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What is Collagen?

The most important building block in the entire animal world, collagen is the tie that binds the animal kingdom together.

Life is a string of complex molecules: polymers.  Nature's most abundant protein polymer is collagen.  More than a third of the body's protein is collagen.  Collagen makes up 75% of our skin.

The more science learns about the body, the more integral we see collagen to be.

Acts as a scaffolding for our bodies.  Controls cell shape and differentiation.  Is why broken bones regenerate and wounds heal.  Why blood vessels grow to feed healing areas.

The Collagen mesh provides the blueprint, the road map and the way.  Collagen is the fibrous protein constituent of skin, cartilage, bone, and other connective tissue.

Collagen, the most important building block in the entire animal world, is the tie that binds the animal kingdom together. The word collagen comes from the Greek, and means "glue producing". No wonder the popular name for collagen is connective tissue.

The science of medicine is a continuing journey into ever smaller territory. From the body as a whole to its separate systems and parts. Only a generation ago, medical science studied the human body by examining cells and how they were seen to work. As our microscopes and methods kept getting stronger, new techniques and devices appeared. And now biotechnologists gain their latest insights by going deep below the cellular level. Below and beyond. Down to the molecules: the bricks and mortar of every living thing in the universe.

We used to think creatures were collections of cells, many different from each other, but most bound together cheek by jowl like pieces in a jigsaw puzzle. Now we know that life outside the cell performs essential functions. And the term 'connective tissue' has taken on an even broader meaning. Just as connective tissue binds various parts of the body together, muscle to bone, vertebrae to vertebrae... collagens are essential for tying cell to cell. To hang together, cells need a scaffold, a matrix. Like the mesh in a screen. Cells fill the holes in the mesh. The mesh itself is primarily collagen -- the tie that binds.

Life is a string of complex molecules: polymers. And Nature's most abundant protein polymer is collagen. More than a third of the body's protein is collagen and it can account for an even higher percentage in particular parts of the body. Collagen makes up 75% of our skin. The more science learns about the body, the more significant we see collagen to be.

At this stage of our knowledge, we've found 13 kinds of vertebrate collagen, plus some smaller molecules looking like collagen spare parts. Members of the family, we suspect. Each type serves a distinct purpose. Collagen varies depending on the anatomical region. From muscle to bone to cartilage to blood vessels to nerves to various parts of the skin, which itself is the largest organ in the body.

The differences among these collagen siblings come at the ends of each collagen molecule. It's as though Nature created specified arms able to share their fingertips with the tips of different molecules in appropriate cells. That's how they connect. But all collagen middles are the same. Three strands of repeating amino acids coil themselves, left-handed, into the unique collagen triple helix. Then these coils weave themselves right-handed into a cable, like small steel wires braided into the cables of a suspension bridge. In fact, collagen has a greater tensile strength than steel. Presumably, this complex structure was devised by nature to be invulnerable to the circulating enzymes and other materials in the body. Nature accomplished this purpose superbly which is why no other enzyme (of the many thousands in the body) but a "collagenase" can break it into its component parts.

When the body needs to build any new cellular structure as in the healing process, for example, collagen and/or collagen fragments play a central role. Although the role of collagen as a scaffolding has been known for some time, we now know that collagen controls cell shape and differentiation, migration, and the synthesis of a number of proteins. This is why broken bones regenerate and wounds heal. Why blood vessels grow to feed healing areas. The collagen mesh provides the blueprint, the road map and the way.

The Collagen Triple Helix

Collagen is composed of three chains, wound together in a tight triple helix. The illustration included here shows only a small segment of the entire molecule--each chain is over 1400 amino acids long and only about 20 are shown here. A repeated sequence of three amino acids forms this sturdy structure. Every third amino acid is glycine, a small amino acid that fits perfectly inside the helix. Many of the remaining positions in the chain are filled by two unexpected amino acids: proline and a modified version of proline, hydroxyproline. We wouldn't expect proline to be this common, because it forms a kink in the polypeptide chain that is difficult to accommodate in typical globular proteins. But, as you can see on the next page, it seems to be just the right shape for this structural protein.

Vitamin C

Hydroxyproline, which is critical for collagen stability, is created by modifying normal proline amino acids after the collagen chain is built. The reaction requires vitamin C to assist in the addition of oxygen. Unfortunately, we cannot make vitamin C within our bodies, and if we don't get enough in our diet, the results can be disastrous. Vitamin C deficiency slows the production of hydroxyproline and stops the construction of new collagen, ultimately causing scurvy. The symptoms of scurvy--loss of teeth and easy bruising-- are caused by the lack of collagen to repair the wear-and-tear caused by everyday activities.

 To find out more information about products that help in the construction of collagen, please go to our skincare page here.

Dietary supplements are not to be used to prevent or treat any disease. The Statements on this web page have not been evaluated by the FDA. Any information provided on this website is not a substitute for the advice of a licensed medical practitioner. Individuals are advised not to self-medicate in the presence of significant illness. Ingredients in supplements are not drugs and may not be foods.

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