What Is Collagen? The 101 on the Most Abundant Protein in the Body
By Christopher Walker
If you’re relatively young, then we assume you still have a full set of hair, supple skin and full range of body motion. You have collagen to thank for all this.
But what is collagen anyway? Maybe you’ve seen it as a supplement, but do you really know what this is? We’ll explain all there is to know about collagen and why it does your body wonders.
Collagen at a Glance
Collagen is the most abundant protein, comprising about 30 percent of all proteins in the body. More specifically, collagen structure is made up of the amino acids arginine, proline, glycine and hydroxyproline. This specific amino acid profile makes it different than other proteins, such as casein or the whey found in your typical protein supplement.
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Next to water, your skin, hair, nails, cartilage and tendons are made up of mostly collagen protein. Factors like old age and poor dietary habits lead to collagen decline. This accounts for wrinkly skin, joint health issues and hair whitening as you near your golden years. On top of that, a depletion of collagen also leads to muscle atrophy and brittle bones. In short, you’ll age prematurely.
If you’re still unsure about what collagen protein is, just think of it this way. Collagen makes up:
- 70 to 80 percent of your skin
- 10 percent of your muscle
- 30 percent of your bones
- 80 percent of your tendons
- 60 percent of your cartilage
Where Does Collagen Come From?
Your body acquires amino acids from protein-rich foods like meat, poultry and fish. Animal bones are especially high in the amino acids that make up collagen as are the scales in fish. As the body breaks down the dietary amino acids, nutrients like vitamin C aid in the process of collagen synthesis.
In short, the different amino acids are bound together like different strands of rope to form collagen fibrils. In turn, the fibrils bind to form collagen protein. The full collagen structure is a bit more complex than what we just described, but this is a good layman’s explanation.
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What Is Collagen (in Food)?
As mentioned, meat and fish contain the highest source of collagen. However, not all collagen is created equal. Different collagen types entail different bodily functions and benefits. We will go through the specifics of each type in a different post. For now, here is a brief overview:
- Type 1 collagen is the most common collagen type and aids in gastrointestinal health, restful sleep, white blood cell production and memory. Bovine bone broth is an excellent source of type I collagen.
- Type 2 collagen is the second-most common type and the primary collagen source that makes up cartilage. Chicken broth is a high source of this type of collagen and is recommended for joint pain sufferers.
- Type 3 collagen aids in the production of type I collagen and shares many of the same functions as type I.
There are more types beyond the first three, including type 4, 5, 6, all the way up to 16. However, types 1, 2 and 3 make up over 90 percent of all the collagen. There is no need to go into every single one of these in detail; it would be information overload. If you want to know what collagen protein is, the first three types are all you need to know.
Collagen Is Good for You
Why do you need water? Because the body is 70 percent water. Collagen is the second-most abundant molecule in the body, which is why you also need sufficient collagen from dietary sources. If you’re still curious about what collagen is, we recommend checking out our articles on bone broth.
If you’re not a big meat eater or broth drinker, you can always get collagen in supplement form. This is why we included this all-important protein in our new zuCollagen supplement.