Collagen is the most abundant protein in our body, making up 75% of the skin’s support structure, and is found in bones, muscles, skin, and tendons. It is actually the substance that holds the body together, connecting tissues to other tissues, and ensuring they stay strong and able to withstand stretching. This tissue provides structural and functional support to our bones, skin, muscles, tendons, and organs. Collagen also sends out important signals to our cells, which can combat inflammation and repair damage.
Collagen has become a well-known ingredient in supplements and skin creams due to its ability to increase skin suppleness and firmness and promote cell renewal. People are increasingly consuming it because of its benefits to our health such as improved joints, gut, and heart health as well as for its anti-aging cosmetic effects.
Why do we need collagen?
There are at least 16 types of collagen, all of which help our connective tissues withstand stretching thanks to their unique structure. Often described as scaffolding for the skin, under the microscope, it looks like lengths of rope, and its ‘fibrils’ (fibres) are incredibly resilient, with one study suggesting that gram for gram, collagen is stronger than steel.
Apart from its proven credentials in the beauty world to give us youthful plump, juicy skin and enviable hair, it also has a host of other benefits to our health. It can help to improve painful joints and some claim it can even help with athletic performance. Recent research has also shown that consuming it could help us to reduce our risk of developing heart-related conditions.
Collagen provides structure to our arteries, which are the blood vessels that carry blood from our heart to the rest of the body. Without enough, arteries may become weak and fragile which has led many researchers to suggest that increased levels can improve heart health.
Collagen is needed to keep muscles strong and functioning properly. There has even been some research that suggests that taking supplements may promote the synthesis of muscle proteins like creatine, as well as stimulate muscle growth after exercise.
Bone mass and joint pain
Our bones are made mostly of collagen, which gives them structure and helps to keep them strong. It also helps to maintain the integrity of your cartilage, which is the rubber-like tissue that protects your joints and so can help to relieve joint pain.
New research is emerging which investigates the link between collagen and our gut. Based on this research, some health practitioners promote the use of supplements to treat intestinal permeability or leaky gut syndrome.
Collagen is one of the main factors keeping the skin elastic, hydrated, and can with reduced discolouration. Without enough, we may experience dry and wrinkled skin, as well as slower healing wounds.
How do we get it?
Collagen production slows after we hit around 25 and it slows down even more in women after the menopause. That’s the reason we might notice that our skin gets a bit ‘baggier’ as we age, and those pesky creases on our face we sometimes wake up with take longer to fade away. It’s also affected by exposure to UV rays, pollution, and smoking, meaning everything becomes less elastic and our skin loses its firmness.
The natural process of losing collagen can result in a host of issues if you’re not properly replenishing the nutrients in your body needed to synthesize it. You may start to experience stiffer tendons and ligaments, weaker muscles, joint pain, and even gastrointestinal issues. Ensuring we consume enough through our diet or utilise supplementation if needed can help to ensure our levels stay at a healthy level.
Supplements vs diet?
It’s likely that you’ve come across a number of collagen supplements online, but with the plethora of pills, powders and shots on the market it can be confusing to know which are the best ones to use, or even whether pills and powders are the best route. Dietician Carrie Gabriel suggests the key thing to consider is bioavailability – the body’s ability to use a nutrient.
Natural ways to maintain collagen
Gabriel says ‘Foods like bone broth contain a bioavailable form of collagen that your body can use right away, making it arguably superior to supplements’. Collagen is synthesised when we break down dietary amino acids from protein-rich foods like dairy, meat, and firm tofu, with a dose of vitamin C needed to help connect the collagen-forming amino acids.
Registered dietician and beauty expert Kay Ali tells us, ‘There are three amino acids important for collagen synthesis: proline, lysine, and glycine’. What’s more, by eating a varied diet which contains foods with bio-available forms of it, as well as amino acids such as egg whites, shellfish and bone broth we can ensure that we are also feeding ourselves with a variety of nutrients like calcium, glucosamine, and magnesium that our body needs. Try making your own bone broth by following our recipe.
Ensuring your diet contains enough vitamin C is also critical for the production of pro-collagen, the body’s precursor to collagen. Foods such as citrus fruits, berries and tropical fruits are all high in vitamin C. Foods such as tomatoes and bell peppers are also high in vitamin C, (but they contain anti-inflammatory compounds such as lycopene and capsaicin which may also combat signs of ageing). High protein beans can often contain the amino acids necessary for collagen synthesis as well as copper, another nutrient necessary for collagen production. It’s worth including leafy greens in your diet too, studies have shown that chlorophyll, (the component responsible for the green colour), increases the precursor to collagen in the skin. Ensuring that you consume a wide range of mineral-rich fruit and veg alongside protein-rich foods will help your body to produce the collagen it requires – just be sure to stay away from eating too much sugar and refined carbohydrates which can not only cause inflammation but also damage the collagen we already have.
Collagen supplements, which ones should we choose?
For many of us, ensuring we consume a variety of foods consistently can be a difficult task, but we may still want to ensure that we are getting enough collagen. The collagen in many good-quality supplements has already been broken down or hydrolysed, which is why it can be an effective way of ensuring we consume it efficiently.
When choosing supplements, it’s important to know that not all are created equal. Many supplements do not contain nearly the amount of collagen required to slow down its breakdown in the body, Kay Ali is keen to point out that, ‘Ten grams is the average amount required’. It’s also important to check that your supplements contain hydrolysed collagen to ensure they can be absorbed effectively by our digestive system.
There are a wide variety of formulas out there but choosing peptides and powders can be a natural and effective choice. Do be sure to check however that the source is sustainable if it contains fish or is bovine (ideally grass-fed). Many vegan and vegetarian options are available on the market so be sure to check for this if you need to.
There are of course other lifestyle factors that can influence our collagen production: avoiding direct sunlight which can cause it to break down at an increased rate, cutting back on alcohol, refined carbs, and sugar which can damage collagen molecules, and avoiding smoking which can affect synthesis. Our busy lifestyles might also affect whether or not we decide to opt for supplements or decide to ensure we are consuming the right amount through a natural, balanced, and varied diet.
At The Pure Package, we blend science and culinary creativity to produce delicious, healthy meals to boost your natural collagen levels. If you feel you could benefit from being nutritionally balanced, explore our range of tailored home-delivered menus. Whichever route you choose, it’s clear that the health benefits of ensuring we get enough collagen as a part of a healthy and balanced lifestyle could give us much more than a youthful glow.