively studied in patients with rheumatoid arthritis and found to be very beneficial to some people. It is not a simple matter of the protein being transported from the collagen capsules to the joint tissue, however. Rather, in cases of rheumatoid arthritis, it's thought that the body breaks down collagen in the joints in an abnormal process of immunity: placing the collagen supplement in the gastrointestinal tract may somehow make the protein more familiar to the body's immune system and discourage the joint damage. Therapeutic collagen treatment for rheumatoid arthritis should always be guided by a medical professional as there is evidence that too much ingested collagen can have the opposite effect.
Collagen capsules contain collagen - a protein. When we ingest protein, the metabolic process of digestion breaks it down to smaller parts and the body uses those parts to build and maintain various tissues. Thus, when we take a collagen supplement, the body does not move the collagen as it is to the skin to replace collagen there. New collagen has to be built by the fibroblasts in the skin. It makes sense that ingesting collagen will provide essential building blocks for the production of new collagen, and it is unlikely to do you any harm; however, a healthy diet containing all the essential nutrients combined with an active lifestyle will provide not only the building blocks for collagen, but also the basis of a healthy body with vital fibroblasts to do the work.
Ultimately, the consumer must be the judge. Taking collagen capsules may indeed provide valuable nutrition, particularly if the diet is not all that it could be. In the individual that already has an adequate diet and healthy lifestyle, however, there will likely be no added benefit from a collagen supplement. Whether the decision is to supplement or not, it's important to get plenty of Vitamin C - this vitamin is essential to the production and maintenance of healthy tissue collagen.
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