A Crash-Course to Understanding Where Collagen Is Found in Our Ligaments, Joints, and More
Touted by beauty experts looking for the best wrinkle-reduction, skin rejuvenation, and hair health products, collagen has become the subject of many questions: Is collagen really good for you? Where is collagen found? Does collagen help hair loss?
What’s more, many studies have highlighted the incredible range of benefits we can receive from collagen. And once you understand exactly where collagen is found in the body, you begin to see why - from our skin to our joints and bones, it’s absolutely everywhere.
These properties are just the beginning.
Collagen supplements have also been used by doctors with great success. It’s instrumental when it comes to wound healing, medical nutrition therapy, bariatric surgery after-care, weight loss routines, cosmetic surgery healing, and more. Additional research shows that collagen may improve joint pain, may promote heart health, and may even prevent bone loss.
With so many collagen benefits, you’re probably already wondering how to get your hands on some. The great news is, there are plenty of safe sources of collagen - and one of them is your own body!
Yes, our bodies naturally produce collagen.
However, that natural production does begin to decrease over time, with our natural stores dwindling. And that’s why collagen supplements are so beneficial.
So let’s get the answers to your questions:
- What IS collagen in the first place?
- Where is collagen found in our bodies, and in what amounts?
- What collagen supplements are best?
- Why is it important? How does our body use it?
- And how can we achieve higher collagen levels?
- Can you take collagen supplements daily?
Let’s start with what it is and where collagen is found (in both internal and external sources), so that you can get the most out of collagen’s numerous benefits.
What is collagen, exactly?
Collagen is the most prevalent protein in the human body, making up around 40% of our total body protein. It occurs in the form of fibers, helping provide strength and stability to our body structures and organs. You can think of it as the super glue that holds everything together. In fact, the name “collagen” comes from the Greek word “kólla,” which means glue.
But where is collagen found specifically?
Well, it’s in our bones, muscles, skin, tendons, ligaments - even our blood vessels! Pure collagen is housed in the tendons and ligaments throughout our body. It takes on a fibrous quality in our muscle tissue, fascia, and arteries. It’s a main part of our skin, giving that youthful, supple glow we all want. And it’s even present in our bones, helping our joints function properly.
Humans aren’t the only ones who make and benefit from collagen though. Collagen is also found in the meat and connective tissues of other animals, from horses and cows to chickens and fish.
This is great for us, because, starting in our mid-twenties, we begin to lose around 1% of our collagen each year. One of the first visible signs of this is often in our skin, which begins to sag and wrinkle. We may also start to feel aches in our joints, or have slower healing and recovery time as our collagen levels dwindle.
This is normal for each and every one of us.
But that probably doesn’t stop you from wondering: How does our body make collagen in the first place, and is there a way to slow the decline in collagen production?
How is collagen produced by the body?
Our body naturally makes its own collagen by breaking down proteins we eat into smaller pieces called amino acids. To make collagen protein, our body combines two amino acids - glycine and proline - to make “procollagen.” This process requires the presence of vitamin C in order to take place.
Procollagen, however, is not a complete collagen protein on its own.
For procollagen to become collagen, it needs the addition of hydroxyl groups (one oxygen and one hydrogen atom bonded together). This collagen protein production occurs in our fibroblasts, a common kind of cell found in our connective tissues.
Our body is amazing at producing the protein it needs where collagen is found to be lacking. Unfortunately, a decline in collagen production is intrinsic to aging. There is no way to stop the steady decline of collagen. But we can slow it down!
Eating a well-balanced diet, using adequate sunscreen, reducing stress, and kicking smoking habits are all important factors in improving our ability to produce collagen.
A closer look at where collagen is found in our bodies
Like we mentioned above, it exists in almost every single one of our body structures. Even the corneas of eyes contain collagen.
Do you want to know where collagen is found in the biggest concentration, and what percent of our structures are made from this remarkable protein?
Our skin, bones, and connective tissues.
Collagen in our skin
When it comes to our skin, collagen is concentrated in the middle layer - the dermis. The dermis is in control of hair growth, blood flood, and how we feel pain. It’s a very important layer of our skin, and is made of almost 90% collagen. This means about 75% of our entire skin structure is made of collagen. This is why the skin is one of the first things to react to lowered collagen levels.
Collagen in our bones
It exists in large quantities in both bone marrow and the hard bone structure itself. In fact, about 90% of the bone matrix proteins are collagen. That’s why when collagen production slows down, it can have serious implications for our bones and joints.
Increasing your collagen levels through supplementation may help to prevent bone loss and keep your entire skeletal system strong and healthy.
Collagen in our tendons and ligaments
There are over 4000 tendons and 900 ligaments in the human body, and all of them are composed of collagen fibers. In fact, both our tendons and ligaments are 80% collagen.
Tendons attach muscles to bone, and ligaments attach two bones together. In both tendons and ligaments, collagen is found in the extracellular matrix. This is a large network of proteins that surround and support tissues in the body - it also plays an important role in cell growth, movement, and function.
A concentrated amount of collagen is found where the tendons and ligaments attach to the outer layer that surrounds your bones - the periosteum. This provides strength and flexibility to your connective tissues and helps hold your skeletal structure in the proper position.
Collagen and other parts of our bodies
But collagen is also found in the extracellular matrix of cartilage, muscles, internal organs, corneas, and teeth (We did say it’s everywhere.) About 70% of our cartilage, 1-10% of our muscle mass, and 90% of our corneas are made from collagen, based on dry weight.
It is even found in the middle and outer layers of our arteries and veins, which helps promote healthy blood flow.
Now that you’ve learned some amazing places where collagen is found in your body, it’s time to break things down a little more. Yes, we’re going even deeper - because there is more than one type of collagen.
Where is collagen found by type?
There are five main types of collagen found in the human body. Depending on your intention for taking collagen - for example, taking collagen for arthritis vs taking it for skin regeneration - you may need to take different kinds of supplements.
Let’s narrow in on where collagen is found by type so you can get the most out of your collagen supplementation.
Type I collagen accounts for about 90% of all collagen in the body. It keeps cells and tissues together in the bones, skin, tendons, ligaments, internal organs, teeth, and fibrous cartilage.
- Type II collagen is found where you have elastic cartilage - such as in your knees and elbows, and between your ribs or vertebrae. It helps cushion your joints.
- Type III collagen is mainly found in reticular fibers, the supporting tissue of your organs. It occurs in the outer walls of some internal organs, as well as arteries, bone marrow, and lymphoid tissues.
- Type IV collagen is found in the basement membrane, the outer layer that surrounds and protects your tissues.
- Type V collagen - is specifically found in your hair and nails.
Because different areas of your body are composed of different types of collagen, it’s best to supplement accordingly. For example, if you’re taking collagen for ligaments, you’ll want to make sure you’re taking a Type I collagen supplement. If you’re taking collagen for joints, you might be better off with a Type II collagen supplement.
But how much collagen should you take? Is it safe to have collagen protein drinks for diabetics? Do you need to take a pill or a powder, or are there foods that contain collagen? Let’s answer all your questions on how to boost your body’s collagen production in a way that works for you.
How to increase your collagen levels
Alongside wearing sunscreen and avoiding smoking, you can promote your body’s natural collagen production with your diet.
You already know this protein is abundant in the skin and bones of animals. Pork and chicken are particularly great sources of collagen. Bone broth is another commonly promoted source, which you can make yourself by boiling the bones of chickens or other animals. And you can also get collagen in the form of gelatin, which is almost entirely cooked collagen.
In general, your body needs the amino acids in protein to produce its own collagen, so you want to focus on a high-protein diet.
Which brings us to a common question we get: How can vegans or vegetarians get more collagen if they don’t eat animals or animal byproducts?
Plant-based eaters can still support natural collagen synthesis by eating foods that contain amino acids. This includes eating foods high in vitamin C and antioxidants. Some foods that may help with natural collagen synthesis include:
- Citrus fruits
- Berries (strawberries in particular)
- Bell peppers
- Leafy greens
- Wheat germ
That being said, it’s important to note these only encourage your body to create more collagen. They are not viable sources themselves. As an animal byproduct, there is no truly vegan source of collagen.
But even if you eat a lot of collagen-based foods to increase your levels, you won’t be reaping as many benefits as you would with a reliable collagen supplement. That’s because collagen proteins in food are present in their whole form, which is difficult for your body to digest.
If your body can’t digest the collagen, it will simply get passed on as waste. So it’s vital to ensure that your collagen is being fully digested.
The best collagen supplements for your body
If you want to find the most bioavailable collagen for your body, you need to look for hydrolyzed collagen protein supplements (also known and labeled as collagen peptides).
When collagen is hydrolyzed it goes through a process called hydrolysis, which breaks the collagen molecules down into smaller, more digestible pieces. Better yet, you can look for nano-hydrolyzed collagen, which has gone through hydrolysis more than once - making it incredibly easy to digest.
Not all hydrolyzed collagen protein supplements are created equal, however. You should strive to consume supplements without any additives, sugars, or carbohydrates.
Refined carbs act just like sugars when they enter our bodies, which could make them dangerous for diabetics. Though diabetics need just as much protein as anyone else, it is important to choose protein supplements wisely in order to support healthy blood sugar levels.
Does protein help you lose weight? It certainly might! Protein helps you feel fuller for longer, and may help boost your metabolism as well. Athletes around the world swear by a high-protein diet. After consulting with your doctor, you should use supplements alongside a well-balanced, healthy diet.
Knowing how much collagen to take
Knowing how much and how often to take your collagen supplement will depend greatly on your own body’s needs, and your goals for supplementation. There aren’t any official guidelines regarding how much protein to take per day, but all reliable collagen supplements will have a suggested dosage printed on the packaging.
For the best results, we recommend working with a medical nutrition therapist to find the best dosage for your body and your unique needs. A medical professional can ensure you are taking the right type and dose of collagen for joint pain relief, surgery recovery, or overall wellness as you age.
And remember: you want to look for nano-hydrolyzed collagen with no artificial sweeteners or additives, like our liquid collagen.
ProT Gold collagen is a medical-grade collagen supplement that is trusted by more than 4,000 medical facilities. Our liquid collagen is fully bioavailable, and can be digested completely in just 15 minutes - allowing you to fully reap the benefits for your collagen supplement.