by Dr. Bill Rawls
Last updated 10/20/16
Collagen is the most abundant protein in your body. It is what holds you together.
Three strands of protein twist together to make a fiber. Collagen fibers come together to form the tendons and ligaments that provide support for the entire skeleton. Cartilage in joints is made of collagen. Collagen is also present in muscles and and bones for added support. Without collagen, you would be a pile of bones on the floor.
Collagen, along with another protein called elastin, supports your skin. Wrinkling is a direct result of compromise of these important support structures. Collagen also provides support in blood vessels, teeth, eyes, intestines, and really anything in the body that needs to be supported.
In other words, collagen is really important.
A big part of aging has to do with degradation of collagen. Skin sagging and thinning, joints creaking, shortened stature, stooped posture, easy bruising, and all the visible signs of aging are a direct result of collagen breaking down.
Therefore, protecting your collagen is really important, too.
When strands of collagen are broken, the collagen structure collapses. I call things that break collagen strands “collagen crunchers”. Collagen crunchers are not only the enemies of collagen, but also the primary forces that cause aging.
Inhibit these forces and you will slow the aging process considerably.
THE PRIMARY ENEMIES OF COLLAGEN:
+ Sunlight. UV, infrared, and visible light from the sun are potent collagen crunchers in skin. Sunblock protects against UV, but not infrared and visible.
+ Free radicals. Free radicals associated with inflammation and generation of energy are a threat to collagen everywhere in the body.
+ Sugar and starch. Glucose and fructose, from processed food products, sugar, high fructose corn syrup, and concentrated fruit sugar are notorious collagen crunchers.
+ Toxins. Toxins of any variety damage collagen, but smoking saturates the body with collagen crunching toxins.
+ Physical stress. Extreme physical activity causes excessive wear and tear on joints and ligaments.
+ Stress and poor sleep. Being stressed and not sleeping prevents your body from repairing damaged collagen.
+ Microbes. Certain bacteria, such as those found in Lyme disease, consider collagen to be an important resource and generate inflammation to break down collagen.
TIPS FOR PROTECTING COLLAGEN:
Sun protection from the inside out. Sunscreen protects against UV light, but not infrared and visible, which are the main causes of skin wrinkling. Your best protection is specific types of antioxidants that build up in skin layers and also the retina of the eye. Lutein and zeaxanthin (carrots, yellow vegetables, kale) and anthocyanins (blueberries, and blue vegetables/fruits) should be dietary staples. These antioxidants also protect collagen in blood vessels and other parts of the body.
Avoid dietary collagen crunchers. Diet can help you as much as hurt you. Processed food is loaded with collagen crunchers. Beyond being loaded with starch and sugar, these foods generate inflammation in the body. Corn-fed meat (especially beef and pork) and dairy generate inflammation in the body.
Eat the right foods. Fresh whole foods in general are a good choice, but certain foods are especially good for your collagen. Kale and other deep green leafy vegetables, fermented soy (tofu), cucumbers, fish such as salmon, eggs, celery, and olives are a few foods that stand out as being beneficial for protecting collagen in the body.
Become toxin aware. Toxins can enter the body by ingesting them, breathing them in, or through skin absorption. Continually staying ahead of toxins is actually simple. Filter your water, eat a clean diet of fresh food, maintain clean indoor air filtering systems, and be selective about substances applied to your skin. And of course, don’t smoke. If you do chose to smoke, plan on looking and feeling like you are 60 by the time you reach 40.
Practice yoga. The gentle stretching of yoga helps maintain healthy ligaments, good posture, and skeletal support. Yoga has also been found to reduce risk of osteoporosis. It provides exercise without imposing excessive wear and tear on joints and ligaments.
Breathe & sleep deeply. Practicing deep breathing and other relaxation techniques regularly reduces adrenaline and cortisol secretion, improves quality of life, and improves sleep.
Take extra natural antioxidants. Eating a clean diet is a great place to start, but natural supplements providing extra antioxidant protection. Vitamin C is especially important for collagen synthesis in the body.
Take herbs with antimicrobial properties. We are constantly exposed to microbial threats. Fortunately they are rarely as threatening as something like Ebola, but if immune function is not up to par, they can threaten health – and collagen. Taking herbs that provide antimicrobial coverage is a wise choice. Many of these herbs are very safe and can be taken for a lifetime.
SHOULD YOU SUPPLEMENT WITH COLLAGEN?
It would seem like the simplest solution, but benefit is limited. Skin creams and lotions containing collagen and elastin offer no benefit beyond simply providing moisture; the collagen and elastin are not absorbed.
Taking special hydrolyzed collagen preparations orally can provide some benefit, but not as much as protecting the collagen you have.
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