Collagen – it’s a word you may have heard a lot, recently, and for good reason. Collagen is a protein in our body which plays an important role in ‘holding us together.’ In fact, it’s the main ‘ingredient’ of connective tissue – a mass of fibre-like structures contributing to the shape of our body and our organs. Collagen has sometimes been described as ‘the glue that holds us together’ because it provides our body with support, enabling tissue to grow strong and able to withstand stretching.
To many of us, as we age, ‘stretching’ is a worrying word. It’s the reason for the ‘ouch’ factor when we bend over or reach up high, or roll over in bed at night after a hard day in the garden or on the golf course. Stretching can get harder with the years – and part of the reason for this is our production of collagen, which helps to maintain cartilage (the body’s shock-absorbing tissue which acts as a cushion for joints) is on the decline.
This decline in collagen is noticeable in other areas of life, too. Our previously supple skin starts to become a little less ‘stretchy,’ with the result that we have a few wrinkles not there when we were younger. Our hair may not have the same ‘bounce’ it used to, and our nails may break or chip more easily. We may even notice our digestion isn’t what it used to be – a result of our gut lining becoming weaker.
So, do we have to take this decline in collagen ‘lying down,’ or is there a way to fight back, and regain some suppleness and strength which is in short supply these days? The answer is encouraging. Our body is quick to cut back on collagen production when we smoke, drink excess alcohol, spend an unhealthy amount of time in the sun, and fail to get adequate sleep and exercise. When we address these issues, we give collagen production a helping hand.
We can also help collagen production through our diet. Collagen is found naturally in meat, fish and eggs. It’s also found in protein-rich plant products including beans, lentils, chickpeas, peas, nuts and seeds plus whole grains such as brown rice and quinoa.
Collagen is also an ingredient found in many dietary supplements, and while taking these is not an excuse for avoiding healthy behavioural practises, many people find them a useful addition to their own lifestyle changes. Collagen products include those which can be taken as drinks, added to smoothies, or simply swallowed as a capsule. Supplements are even delivered in the form of chewable ‘gummies.’
However you obtain your collagen, it makes sense it’s best to take it internally, as a supplement, rather than as a skin product. This is because collagen fibres are too large to reach the external layers of the skin – they reside deeper down.
As with everything as we grow older, keeping fit, healthy, and comfortable is an everyday challenge, but it’s one we can rise to. It’s also one we should aspire to if we are to enjoy our retirement. So, check with your health professional as to whether collagen supplements are right for you, and don’t delay in making healthy lifestyle changes to give you the best chance of increasing the collagen levels in your body. After all, who doesn’t want to keep swinging the golf club, enjoying the pool, and living their best retirement life!