There are lots of discussions about collagen these days. But what really is collagen? In this post, we lay out everything you wanted to know about collagen and you were afraid to ask.
As you know, a skin that looks and feels its best starts with a healthy diet and lifestyle, but it doesn’t end there. A crucial element in the production of healthy, youthful-looking skin is collagen, the key structural protein that gives skin its strength and elasticity. Unfortunately, as we age, the production of collagen begins to slow down, causing the skin to lose its firmness and its ability to repair itself. But never fear—collagen supplements like collagen powder and collagen peptides, along with healthy lifestyle choices, can support natural collagen production for healthier, more resilient skin and bodies.
In the following sections, we’ll provide an in-depth look at what collagen is, how it functions, and the many roles it plays in the human body, along with some proven ways to increase your collagen levels to achieve a more youthful appearance.
What Is Collagen?
Collagen is a form of protein that acts as a structural element in many types of tissue, including skin, tendons, bones, and cartilage. This essential protein helps create skin that’s firm, smooth, elastic, shiny, taut—in short youthful. In essence, it can be considered a glue (sort of) that holds your skin, tendons, ligaments, and other connective tissues together. It’s both produced by your body and found naturally in certain foods, mainly meat (we’ll discuss sources for collagen supplements later on below).
In short, collagen is the foundation upon which your skin and other tissues are built—and without it, your body will look and feel older, sagging, and thinner.
Types of Collagens
There are mainly 16 types of collagen found in your body, with Type I to IV being the most important. Types I and II are the most abundant, with Type I comprising roughly 90% of the total collagen found in your body. Type III and Type IV collagen are produced by fibroblasts and help maintain the supportive function of other tissues such as tendons, ligaments, blood vessels, heart valves, skin—basically all soft tissue throughout your body. Other notable types include V & VI; these two play a small but important role in supporting cartilage formation.
Nutrients That Help Increase Collagen Production
As you probably already know, your body needs specific nutrients in order to maintain collagen production, including vitamins C & E, A, B-6 & B-12. Below we bring a detailed list of nutrients that will assist your body in maintaining healthy levels of collagen production (you’ll notice below that some have been included more than once):
1. Vitamin C
By now, you’ve probably heard of vitamin C and its importance in helping your body fight disease, heal wounds, prevent signs of ageing, among other things—but did you know that it also helps your body make collagen? In fact, the vitamin is crucial in supporting healthy collagen production at a cellular level—and without enough, it’ll leave your skin weak with wrinkles and fine lines. For example, inadequate intake of vitamin C can lead to frequent colds or cold sores as well as early-onset osteoarthritis because cartilage doesn’t have enough glue (as I like to call it) in order to support its tissue without cracking.
A non-essential amino acid that helps support collagen formation by turning into hydroxyproline, which is needed for collagen production. Essentially, it helps create a healthy environment for your body to produce a healthy amount of collagen—otherwise referred to as hyaluronic acid (HA). HA is also used in healing wounds and helps maintain an optimal cellular environment because of its ability to store water—something we’ll discuss below in more detail. It’s also important for giving elasticity and stability to your skin, making it look younger as you age without wrinkles or sagging skin.
In a nutshell, glycine is an amino acid that helps with cell division—but it also helps prevent dry skin by improving your body’s ability to synthesize collagen and elastin in order to increase its elasticity, making it less likely for your skin to crack, wrinkle, or sag. Also important for liver health, glycine aids in breaking down fats as well as blood-sugar control; without enough glycine, your body will struggle to fight metabolic syndrome (including weight gain). Lastly, as an antioxidant, it combats harmful free radicals from damaging your cells—and has been shown in clinical studies to reduce pain caused by rheumatoid arthritis.
With similar benefits as vitamin C, copper is another mineral your body needs in order to maintain healthy collagen production. In fact, one of its main roles is supporting elastin formation in your joints—not only preventing degenerative bone conditions such as osteoarthritis but also helping prevent hair loss due to inadequate elastin secretion. Copper helps your body make DNA—which means if you don’t have enough copper in your system, then you’re hindering it from replicating cells at a normal rate, making it more likely for them to become cancerous (or for inflammation to occur). Studies have shown that not having enough copper can cause chronic fatigue syndrome and coronary heart disease.
Things That Can Damage Your Body’s Natural Ability to Produce Collagen
There are a few things that can damage your collagen production (most of which you’ve probably heard of before)—and if you want beautiful, firm skin, then it’s best to avoid them at all costs. Below is a list of food and lifestyle choices that’ll do more harm than good:
1. Eating Too Much Sugar
As we mentioned earlier, it’s important to avoid sugar—it’ll quickly spike your insulin levels, which in turn causes inflammation in your body, making it more difficult for you to produce collagen or elastin (you know how when you get a cut and it takes longer than usual for it to heal? This is because of inflammation). Additionally, if you have high levels of insulin circulating through your system, then your body will convert any carbohydrates into fat—and what happens if there’s already too much fat stored on your body? It’ll be stored around your face as jowls (also known as what we like to call beer belly neck) or that spare tire around your waist!
2. Sun Exposure
Most of us know that too much sun exposure is bad for our skin, but did you know it can actually accelerate collagen loss? UV rays from the sun—whether from spending hours in a tanning bed or just lying out in your backyard—can actually break down collagen fibres, causing wrinkles and sagging skin long before your time (it’s usually around age 30 when collagen starts to deplete at an accelerated rate). No amount of sunscreen will reverse it, either; if anything, applying sunscreen with SPF only protects against UVB rays (which cause burning) but does nothing for UVA rays (those that cause longer-term damage).
Tobacco in any form—cigarettes, cigars, pipes, chewing tobacco—is terrible for your body’s ability to produce collagen. Studies have shown that smokers will have significantly less collagen than non-smokers; not only does smoking cause wrinkles, but it also leads to early ageing (wrinkles, sagging skin), hair loss, thinning bones due to bone loss in your hands and feet, as well as reduced bone density in your spine. Smokers also tend to have poorer elasticity of their skin because nicotine constricts blood vessels leading directly into the connective tissue (if you want more firm skin, then reduce or quit smoking today).
Natural Food Sources That Can Help with Collagen Production
If you want to help increase your body’s ability to produce collagen naturally, then you need to focus on foods rich in Vitamin C, copper, lysine (an amino acid), as well as other minerals. Below is a list of foods that will help maximize your production of healthy collagen—along with a few more things you can do in order to maintain great skin throughout your life:
If you want healthy skin, then it’s important that you get a good amount of protein in your diet—and while the meat is a great source, fish is often easier on your stomach (especially if you have an irritated digestive system or any type of stomach acid issues). Not only are fish high in protein, but they’re also rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which are needed for maintaining elasticity as well as the general health of your skin.
Another great source of protein, chicken, is lean meat that’s also rich in Vitamin C (which helps skin cells regenerate) as well as lysine (an amino acid that helps produce collagen). Be sure to choose chicken with the skin on it—it contains copper, which can help increase elasticity!
3. Egg Whites
Yes, egg whites—not just egg yolks—are great for boosting collagen production! Egg whites contain protein as well as copper (helpful for maintaining elasticity), lysine (which is helpful in creating new collagen fibres), Vitamin C (helps skin regenerate faster), and riboflavin (helps speed up wound healing).
4. Citrus Fruits
Vitamin C (found in citrus fruits such as lemons, limes, oranges, grapefruits) helps increase collagen production naturally—as well as improves elasticity! Consuming more Vitamin C is also helpful for preventing premature wrinkles.
Blueberries, strawberries, raspberries—these are all great sources of Vitamin C as well as copper, which is important for boosting collagen production in your body. Red berries such as cranberries are also helpful; they’re rich in anthocyanin, which stimulates collagen growth and improves skin elasticity! These can be eaten with yoghurt (also a good source of protein) or mixed into your favourite smoothie recipe.
6. Red and Yellow Vegetables
Carrots, sweet potatoes, beets, pumpkin—these are all high in Vitamin C (which is important for boosting collagen production) as well as copper (also important for collagen). Broccoli is also a great source of lysine; they’re delicious with cheese or chicken!
While garlic is often used as a cure-all for many ailments, it also boosts collagen production in your body—it’s an effective way to naturally improve the elasticity of your skin! Not only does garlic contain Vitamin C (which helps with collagen production), but it’s also rich in sulfur—which can help prevent scars on your skin.
Benefits of Collagen Supplements
Collagen powder, marine collagen, along with collagen peptides are some of your best bets when it comes to increasing collagen production in your body. Because supplements contain amino acids that work together for maximum effect (collagen is made up of many different amino acids), they often provide faster results. These can be mixed into smoothies or even sprinkled over yoghurt or oatmeal! For those who suffer from joint pain and have trouble chewing/swallowing foods, supplements can be an effective way to boost levels as well.
Collagen is essential for keeping your skin as healthy as possible—and while you can take collagen supplements, it’s just as easy (if not easier) to include more collagen-rich foods in your diet. Hopefully, this guide proved helpful; if there are any other questions or concerns about collagen production, feel free to leave your questions in the comments section below! And don’t forget to share with friends!