Collagen is a diverse and multi-talented protein found in both humans and animals. Although a common definition of collagen usually includes the phrase “connective tissue,” this definition barely scratches the surface of its true function and potential. You can find collagen in a variety of forms, performing a variety of functions, from the top of your head to the tips of your toes and almost everywhere in between.
The collagen molecule is a protein made up of 3,150 amino acids arranged in a combination of three strands called a triple helix. The type of amino acid, most often lysine, proline, hydroxylysine or hydroxyproline, along with its arrangement in the helix, determines its function and location in your body. According to Celleraterx.com, collagen is present in 30 percent of your body tissue and 70 percent of your skin tissue.
Your body contains more than 22 types of collagen, grouped according to physical structure. These types determine where you can find collagen in your body. Seven types are recent discoveries and their specific function is still unknown, according to Celleraterx.com. Types l through V are generally the most prevalent. Type l is collagen found in your skin, bones, tendons, teeth and in scar tissue. Type ll is collagen found in cartilage and a clear gel substance in your eyeball called the vitreous humor. You can find Type Ill collagen in cells of the skin, muscles, blood vessels and lungs. Type lV collagen is intracellular collagen found in the linings of your body organs, called basement membranes, and vertebrae of your spine, also called the lamina.
Each specific type performs a different function. Some function on their own while some types function in a supporting role. The most important overall function of collagen is to strengthen, support and provide elasticity to your skin. Another important function is to provide flexibility, support and movement in cartilage tissues, such as cartilage in your ears, nose, knees and parts of your larynx and trachea. Collagen also functions as a protective covering for body organs such as the kidneys and spleen. Some types of collagen function to strengthen tendons and ligaments.
Collagen type determines its structure and ultimately, its function. Differing amino acid arrangements result in structures such as Type l thick fibrils and fibers, Type ll thin fibrils and Type lll medium-sized fibrils.
Factors such as ultraviolet rays of the sun or the lightbulbs used in tanning booths, free radical cells, problems relating to glucose metabolism and effects of smoking can cause changes to the structure of collagen. Collagen damage is one factor relating to the appearance of sagging skin and skin wrinkles.
Until you reach approximately 40 years of age, your body consistently produces collagen. After this time, collagen levels start to decline. By the time you reach approximately 60 years of age, all types of collagen are present in greatly reduced amounts. Factors that result in damage to collagen molecules can speed up the decline of overall collagen levels.