The terms “collagen fibers” and “collagen” are the buzzwords these days, but what are they? Discover one of the crucial proteins in the body in this post.
In this article:
- What Is Collagen?
- Kinds of Connective Tissues and Extracellular Components
- How Does the Body Produce Collagen?
- Kinds of Collagen Fibers and Benefits of Collagen
- The Connection of Microbiome and Collagen
Collagen Fibers: Dissecting Their Meaning and Purpose in the Body
What Is Collagen?
Many articles talk about “collagen fibers,” “collagen,” and “collagen peptides,” among others. They tend to use these terms interchangeably, so it makes you wonder whether they mean the same thing.
To help you understand these terms and this entire post, let’s define each of them:
- Collagen – Collagen is one of the most abundant proteins in an extracellular matrix. We’ll identify the “extracellular matrix” later.
- Collagen Fibers – When collagen bundles together, they form a fiber. You can find these in different types of connective tissue, and their role depends on where they are.
- Collagen Peptides – These are short-chain amino acids that form collagen. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein and, hence, collagen.
- Collagen Protein – This is another term for collagen, although it may also refer to the string of amino acids that compose it. These are proline, glycine, arginine, and hydroxyproline.
These collagen proteins are in the cell. When they interact with carbohydrates, the cells release these proteins and can bundle together to form collagen fibers.
Kinds of Connective Tissues and Extracellular Components
The extracellular matrix (ECM) is a three-dimensional mesh network with three components:
- Ground substance, which is the gel-like component that fills the spaces of the matrix
- Fibers including collagen and elastic fibers
According to Khan Academy, ECM is complex enough that all parts of the model connect with one another. Then it attaches itself to the surrounding cells.
- The fibers attach themselves to proteins with carbohydrates called proteoglycans.
- ECM connects with cells with integrins, which are proteins found in plasma cells.
- Another protein called fibronectin links integrins with collagen and other kinds of protein.
Now, you may have come across plant-based collagen supplements. You may wonder whether ECM also exists in plants.
The answer is it doesn’t! What plants have is a cell wall.
This wall provides these plants their structure, strength, and rigidity. Manufacturers, though, can now create collagen by combining the right amino acids derived from plants.
Epithelial vs. Connective
Meanwhile, ECM is present in animal tissues, including different types of tissue, such as epithelial and connective. The volume of ECM present, though, can vary.
Epithelial tissues are a group of cells that provide a protective layer or covering around the body. It includes internal organs and cavities.
These contain a lot of cells and small amounts of ECM that help bind these cells closer together. They don’t receive nutrients from blood vessels but rather from the cell membrane.
The connective tissues are the most abundant in the body. A basement membrane separates these tissues from epithelial tissues.
This membrane contains basal lamina or layer with thin ECM, which you can see through a light microscope. It supports the epithelial tissues and separates them from other types of tissues.
What is a light microscope? Also known as an optical microscope, it uses light to magnify and focus on a specimen.
Connective tissues contain a significant amount of ECM. The exact function depends on the type of connective tissue and collagen present:
- The loose connective tissue, such as adipose tissue (tissue with fat cells), is the most abundant connective tissue. It connects epithelial tissues to underlying ones and keeps the organs where they are.
- The regular connective tissue is a fibrous tissue present in tendons and ligaments. Tendons connect to the skeletal muscle and can be a dense connective tissue, which means the bundles are tight and laid out in one direction.
- An irregular connective tissue can also be dense, but the bundles may not be parallel with one another. It makes up the reticular layer or the deeper part of the skin.
How Does the Body Produce Collagen?
Collagen is an essential protein, which the body, fortunately, can make. In hindsight, we break down proteins from the food we eat, such as chicken, egg, or beans.
By breaking down these proteins, the body can then create the chain of amino acids that make up collagen. We also start producing these collagen fibers even before we are born.
A 1992 study in Anatomy and Embryology explained the process in the intestines. According to it:
- A fetus can create ECM in the intestinal walls with the help of smooth muscle cells.
- By 11 weeks, the amount of collagen reaches its peak.
- By 20 weeks, the number decreases to adult levels.
Meanwhile, a 2013 research revealed that obesity may also fuel the production of not only adipocytes (fat cells) but also collagen production in fat tissues. This study is critical since it highlights the role of obesity in collagen dysfunction.
Another vital ingredient in collagen formation is lysyl oxidase, which is an enzyme that depends on copper. What it does is to link elastin, which is the elastic fiber, and collagen to help form ECM.
Kinds of Collagen Fibers and Benefits of Collagen
Considering that many types of cells and tissues make up the body, there are also several kinds of collagen fibers.
Collagen benefits can also vary depending on where they are. Here are some of them:
1. Type I Collagen
It is the most abundant collagen type and mainly accounts for the structure of the body and many organs. It’s the collagen you will find in the following:
- Bones, ligaments, and tendons
- Blood vessels such as capillaries
- Cornea of the eyes
2. Type II Collagen
Some people refer to this collagen as cartilage collagen because it’s most prominent there.
What is cartilage? It is a connective tissue that attaches to the bones.
With type II collagen fibers, the cartilage allows bones to be more flexible so you can bend them, for example. But they also provide tensile strength and support.
Because of its location, a mutation may increase the risk of degenerative diseases that affect the joints.
3. Type III Collagen
It’s a collagen type that lines internal organs. It is also a significant component of the skin (dermis).
In fact, reticular cells produce this collagen to form reticular fibers, which are the deeper layers of the skin. The body also creates it during the embryonic stage of a baby.
This type of collagen may also interact with other kinds, such as type I, to help support the development and function of blood vessels.
4. Type IV Collagen
It’s the collagen that makes up the basement membrane and basal lamina. It helps separate the different kinds of tissues in the body.
5. Type V Collagen
It’s a type of collagen that helps create the surfaces of the cells, placenta, and hair.
An organ can have many types of collagen fibers. A 1988 study showed that the intestines could have the following types:
- 68% type I collagen
- 20% type III collagen
- 21% type V collagen
Another example is annulus fibrosus, which is a stable layer that protects the intervertebral disc and spine. It is fibrous cartilage with types I and II collagen.
Because collagen is the most abundant protein in the body, it performs many roles and offers several benefits:
- Provides skin elasticity
- Speeds up wound healing
- Regulates the production and behavior of cells
- Promotes gut health
- Creates and supports the structure of the body, including its internal organs
The formation and location of collagen may also reveal why some genetic disorders can manifest in the joints and skin, among others. These include:
- Ehlers-Danlos syndromes (EDS) or Marfan syndrome, which is a genetic connective tissue disorder. Symptoms can consist of loose joints, stretchy skin, and muscle pain.
- Osteogenesis imperfecta or brittle bone disease. People with this condition have a defective type I collagen.
The collagen types also highlight the different kinds of collagen pills in the market. Bovine collagen, for instance, usually has type I and type III.
The Connection of Microbiome and Collagen
Your body’s microbiome isn’t part of ECM or a component of collagen fibers, but it plays a role in its production and overall physical health.
- The microbiome is abundant in the skin and gut, where collagen is also plentiful.
- Alterations in the gut microbiome can lead to leaky gut syndrome. Collagen peptides could help strengthen the intestinal wall or heal it, according to a 2017 study.
- A 2018 study in Frontiers revealed that the microbiome could influence the gut-skin axis.
- Your gut flora helps break down proteins, vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients the body needs to maintain or produce collagen.
All these may explain why gut health supplements such as the Reset Regimen may also promote better skin and overall wellness.
You owe a lot of your health to collagen fibers. You can support it by eating well and nourishing your gut.
Do you take collagen supplements? Share your experiences in the comments section below!