By Joe Murphy
Despite being a completely natural process, aging physically is one of the most reviled parts of growing older. There are seemingly endless products and processes available for purchase in the cosmetic industry aimed at reducing every sign of aging, but one of the most useful products may actually be a substance that the human body produces naturally.
There are lots of ways that we can recognize aging: sagging skin, slow movement, gray hair, a general brittleness, but what is aging, really? One could make the argument that mentally, aging means gained experience and gained wisdom, but this is obviously not a physical answer. Scientifically, the outward signs of aging occur when a body’s cells are dying more quickly than they are being regenerated—herein lies the difference between growing up and growing old. Specifically, the production of natural substances like collagen slows down, and this decrease manifests physically in the form of increased wrinkles and loose skin, and weaker bones and joints, among other indicators. Collagen works in a number of ways within the body with a host of side effects, not the least of which are anti-aging ones.
It may come as a surprise to some to learn that collagen is the most abundant protein in the animal kingdom. It is prominent in the connective tissues that make up things like tendons, ligaments, skin, and other vital components of the body. Given this understanding, it comes as no surprise that slowed collagen production causes the appearance of aging in the skin and issues with joints. For example, collagen supplements have been shown to alleviate some of the pain associated with joint issues like osteoarthritis. Collagen supplements actually stimulate the body’s own functions to produce collagen naturally. In terms of skin, another study concluded that collagen supplements are effective in treating the hallmarks of aging on the skin. Wrinkles are essentially caused by reduction in skin elasticity and water retention—drier skin automatically appears to have more lines than properly hydrated skin. Collagen has been found in the long term to increase skin elasticity, skin moisture, and skin evaporation. These three factors play a major role in maintaining younger looking skin.
Bones themselves contain a large amount of collagen as well. This is another way in which decreased collagen production rears its head with age: weaker bones. Therefore, collagen supplements can play a vital role in strengthening bones by helping the body to continue to produce enough collagen that they do not weaken. Stronger bones mean that movement is not painful or dangerous for anyone, but particularly for the elderly, who often avoid activity due to pain in their joints or fear that their bones will not be able to withstand it. It follows logically that increased collagen in the body can actually help a body remain active, even in older age, since weak bones are so often the culprit behind decreased activity, and therefore decreased vitality.
Physiques become a larger and larger concern as a person ages. Part of this is certainly due to the fact that age and metabolism often have an inverse correlation, meaning that weight gain is much easier as a person ages. However, declining muscle mass is another clear indicator of age — the body tends to deflate in a very specific way without a proper amount of collagen. In the same way that collagen keeps skin elastic and plump, it helps increase muscle mass. Studies have indicated that completing an exercise program while taking collagen will result in significantly higher muscle mass increase than only completing a workout program. Increased muscle will result in a body looking more toned, and therefore more youthful.
Considering that collagen is critical to so many forms of tissue, it comes as no surprise that it is also vital in maintaining the heart’s tissue. Heart issues are a leading cause of death among men and women alike, so every possible action should be taken to increase heart health. Without enough collagen, arteries can become fragile, which can lead to a host of life-threatening issues. A test of 30 adults concluded that artery stiffness was significantly improved by taking collagen for 6 months.
In addition to skin, bones, and organs, collagen can improve some other more cosmetic considerations. Nails are verifiably improved by taking collagen, both in strength and length, and it is generally thought that hair is likewise improved, likely because they are made from the same material. Less substantiated claims include assertions that collagen boosts weight loss and brain function, but more studies ought to be completed before these claims are counted as fact. Though they aren’t proven, collagen certainly won’t hurt the pursuit of weight loss or brain function.
Imagine an elderly person. What do they look like? More than likely, they are frail, slow, sunken, and have a general brittleness about them. While collagen is not responsible for the entire aging process, a greater amount being present in the body certainly means less drastic and immediately noticeable signs of aging. With an option to mitigate the signs of aging so readily available, why would any opt to not take it?
Of course, collagen is nowhere near a cure all for aging, the body inevitably wears out to some degree over time. It is helpful to think of collagen as a sort of crucial ingredient to most of the body’s components—when it is eliminated or reduced, things tend to weaken and fall apart to varying degrees. Anyone looking for more supple, vital skin, better functioning joints, stronger bones, or increased heart health should consider taking collagen supplements to stimulate production of their own natural collagen. If they do, it likely will not take long before they begin to feel younger.