Collagen is the most abundant protein in the body, making up to 70% of our overall protein. It is found in tendons, ligaments, connective tissue, bones and skin. It is basically the glue that holds us all together, and the structure that makes up the foundation of our skin. Starting at about age 20 - 25, we loose about 1% of collagen each year, eventually leading to sagging skin and joint issues.
What are the main causes of collagen breakdown and how do we avoid them?
The biggest factors in collagen breakdown are:
1- The environment: With the sun being the biggest offender, affecting the entire structure of the skin, causing dehydration, inflammation, and oxidation. Other environmental offenders are pollution, and Blue light.
2- Diet: the consumption of refined carbohydrates, simple sugars, alcohol and processed foods are all contributors to collagen breakdown.
3- Smoking: Researchers have found that smoking reduces our bodies' production of collagen by 40%, and severely depletes vitamin C levels which are essential to immune defense and collagen synthesis.
4- Stress: Studies have shown that chronic stress causes the production of cortisol, the stress hormone, which breaks down collagen and elastin, accelerating premature aging.
What happens when we lose collagen?
Collagen isn't just essential to preventing wrinkles, but loss of collagen can lead to leaky gut, hormonal imbalance, and joint issues. This means that we should stop pursuing collagen creams, and rather focus on intake. When you boost your collagen levels you may experience the following benefits:
1- Your joints are properly lubricated. Therefore, maintaining healthier bones and better mobility.
2- Collagen aids in repairing and sealing cellular walls of the GI tract helping heal leaky gut which can be a big trigger to inflammation in the body.
3- Healthier hair and nails, and more supple, tighter skin.
Types of dietary collagen and how can we adequately generate it through diet?
I am sure if you are reading this, you've caught on to the trend of collagen powders and drinks promising to rebuild and firm up your skin. I'd hate to be the bearer of bad news, but our skin being the least important to our body, having many more essential organs like the liver, heart and brain, our skin is always last to receive water, vitamins, minerals, and you guessed it - collagen! In fact, upon consumption, collagen is broken down into Amino Acids which are the essential elements in boosting the body's (and skin's) own production of collagen.
Types of dietary collagen:
1- Gelatin: this is essentially cooked collagen, generally sourced from pig or bovine hooves and bones.
2- Hydrolysed Collagen: This can be sourced form fish bones and is generally more bio-available, providing better receptivity and absorption by the body.
There is a large variety of amino acids in foods, but the main ones that convert to collagen are glycine, proline, and hydroxyproline. Here is where you can find them:
Glycine: beans, nuts, seeds, fish and meat.
Proline: abundant in asparagus, cabbage and mushrooms.
Hydrxyproline: found in Salmon, meat and bone meal proteins.
There are also a number of foods that are essential to boosting the body's ability to generate more collagen. The top foods that stimulate collagen production are:
- Berries: Rich in ellagin which reduces inflammatory response and maintains healthy collagen, preventing its breakdown.
- Garlic: Caffeic acid is rich in sulfur and taurine. Both help rebuild damaged collagen.
- Citrus fruits and kiwis: Rich in vitamin-c promote collagen synthesis.
- Egg whites: High in Lysine - another amino acid that helps build collagen.
- Fatty fish like Salmon, and sardines are not only rich in glysine, but in Omega 3 & Vitamin A, improving skin elasticity and aiding in tissue generation and wound healing.
- Dark green leafy vegetables: Abundant in folic acid which promotes cellular proliferation and regeneration.
- Red fruits and veggies like beets and tomatoes are rich in Lycopene which plays a major role in inhibiting 'Collagenases', the enzymatic breakdown of collagen, helping keep the skin firm and supple.
- Orange veggies like carrots and sweet potatoes are rich in vitamin-A, which is best taken from foods rather than supplements which can have a drying effect on the skin. This vitamin is essential to cell repair and synthesis.
- Soy products have genistein, a plant hormone that works as an antioxidant protecting collagen and blocking enzymes responsible for its breakdown.
- Mushrooms: Loaded with Vitamin D, they promote collagen production and boost elasticity. Also rich in protective antioxidants that help prevent collagen breakdown.
Do Collagen supplements work?
Diet should be the main source of nutrient intake. However, often times, most of us find it hard to consume a balanced diet. Supplements are just that! They are great to supplement your diet, but shouldn't be used as a source of your nutrients as the industry remains loosely regulated, and it is unclear wether the supplements you take will deliver exactly what's on the label. You want to do your homework and be very selective of the brands that you trust. It is also advisable that you get your blood work every so often to check your levels, and get your doctor involved in your supplementation plan.
All that out of the way, I am personally a fan of Lumity supplements as they are based on science and advance research, and also seem quite comprehensive, including collagen boosting amino acids and vitamins. I also take Anima Mundi Collagen Boosters with adaptogenic herbs that have been used for centuries to promote skin health. How I love a good blend of science and ancient wisdom!!
How about skin? Do collagen skin creams work? and what's the best skincare to boost collagen?
Generally speaking, with a few exceptions, what works for the body benefits the skin as well. You'd want to look for antioxidant-rich formulations that protect collagen, use a good physical / mineral sunscreen with Zinc Oxide and Titanium Dioxide to protect you from the sun, and use serums containing amino acids and peptides (building blocks of collagen). Also, ensure your products include vitamins, A, C, D, E, K2, and fatty acids to protect, boost collagen and maintain suppleness in your skin.
Be well. Be safe. Be beautiful!