Every woman and every man has it: Connective tissue. It performs a variety of tasks in the body and shapes the appearance and texture of the skin. In this article, we will explain to you what connective tissue is exactly, what functions it fulfills and how it differs between women and men. Finally, we will show you factors that can weaken it. A little tip in advance: also read our blog post “Strengthen connective tissue: These methods exist” if you want to know how you can positively influence your connective tissue.
Connective tissue: what is it?
Connective tissue belongs to the four types of tissue in the human organism. The other three are epithelial tissue (layers of cells that cover almost all internal and external body surfaces or glands), muscle tissue and nervous tissue. Each type of tissue differs according to function and has a different structure.
It connects, separates and supports all other types of tissue in the body. Like an adhesive, it holds all other tissues together and ensures that organ systems function harmoniously. It consists of cells surrounded by a fluid compartment – the so-called extracellular matrix (in short: ECM). The cells of connective tissue lie loosely in the ECM – unlike the cells of other types.
Background knowledge: types of connective tissue
There are several types of connective tissue, which differed between formed and unformed connective tissue based on the ratio of cells to extracellular matrix. There is also a further classification based on morphological criteria:
Fibrous connective tissue includes:
- the tight connective tissue
incl. tight parallel fibrous connective tissue, tight braided connective tissue, tight elastic connective tissue – occurs in parts of the body that depend on strong tensile strength such as ligaments or tendons
- loose connective tissue
found, for example, in the digestive tract and respiratory tract, the mucous membranes of the uro-genital tract, glands, as well as in folds of body cavities and in the dermis
- the areolar connective tissue
incl. interstitial connective tissue – occurs e.g. in the region of the omentus majus (duplication of the peritoneum rich in fatty tissue)
Cell-rich connective tissue includes:
- Embryonic connective tissue
pluripotent filling and supporting tissue formed in the embryonic period
- Gelatinous connective tissue
typical for the umbilical cord and embryonic skin, occurs in adults only in the soft tissue of the tooth
- Reticular connective tissue
incl. lymphoreticular connective tissue and hemareticular connective tissue – has a high cell density and is found in organs such as the spleen or lymph nodes as well as in bone marrow
- Spinocellular connective tissue
found in the ovaries
Specialized connective tissue includes
- Cartilage tissue
- Bone tissue
- Fatty tissue
The structure – also formative for the skin
Three basic components are responsible for the connective tissue structure: these are cells, ground substance and fibers. The last two form the extracellular matrix. The primary cell of connective tissue is the fibroblast.
Fibroblasts are the main cells of the skin. They shape its firmness and density. They also have the ability to form important support molecules of the skin such as collagen and elastin fibers. These in turn are important for the skin’s resistance and elasticity. In addition, other cell types can be found in connective tissue: Cells of the immune system (e.g. lymphocytes) and fat cells. Specialized types such as cartilage or bone tissue each contain different special cells.
The basic substance is a gel of water, proteoglycans (composed mostly of carbohydrates), glycoproteins (composed of one protein and several sugar groups), and glycosaminoglycans (multiple sugars). This mixture makes the gel viscous. The basic substance can bind large amounts of water. As a result, it can provide hydration, distribution of nutrients, and tissue nourishment.
Finally, there are the fibers. These are collagen, elastin and reticular fibers. Collagen provides strength and firmness to the tissues. Reticular fibers are special collagens. Elastin forms elastic fibers that give tissues stretching and bending properties.
The different types of connective tissue result from variations in the combinations and arrangement of the above three components.
Why connective tissue is so important
Strong connective tissue contributes to a beautiful, firm skin appearance. That is what most individuals associate with it. But connective tissue has even more tasks in the body.
It helps it detoxify. Since it is connected to the blood veins and the lymphatic system, it supplies the organs and other types of tissue with nutrients. It also removes harmful substances.
Furthermore, it supports the organs and helps them stay in the right position. Nerve impulses are transmitted through the extracellular matrix. In addition, connective tissue regulates the acid-base balance. It absorbs acids and neutralizes them. This stabilizes the pH value of the blood. In addition, elastin fibers ensure supple movements.
It is also involved in wound healing.
How does the connective tissue of women and men differ?
Men’s skin is usually tight and thick. The fibers of its connective tissue form a dense, mesh-like network. This provides a lot of elasticity and makes it difficult for fat and water to be stored. If this does happen, the abdomen is the typical problem zone for men.
Women’s connective tissue is structured differently – namely with fibers that run like a lattice: It has stretchy interstices in which water and fat can accumulate more easily. In addition, the underlying fat layer is more pronounced in women. In women, fat cells tend to accumulate more on the thighs and buttocks. This is also the reason why women get cellulite. Dimples – which in the end are nothing more than enlarged fat cells that can no longer be held together by the connective tissue fibers – become more visible in them due to the nature of the connective tissue.
Nature has developed this difference for a reason: A woman’s skin needs to be more elastic in order to stretch during pregnancy.
This damages the connective tissue
An unbalanced diet and too many calories result in fat storage and therefore weight gain. The more storage fat your body stores, the more visible the fat cells become. In addition, a high amount of storage fat impedes the drainage of lymph and blood. The result can be additional water retention and swelling of the tissues.
Extreme weight fluctuations
Skin and connective tissue like it steady. Strict dieting, accompanied by the famous yo-yo effect, can make your connective tissue resent you and consequently sag faster.
Lack of exercise
Active physical exercise drives metabolic processes in the body and promotes blood circulation. These processes stagnate when there is a lack of exercise and, in the long run, can lead to obesity, which is not good for the connective tissue.
The main active ingredient of the tobacco plant is a neurotoxin. The plant produces it to protect itself from pests. When consumed while smoking, it can have a stimulating and performance-enhancing effect, but also a calming and relaxing effect. Smoking can have harmful effects on the heart and lungs, for example, and is often responsible for the development of lung and bladder cancer. Nicotine can also harm connective tissue. It inhibits the formation of new collagen in the dermis and leads to a breakdown of collagen and elastin fibers. In this way, the formation and breakdown of supporting tissue can become unbalanced. As a result, healthy skin structure and skin elasticity are disturbed. This can massively accelerate the premature sagging of the skin and the formation of wrinkles.
A high stress level can lead to a permanent release of the stress hormone cortisol. Cortisol can promote the breakdown of collagen and thus damage connective tissue.
Strengthen connective tissue
Want to know how to tone your connective tissue? Then take a look at our blog post “Strengthen connective tissue: These methods are available“. There we will give you general tips. If these do not achieve the desired success for you, we can help you in our private practice for dermatology and aesthetics in Munich with innovative and proven treatments. We will also present these to you in the article. Furthermore, we explain how we can combat cellulite and thus optimize the appearance of your legs.
Foto: © Pixel-Shot / stock.adobe.com