Importance of Collagen
Collagen is one of the four basic types of tissues found in the human body, and it makes up approximately 30 percent of your body mass. The importance of collagen is that it forms the various types of connective tissues found within your body, including skin, blood, bone and cartilage. Collagen protein is responsible for providing structural support for your body.
Collagen itself is a colorless protein, and it is the most common protein found in your body. Most body structures formed from collagen are white, such as the sclera of your eyes and your bones and cartilage. Collagen forms a structural component of your body's connective tissues, which are found throughout your body. These connective tissues include the dermis of your skin, your bones, cartilage and blood cells. Collagen strengthens tissues and provides support for them, and is made by cells called fibroblasts. These cells are actively functioning when you grow, but rest once you've reached adulthood. However, they quickly return to action when you are injured, repairing damaged tissues and forming scar tissue.
Types of Collagen
According to the Southern Illinois University School of Medicine, there are over a dozen different types of collagen in your body. They are found in different parts of your body and perform slightly different functions. Biochemists identify these different forms of collagen by using Roman numerals and dividing them into five basic types. Type I collagen is found in your skin, fascia and tendons; Type II is cartilage; Type III is found in your bones; Type IV is found in skeletal muscle fibers; and Type V is found in the basement membrane, which is a thin sheet of fibrous cells that lies underneath your skin and underneath the surfaces of blood vessels and organs.
Collagen is an essential component of cartilage. Cartilage is a flexible yet stiff connective tissue used for support. It is found in your ears, nose, rib cage, joints, and bronchial tubes. Cartilage does not contain blood vessels, so if it is injured it is unlikely to repair itself fully. Thus, injuries to the cartilage in your joints, such as the knees or ankles, can be debilitating. Cartilage is made by cells called chondroblasts.
Collagen is also found in the connective tissue of your bones. Bones are actually a specialized form of connective tissue, and the cells that make the bone tissue are called osteoblasts. Unlike cartilage, bone contains blood vessels and is constantly undergoing repair and replacement. In a process called remodeling, cells called osteoclasts remove old bone cells while the osteoblasts add new bone cells. A diet that provides adequate calcium, vitamin C and other building blocks of collagen is necessary to keep bone formation going. Your bones also respond to the stress of exercise and will build themselves up.
Collagen is found in many types of body tissues. Blood is considered to be a special type of connective tissue, even though it doesn't have fibers like most other connective tissues. Adipose tissue, composed of fat cells called adipocytes, is a loose connective tissue. Lymphoid tissue is another type of loose connective tissue that contains reticular fibers composed of Type III collagen.
Collagen is normally found as a rigid structure in the body. Cardiologist Collin Stultz and his colleagues at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in a 2010 research paper published in "Biochemistry," found that the protein can change from its usual rigid form into a flexible form when it is at body temperature. The researchers hope that a better understanding of the structure of the collagen protein and the enzyme collagenase, which breaks down collagen, can provide insight into diseases such as arthritis and plaque formation in the arteries.
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