Elastin is a protein in our body that is found in the walls of our arteries, in our lungs, intestines and even our skin. As the name suggests elastin gives our organs, elasticity.
Working in partnership with collagen, elastin allows the body organs to stretch and relax. Thus, while collagen provides rigidity, elastin allows the blood vessels and heart tissues, for example, to stretch and then revert to their original positions.
Amazingly, the body does not make elastin after the age of 12 or 13. In other words, once the body has made elastin, it will not make that protein any more.
What happens if elastin is damaged ? Our body tissues lose their elasticity, never to be replaced. Elastin can be damaged by various factors, smoking, stress, hormones to name a few. Loss of elastin is considered a sign of ageing. Over a period of time, as elastin is lost, several organs in the body cannot function with the same efficiency.
When the blood vessels in our body lose elastin, for example, the blood vessels lose their property to stretch easily. Our windpipes contain elastin. Damage to elastin can cause breathing difficulties. Our skin contains elastin too. Over time, the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) light damages the elastin in the skin. The breakdown of these fibers causes the skin to lose its ability to snap back after stretching. As a result, wrinkles form.
Since damage to elastin is associated with different diseases, scientists are trying to find ways to replace the lost elastin. Creams and lotions are available which contain elastin for the skin. Scientists are working on gene therapy to introduce the gene which makes elastin, into the body and try and make it produce elastin, to replace the lost elastin.