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Women's Health

Health

Collagen and women’s health: A look at science-backed benefits

Discover how collagen can transform your health beyond skin deep.

You've probably seen hundreds of advertisements for collagen supplements and beauty products, hailing their skin health benefits. However, the relationship between women’s health and collagen goes far beyond rejuvenating the skin.

Collagen is a protein. It’s one of the most abundant proteins in the body, providing structure, strength, and support to blood vessels, skin, bones, corneas, and connective tissues, such as tendons and cartilage. Therefore, collagen is critical in many body processes, including new cell growth, wound healing, blood clotting, and organ protection. It’s also essential to skin elasticity, strength, and structure.

As we age, collagen production slows, and collagen degradation increases. The process accelerates after menopause. Lifestyle changes—such as stopping smoking, eating collagen-rich foods, and using adequate sun protection—can slow collagen loss.

Join us as we explore the types and benefits of collagen, including skin health support and enhanced bone mineral density. We’ll also talk about how making dietary changes and incorporating collagen supplements into your routine can help you maintain healthy collagen levels and possibly improve your overall wellness.

What Is collagen?

Collagen is a protein consisting of amino acids, which are the building blocks of protein. As the most abundant protein in the human body, collagen accounts for approximately 30% of the body's total protein. Its structure comprises three amino acid chains, each consisting of 1,050 amino acids, tightly wound to form a triple helix that can withstand stress.

Its primary role is to provide structural support to connective tissues. Thanks to its rigidity and resistance to stretching, the collagen matrix is ideal for supporting bones, ligaments, skin, and tendons.

Collagen types

There are 28 types of collagen, each with a unique molecular structure. Types I, II, III, IV, and V are the most common collagens found throughout the body.

Type I

The most abundant protein form making up 90% of the body's collagen; type I collagen is essential for maintaining tissue integrity. Its fibers are densely packed to provide structure to bones, tendons, skin, and ligaments. Mutations in the genes for type I collagen synthesis cause osteogenesis imperfecta (brittle bone disease) and Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, which can negatively affect connective tissue, joint, and skin health.

Type II

Type II collagen, found in cartilage, is important in joint support. Mutations in type II collagen production can result in various forms of chondrodysplasia, which can cause early-onset osteoarthritis.

Type III

Found primarily in reticular fibers (connective tissue networks found in many organs), blood vessels, and muscles, type III collagen plays a role in the body’s inflammation response to lung injury, liver disease, hernia, and vascular disorders. Type III collagen mutations have been linked to aneurysms, poor circulation, and Ehlers-Danlos syndrome.

Type IV

Type IV collagen in some skin cells and layers helps signal several bodily functions. Mutations in this type of collagen production can cause Alport syndrome, a chronic kidney disease.

Type V

Collagen type V is crucial in connective tissue health and forming placenta cell membranes. It’s found in some skin cells and the corneas. Type V collagen mutations are associated with diseases of the connective tissues, including Ehlers-Danos syndrome.

How does your body make collagen?

Collagen synthesis occurs primarily in specialized cells known as fibroblasts. Procollagen, a precursor to collagen made from the amino acids proline and glycine, is secreted by the cells and processed in the endoplasmic reticulum and Golgi body (two cell organelles) to create amino acid peptide chains.

Once they exit the cell, the peptide chains separate to form tropocollagen. These tropocollagen molecules bond together to form collagen fibrils, and multiple collagen fibrils form collagen fibers. In addition to amino acids, collagen production requires nutrients, including iron, zinc, vitamin C, and silicon.

Potential benefits of collagen for women's health

Collagen is a protein that provides structural support and strength to tissues throughout the body. As such, it’s associated with wound healing and various other health benefits, including:

Improved skin elasticity

Collagen is the main component of skin. As collagen levels decrease with age, the skin loses some of its structure, firmness, and elasticity.

Several studies demonstrate that oral collagen supplements can improve skin health by increasing skin elasticity, hydration, and collagen density while reducing the appearance of wrinkles.

Enhanced joint health

Low estrogen levels are known to accelerate cartilage damage, which explains the increased incidence of osteoarthritis and decreased joint health after menopause.

Type II collagen is the main component of cartilage tissue and has potential as a treatment for osteoarthritis. Studies indicate that collagen peptide supplementation can support healthy joints by stimulating collagen tissue regeneration, reducing joint pain, and preventing bone loss, potentially delaying or preventing the onset of osteoarthritis.

Heart health support

Clinical studies indicate that hydrolyzed collagen supplements may help improve blood pressure. One study suggests a significant reduction in diastolic blood pressure in hypertensive patients taking collagen supplements daily for three months.

Early research demonstrates that collagen peptide supplementation can improve the ratio of high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (good cholesterol) and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (bad cholesterol), which can help reduce the risk of developing atherosclerosis and other heart conditions.

Improved gut health

Among their many health benefits, collagen peptides have potential as prebiotics and can help regulate the composition of the gut microbiome. Furthermore, collagen peptide supplements can positively impact metabolism and gastrointestinal balance by influencing barrier function and immune responses.

Collagen peptides can help reduce the symptoms of metabolic disorders by supporting and maintaining the balance of gut microorganisms and stimulating anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.

Increased bone mass

Another common women's health concern is osteoporosis. Bone density starts to decrease around the time of menopause due to lower levels of estrogen, increasing the risk of osteoporosis.

Human and animal studies suggest collagen peptides can increase bone mass, strength, and density. As such, collagen supplements may benefit osteoporosis patients.

Furthermore, diet-induced weight loss is associated with reduced bone mineral density and health, possibly mitigable with collagen supplementation.

Weight loss aid

High-protein diets can assist with weight loss and maintenance in medically overweight individuals, and collagen supplements can increase protein intake.

A study in high-fat diet-induced obese mice given fish collagen peptides found a reduction in many obesity signs, including abdominal fat, weight gain, and high blood glucose levels. These changes are attributed to the effect of collagen peptides on gut microorganisms.

Increased muscle mass

Sarcopenia, a reduction in muscle mass and muscle function due to age or inactivity, can occur when estrogen levels decline around menopause. This decrease in muscle mass can also increase cellulite.

A study on the impact of specific bioactive collagen peptides on cellulite morphology indicates that women between 24 and 50 years old who take collagen supplements every day for six months increase muscle mass and decrease cellulite.

Brain health support

The role of collagen in brain health is a relatively new area of research. It's theorized that collagen's amino acid profile could benefit the brain. For example, glycine is believed to have a calming effect on the brain, which may help promote sleep.

A pilot study reported that daily hydrolyzed collagen administration for four weeks improved cognitive function by changing brain structure.

Boosted hair and nail strength

The impact of collagen supplements on skin health has been extensively researched, but less is known about the link between collagen and hair and nails.

Although primarily comprised of keratin, some small studies indicate that a collagen supplement could help improve nail growth and strength, benefiting those with brittle nails. For example, an observational study reported daily collagen supplementation resulted in a 42% decrease in broken nail frequency and a 12% increase in nail growth. However, more research and larger-scale studies are needed to establish a definitive link between collagen supplements and nail strength.

The influence of collagen supplements on hair growth and health is also limited, but there is some supporting evidence. According to a 2021 study, taking collagen supplements daily for 16 weeks resulted in a 31% increase in the growth of new hair follicle cells and a significant increase in hair thickness in healthy women between 39 and 75 years old.

How to get more collagen

The body makes its own collagen; however, collagen production slows down with age (particularly after menopause), and existing collagen breaks down faster. Fortunately, there are ways to potentially boost collagen levels in the body, such as eating foods high in collagen—like pork skin and eggs—and collagen supplementation.

Eating collagen-rich foods

Contemporary diets often lack collagen, a key nutrient essential to overall health and various bodily processes. By incorporating high-protein, collagen-rich foods into your diet as part of a healthy lifestyle, you may be able to improve your skin health and bone mineral density and enjoy other benefits of collagen.

When consumed, collagen is broken down into amino acids in the stomach. These amino acids are then absorbed and distributed throughout the body where protein is needed. Some collagen-abundant, protein-rich foods include:

  • Tough cuts of meat with a high concentration of connective tissue (e.g., brisket and chuck steak)
  • Pork skin (also known as pork rinds)
  • Bone broth
  • Gelatin

Foods that contain the raw ingredients for collagen synthesis—such as peptides and free amino acids—are recommended as part of a balanced diet, such as:

  • Fish
  • Red meat
  • Poultry
  • Dairy
  • Eggs
  • Legumes
  • Soy

Collagen production also requires zinc and vitamin C. Good sources of zinc include nuts, seeds, shellfish, legumes, and whole grains; vitamin C can be found in leafy greens, bell peppers, citrus fruits, and berries.

Taking collagen supplements

Eating foods high in amino acids and collagen isn’t enough for some individuals to maintain healthy collagen levels. In such cases, taking collagen supplements can be beneficial. Some popular choices for collagen supplementation include collagen drinks and powders. Many consumers opt for the convenience of collagen capsules.

Collagen first appeared in skin care products, many of which claimed to improve skin health by boosting elasticity and moisture. However, collagen fibers are too large to penetrate the skin, and current research does not suggest that shorter chains of collagen—known as collagen peptides—can penetrate the deeper layers of the skin. That said, it is questionable whether these topical collagen products are as effective as other types of collagen supplements.

Oral collagen supplementation is more likely to result in effective absorption and utilization by the body. As such, collagen drinks, pills, and powders are becoming increasingly popular for those seeking collagen benefits. Most collagen supplements contain hydrolyzed collagen or collagen peptides, broken-down collagen types that are easier to absorb.

Sources of collagen in collagen supplements

Collagen peptides are smaller, simpler forms of collagen, easier for the body to absorb. As such, it is no surprise that most collagen supplements contain collagen peptides. Here are some of the most common sources of collagen peptides used in the production of collagen supplements:

Bovine collagen

Rich in glycine and proline, bovine collagen contains two types—type I and type III—and is believed to be good for joint, bone, and gut health.

Marine collagen

High in glycine and proline, marine collagen is typically derived from fish skin and contains type II collagen. It promotes bone, joint, and gut health and can boost skin hydration and elasticity. Marine collagen is more bioavailable than bovine collagen, which is absorbed more quickly and efficiently.

Plant collagen

Suitable for vegans and vegetarians, plant collagen is not technically collagen. Rather, it contains ingredients that support collagen production, such as vitamin C, zinc, copper, and amino acids.

Risks of taking collagen supplements

Like all supplements, a collagen supplement can have adverse effects and safety concerns.

Potential side effects of collagen supplements

Most individuals enjoy the benefits of collagen through oral collagen supplements without experiencing any ill effects. However, there are some potential side effects to be aware of when taking collagen supplements, including:

  • Nausea
  • Flatulence
  • Indigestion

Although collagen is generally considered safe, collagen supplements can contain additional ingredients that may cause adverse reactions, so it is wise to consult a healthcare professional before you take a collagen supplement.

Potential safety concerns of collagen supplements

Just because collagen supplements have minimal reported side effects does not mean they are completely safe. Some people may have an allergic reaction to the ingredients in collagen supplements. For example, individuals allergic to shellfish can experience anaphylaxis if they take marine collagen supplements.

Collagen supplementation also carries a slight risk of disease transmission. Collagen supplements formulated with porcine and bovine collagen carry a small risk of transmitting zoonotic illnesses like bovine spongiform encephalopathy (also known as “mad cow disease”).

Before taking collagen supplements, it is important to check the ingredients of your chosen collagen supplement and consult your doctor to minimize safety risks and potential drug interactions.

Conclusion

Collagen is the most abundant protein in the body and is the building block of bones, connective tissues, skin, and muscles. For decades, collagen peptides have been applauded for their potential to improve skin elasticity and overall skin health. However, the benefits of collagen are not limited to skin hydration and health. This key structural protein provides strength and support to many tissues throughout the body. As such, collagen's potential health benefits are not merely skin-deep.

Collagen benefits cannot be overstated. It can increase muscle mass and improve overall muscle health, strengthen blood vessels, support healthy joints and reduce joint pain, increase skin moisture, enhance bone health, strengthen hair and nails, and so much more.

However, collagen production slows, and existing collagen breaks down as we age—particularly after menopause. In addition to eating collagen-rich foods like bone broth, incorporating collagen peptide supplements into your routine can help you maintain healthy levels of this key nutrient.

Just remember to shop around for the best collagen supplement for your needs and check the ingredient labels for common allergens and any ingredients that conflict with your dietary restrictions or preferences. Also, be sure to consult your healthcare provider before taking collagen supplements, especially if you have medical conditions or are taking medications.

Health

Does your period pain feel ‘as bad as a heart attack’? You’re not imagining it

Some women experience debilitating period cramps, but the medical community isn't helping.

You’re not alone.

Here's an article to send to every jerk in your life who denied you the right to complain about your period cramps: A medical expert says that some women experience menstruation pains that are "almost as bad as having a heart attack." John Guillebaud, who is a professor of reproductive health at University College London, spoke to Quartz on the subject, and said that the medical community has long ignored what can be a debilitating affliction, because it's a problem that mostly inconveniences women.

"I think it happens with both genders of doctor," Guillebaud told Quartz. "On the one hand, men don't suffer the pain and underestimate how much it is or can be in some women. But I think some women doctors can be a bit unsympathetic because either they don't get it themselves or if they do get it they think, 'Well I can live with it, so can my patient.'"



And it's a problem that can't just be treated with common painkillers. Some people who experience dysmenorrhea, the medical term for painful menstruation, also suffer from endometriosis, a condition that can cause infertility if it's not treated properly. But research on the subject is scant, so doctors often misdiagnose it, or dismiss the pain entirely. It's estimated, however, that one out of 10 women has the condition.

Earlier this month, Girls creator Lena Dunham was forced to take a rest from show promotion and other work duties because she suffers from endometriosis. In a recent edition of her newsletter, Lenny Letter, Dunham wrote a frank essay about her struggle with the condition, and particularly with a medical institution that didn't know how to diagnose her. She didn't know how to put a name to her pain until she turned 24 and underwent laparoscopic surgery, "which is the only way to definitively diagnose endometriosis," according to Dunham.

Quartz reporter Olivia Goldhill had the same problem. She suffered from frequent period pains that were as distressing as a slipped disk, she says. But doctors had no answer for her. "Before I had my MRI scans, I told my primary care doctor that the pain seemed to be triggered by my period," she said. "He didn't think this was relevant and ignored the comment."

For now, the medical community has been dragging its feet to do research on the subject. Goldhill says the only thing people can do right now is talk about it, to heighten awareness. "Tell your doctor, your friends, your colleagues," she wrote. "We need to talk about period pain long and loudly enough for doctors to finally do something about it."

This article originally appeared on 09.14.17

Health

To the men I love, about men who scare me.

I went to get a drink by myself, and I have a message for men everywhere.

Photo by Kyle Broad on Unsplash

For the well-intentioned men in my life.


I got a promotion a few days ago, so I decided to stop for a drink on my way home — just me and my sense of accomplishment.

I ended up alone in the bar, running defense against a bouncer who held my ID hostage while he commented on my ass (among other things) and asked me vaguely threatening questions about my sex life.


This is not a Yelp review. It's not an angry rant, and it's definitely not something women need to be reminded of.

As far as I can tell, there is only one good lesson to pull out of this otherwise shitty and all-too-familiar interaction: In my experience, a lot of thoroughly decent men are still having trouble understanding this.

I have a friend who once joked that it was all right for him to catcall women because he's good-looking. I had another ask me in faux outrage why it was OK for me to describe a cupcake (as in an actual chocolate baked good) as a “seven," but not OK for him to rank women the same way. I was recently at a house party where a group of guys referred to a soundproofed recording studio in the basement as the “rape room" 45 times.

Some of these jokes were a little funny. Some of them really weren't. But they were all endemic of something more sinister, and I honestly don't think the men in question even realize it.

So to the generally well-intentioned men in my life, please consider this:

I have a friend who once joked that it was all right for him to catcall women because he's good-looking. I had another ask me in faux outrage why it was OK for me to describe a cupcake (as in an actual chocolate baked good) as a “seven," but not OK for him to rank women the same way. I was recently at a house party where a group of guys referred to a soundproofed recording studio in the basement as the “rape room" 45 times.

Some of these jokes were a little funny. Some of them really weren't. But they were all endemic of something more sinister, and I honestly don't think the men in question even realize it.

This has made me defensive. It has put me more on my guard than I would like to be.

men, women, community, mental health

Navigating the bar scene.

Photo by Alex Voulgaris on Unsplash

Decent male humans, this is not your fault, but it also does not have nothing to do with you.

If a woman is frosty or standoffish or doesn't laugh at your joke, consider the notion that maybe she is not an uptight, humorless bitch, but rather has had experiences outside your realm of understanding that have adversely colored her perception of the world.

Consider that while you're just joking around, a woman might actually be doing some quick mental math to see if she's going to have to hide in a bathroom stall and call someone to come help her, like I did three days ago.

Please adjust your mindset and your words accordingly.


This article was written by Laura Munoz and originally appeared on 03.08.16.

When Lily Evans set out to walk her dog, she had no idea the story of that walk would later go viral on the internet.

When she took to Twitter to recount her experience, she opened with a simple question, one that many men have probably wondered for a long time — though women already know the answer.

(Before you click through to the thread itself, note that Lily's Twitter account is expressly for adults and may be NSFW.)



All Twitter images from Lily Evans/Twitter, used with permission. A transcript of the excerpted tweets is available at the end of the story.

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The walk started off normal enough. Until she ran into a seemingly friendly stranger.

A man eating on a nearby bench offered her dog, Echo, a treat.

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He eventually asked her if she lived in the area — which could be considered slightly intrusive — but all in all, it was just small talk.

But then she ran into him again shortly after.

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Evans says his friendly banter — maybe innocent, but more likely not — was making her incredibly uncomfortable.

And yet he continued to linger.

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Then he invaded her physical space with an out-of-nowhere hug.

"I was terrified," she wrote.

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Evans hurried home, petrified the man would follow her.

He didn't. But the experience left her shaken and upset. Worst of all, she says, she has been through this many, many times before.

Her story went viral in a hurry, with over 44,000 retweets, 68,000 likes, and thousands of comments.

"The response from other women has been pretty heartbreaking," Evans writes in a Twitter exchange with Upworthy. "Many, many women have used this as an opportunity to share their stories of harassment, assault, or even just being very frightened."

The replies to Evans' tweet thread is littered with similar stories — seemingly "nice" guys on the street or public transportation who push small talk far past its acceptable boundaries.

Though she's glad her story made other women feel more comfortable coming forward with their own experiences, Evans hopes it also leaves an impression on men who read it.

"I had several guys ask me how they can be more non-threatening, and that's exactly what I was aiming for."

"I got a lot of replies from men saying, 'Oh, I'm so sorry that happened, but we aren't all like that! Some of us are nice guys,'" she says. "And while that's true, my point was that strangers cannot know what your intentions are until it's too late.


She hits on an important point: It's not inherently wrong or creepy to strike up a conversation with a stranger, but women truly never know when a simple "hi" is going to turn into them being followed and harassed.

"I had several guys ask me how they can be more non-threatening, and that's exactly what I was aiming for," she says. "I just want men to be more self-aware and understand that when a woman they don't know is skittish, it's nothing personal. We're just trying to be safe."


This article originally appeared on 07.18.19