Is Collagen Essential to Immune Health?

Is Collagen Essential to Immune Health?

MenoLabs News | Wed, Apr 07, 2021

One of the first most observable symptoms of menopause are changes to the skin. As women progress through menopause, skin becomes dry, more susceptible to wrinkles, dark spots, redness, flaking, itching, increased sensitivity, and inflammation. This is due to the changes in levels of sex hormones and their impact on the production of the essential protein, collagen. 

Collagen makes up to 35 percent of the protein structures in the human body, making it the most abundant. Collagen can be found in the muscles, bones, tendons, ligaments, lining of the internal organs, and the skin. Collagen makes up connective tissues in our body, and these connective tissues house the majority of the cells that regulate the natural immune system

Why Do Immune Cells Live in Collagen-Made Tissues?

Collagen makes up the dense connective tissues of the dermis, which is the thickest layer of the skin. These connective tissues are tightly packed, when collagen production is regulated properly. The density of these tissues allow the body to circulate white blood cells through the bloodstream and deposit them into the skin where they can populate the skin at an adequate volume. 

The skin is the most collagen-heavy organ on the body. In fact, collagen makes up about 80 percent of the skin. Naturally, due to the high volume of collagen in skin, the dense tissues it creates are a perfect place for immune cells to live. These immune cells act as the first line of defense to prevent infections and illnesses. 

When the body comes into contact with foreign bacteria or viruses, it usually occurs in the skin. The skin is the first organ of the body to come into contact with pathogens. This means that the immune system has to concentrate the majority of its efforts in eliminating those pathogens in the skin before they have a chance to spread to the rest of the body. Maintaining healthy collagen levels can help these immune cells better target foreign bacteria and viruses by giving them the space they need to perform their tasks. Yet, that may be only one part of the equation. 

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Can Collagen Influence Immune Cell Functions?

There is evidence that suggests that collagen may help modulate the activity and behavior of the immune system. How? Collagen is made of essential amino acids that help support multiple regulatory processes that the immune system is responsible for. Collagens are made up of amino acids like glycine, proline, and glutamine (among others) that help the immune system activate specific immune cells and antibodies that can help maintain inflammation, antigen targeting, and more. 

How exactly does collagen modulate immunity? Let’s look at a few examples. Some studies observed that collagen peptides helped lower the inflammatory response in allergic reactions. When collagen peptides were introduced into the body, certain antibodies called Immunoglobulin E (IgE), were slightly suppressed. When IgE antibodies are released, other cells are activated and release chemicals that increase inflammation. Immunoglobulin E is usually released in response to allergens that invade the immune system. However, these same antibodies may also play a role in chronic inflammatory conditions like rheumatoid arthritis. 

What Happens When Collagen Production Decreases?

Collagen levels begin to decrease as we age. The effects of menopause can cause collagen production to decline even further. When the body starts to produce less collagen, it becomes more difficult for the body to maintain its health. Muscles, bones, and joints begin to lose their strength, making women more susceptible to suffering injuries. Skin loses its elasticity and moisture, which can make it more difficult for immune cells to regulate skin health and maintain a healthy immune response. 

When collagen levels in the skin decline, it becomes more challenging for immune cells to populate the skin and effectively reduce the risk of potential infections from bacteria and viruses. This makes it easier for foreign bacteria to spread once it comes into contact with the skin. It may also have an affect on the body’s overall immune response and inflammation. Without enough collagen, the body cannot effectively regulate the antibodies and immune cells that trigger inflammation. 

What does this mean for women approaching menopause or currently in menopause? Since collagen is an essential protein that helps maintain the structures of multiple systems in the body, the rapid decrease in collagen production during the menopausal transition can present a variety of challenges and health problems. 

Rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis are common health conditions among menopausal and postmenopausal women. These conditions cause chronic inflammation that weakens the structure of joints and bones. Chronic inflammation from autoimmune conditions like rheumatoid arthritis can damage the structure of existing collagens, which means it becomes even more difficult for the body to produce new ones to help maintain the structural integrity of cartilage and bone tissues. This can contribute to further bone loss, weakened joints and muscles, limiting mobility for many women.

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