Collagen is the most abundant protein in your body accounting for 30% of your body’s protein.  Its role is to provide structure, support, and strength to skin, muscles, bones, and connective tissues.  It is also found in various organs, blood vessels, and intestinal lining.

Proteins are made from amino acids and collagen is made up of three of them: proline, glycine, and hydroxyproline. However, collagen also needs vitamin C, zinc, copper, and magnesium to form the three amino acids into a protein structure.

As our bodies age, our body produces less collagen and the existing collagen breaks down faster.  To make it worse, the quality of the collagen is lower than the collagen in younger bodies.  Everyone will experience a decline in collagen production after the age of 60. Women are harder hit as they will see a greater reduction in collagen production post menopause.

Unfortunately, collagen cannot be measured which means keeping track of our body’s collagen production and the quality of collagen is not possible.  Thankfully, there are signs that can indicate a decrease in collagen levels.  These include:

1)         Wrinkled, creepy, or sagging skin

2)         Hallowing in and around the eyes and face

3)         Stiffer joints and less flexible tendons and ligaments

4)         Joint pain or osteoarthritis due to worn cartilage

5)         Loss of mobility due to joint damage or stiffness

6)         GI issues due to thinning of the lining in your digestive tract

7)         Problems with blood flow

Certain lifestyle choices can affect the quality and production levels of collagen.  These include:

1)        Smoking:

Decrease collagen production

2)        Eating too much sugar and refined carbs:

Weakens collagen

3)         Exposure to ultraviolet light:

Reduces production and causes collagen to break down quickly.

Some disease and health factors also affect the health of collagen.  These include:

  • Autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, dermatomyositis and scleroderma.
  • Connective tissue diseases are known to damage collagen.
  • Genetic mutations such as Ehlers-Danois syndrome and osteogenesis imperfecta will also damage collagen.

There are ways to help limit the impact of collagen damage.  Protecting yourself from the sun’s rays is important.  Using a product with a sunscreen of SPF 30 or higher is important.  Wearing a wide brimmed hat, sunglasses, long sleeved shirts and pants are helpful as well.  Eating a well balanced diet such as the Mediterranean Diet, which promotes eating lots of vegetables, beans, whole grains, nuts, and fruits as well as a moderate amount of seafood, meat, and poultry will also help.

Unfortunately, our bodies cannot absorb collagen in its whole form.  So eating collagen rich foods does not directly result in higher collagen levels in your body.  The best we can do is focus on eating foods that are needed to support collagen production.  These are foods that contain the amino acids proline and glycine as well as vitamin C, zinc, and copper.  Consider the following foods:

  • Vitamin C: oranges, strawberries, bell peppers, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and potatoes.
  • Proline: mushrooms, cabbage, asparagus, peanuts, wheat, fish, egg whites, and meat.
  • Glycine: red meats, turkey, chicken, and pork skin, peanuts, and granola
  • Copper: liver, lobster, shiitake mushrooms, nuts and seeds, leafy greens, tofu, and dark chocolate.
  • Zinc: oysters, red meat, poultry, pork, beans, chickpeas, nuts, broccoli, green leafy vegetables, whole grains, and milk products.

What about taking collagen supplements? Collagen peptides are small pieces of animal collagen.  Since collagen can’t be absorbed in it’s whole form, they have to be broken down in order for your body to be able to absorb them  Collagen peptides do just that and are available in pill or powder forms and are absorbed in your GI tract.  Sounds great but are they effective? Presently there is a lack of sound research that fully verifies the effectiveness of taking collagen peptides. However, there is some evidence that collagen peptides will help improve skin hydration and elasticity as well as help in relieving joint pain.  More research is needed to determine the true effectiveness of using collagen supplements.