Collagen is a very common protein within the body, and it serves as a scaffold to provide structure and strength. Collagen is found in the skin, muscles, bones, and tendons and it can be endogenous (natural) or exogenous (synthetic).
Endogenous collagen develops in the body, while exogenous collagen comes from outside the body, such as injections and supplements.
Types of Collagen
Researchers have so far identified 28 types of collagen that are distinguished by the type of structure they form. Type I is by far the most common and makes up over 90 percent of the collagen in the body. It is found in skin, bone, organs, blood vessels, and tendons.
Other common types of collagen include Type II, which is found in cartilage, and Type III, which is found in the reticular fibers in connective tissue.
What Causes Collagen Deficiency?
The aging process is the most common cause of collagen deficiency.
As we age, the body produces less collagen. In women, collagen production drops markedly after menopause and by age 60, most people’s bodies are producing far less collagen than when they were younger.
Diseases that affect the connective tissues, such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, also cause collagen deficiency. While collagen can be produced by different types of cells, most of it is synthesized by connective tissue cells.
Collagen deficiency can also be caused by a poor diet. Specifically, a diet high in sugar increases the rate of glycation, in which the body produces molecules called advanced glycation end products (AGEs) that are formed by blood sugars attaching themselves to proteins. AGEs can damage neighboring proteins, like collagen, and they cause the collagen to become weak, dry, and brittle.
Ultraviolet rays also damage collagen and cause it to break down more quickly and smoking damages collagen through the chemicals in tobacco.
Luckily, a deficiency can be tackled in two ways: supplements and food. Finding the best collagen supplement for you will depend on your goals and preferences (for example, some are gluten free, some are bland). With food, there are several foods that boost collagen production so you should be able to maintain your diet with minimal changes.
What Are the Symptoms of Collagen Deficiency
The symptoms of collagen deficiency vary depending on the type of collagen and tissue affected.
For example, collagen vascular disease or connective tissue disease is actually a group of diseases. While some are inherited disorders like Marfan’s syndrome, many are autoimmune disorders like rheumatoid arthritis or lupus in which the patient’s immune system attacks their connective tissues.
While each disease has its own set of symptoms, they all have some symptoms in common that include the following:
- Muscle weakness
- Joint pain
- Aches elsewhere in the body
Wrinkles are probably the best-known sign of collagen deficiency. They are, of course, a sign that collagen production in the skin is declining.
Cellulite is another indication of collagen deficiency in the skin but collagen deficiency can also affect hair. If the hair follicles don’t get enough collagen, they produce thinner and duller hair.
When collagen deficiency affects cartilage, the patient develops various joint problems that include pain and stiffness. Collagen deficiency in the muscles also causes pain.
Collagen deficiency can even affect teeth. It causes the gums to recede, and that, in turn, causes sensitive teeth, toothache, and even tooth loss.