In this article:
- How is collagen produced in the body?
- What causes collagen levels to decline?
- How to protect keep your collagen levels healthy as you age
- Boosting your collagen levels with adequate supplementation
Your body uses and combines amino acids to make collagen molecules that combine to form collagen fibers. Amino acids come from eating protein-rich foods that your body can then digest and turn into collagen. In order to turn amino acids into collagen molecules, however, your body needs a little help from vitamins and minerals like vitamin C, zinc, and copper. When your body doesn’t get enough of these nutrients from your diet, it can seriously affect the amount of collagen that’s synthesized in your body, thus taking a toll on how your skin looks.
Everybody’s collagen levels decrease as they age. Starting as early as your mid-to-late 20s, your body naturally makes less collagen. In fact, after the age of 30, the body loses, on average, 1.5% of its collagen per year. A loss of collagen results in common signs of skin aging such as fine lines and wrinkles, sagging and dry skin as well as stiff joints, and brittle hair. For women, there is a dramatic reduction in collagen synthesis starting with menopause. A considerable decline in the production of collagen is normal by the age of 60. Aside from age, there are many things that can affect your collagen levels.
In addition to age, diet has a large influence over your collagen levels. The three biggest vitamins and minerals needed for collagen synthesis are vitamin C, zinc, and copper. A diet insufficient in any of these minerals could result in a lower than adequate level of collagen. There are also foods like processed meats, white flour, and refined carbs that diminish collagen stores in your body. Try to keep sugar and carbohydrate consumption low to avoid inflammation and further damage to your skin’s levels of collagen.
We’re all aware that smoking or vaping tobacco is harmful to your health, especially your lungs. Another side effect of smoking is the toll it takes on your collagen levels. Smoking exposes your body to hundreds of chemicals that can be damaging for your skin's collagen production and overall health. The nicotine from cigarettes or chewing tobacco can narrow the blood vessels in the outer layer of the skin, reducing the amount of nutrients and oxygen that can be absorbed. It also damages elastin which is responsible for the appearance of strong, young skin.
Ultraviolet rays in sunlight cause collagen to break down more rapidly and can damage the collagen that is already present. When this happens, abnormal elastin builds up and causes irregularities, forming wrinkles and folds. That's why it's so important to use SPF to protect your skin from UV rays.
Certain autoimmune conditions can also affect the way the body produces and uses new collagen. These are known as collagen vascular diseases or connective tissue diseases. These diseases affect your joints, skin, blood vessels, or other vital organs that rely on collagen. The trouble is, they can be difficult to diagnose. Though the symptoms vary between each particular disease, they include rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, Sjogren’s syndrome, polymyositis dermatomyositis, and systemic sclerosis. This group of diseases causes inflammation of arteries in the tissues due to the immune system attacking your own body. The symptoms are more severe than gradual age-related collagen loss due to the insufficient amount of collagen to nourish your body. Symptoms can include:
There are many ways to boost collagen production to restore skin elasticity and heal connective tissues. Small changes can be made to your skin-care routine by using different skincare products or adding a new practice to your daily routines like taking collagen supplements and vitamins.
When your diet is lacking in certain nutrients, it can take a toll on your collagen levels and thus your joint health, muscle mass, and skin appearance and health. To boost the "big three" collagen-boosting nutrients, namely vitamin C, zinc, and copper, be sure to eat a varied and colorful diet with plenty of the following foods. Foods rich in vitamin C include citrus fruits, peppers, tomatoes, broccoli, and greens; Meats, shellfish, dairy, nuts and grains, and dark chocolate are good sources of zinc; Foods rich in copper include shiitake mushrooms, nuts and seeds, lobsters and oysters, and, again, dark chocolate.
Adding hyaluronic acid to your diet through foods like beans, root vegetables, and soy can also help to boost collagen levels. To protect the collagen already in your body, be sure to eat foods rich in antioxidants. Antioxidants are substances that help to protect the body from damaging free radicals. Luckily, this is where the good food is at! Blueberries, pomegranates, green tea and coffee, yerba mate, and cinnamon have tons of collagen-protecting antioxidants.
There are lots of products you can apply topically to help protect, but not rebuild, collagen levels. Avoiding damage in the first place can help slow the rate of collagen use, leaving plenty to keep you healthy and looking young. A daily, gentle face wash and moisturizer helps to protect the collagen you already have in your skin. In addition, using SPF-infused sunscreen to protect your skin from UV rays is like an anti-aging and anti-inflammatory must-have that's easy (and cheap) to do.
Retinol is another type of antioxidant that can boost collagen levels in the skin through retinoic acid. Retinols take a more gradual approach to skin protection, but retinoids can help to speed up the process. With that said, there's a reason people take it slow - it's powerful stuff! Before you reach for any type of retinoic acid, make sure to talk to a dermatologist to see if your skin is a good candidate for this type of treatment.
Collagen is not nearly as effective when applied topically due to its limited bioavailability. It's more efficient to nourish your body from the inside out. Not only that, whereas most topical procedures like chemical peels require recovery times, collagen supplements are virtually side effect free. Collagen peptide supplements have been found to reduce fine lines and wrinkles by ramping up elastin and future collagen synthesis. Collagen supplements are virtually tasteless making it easy to incorporate into your daily meals. Supplements have benefits beyond skincare and can help you build lean muscle mass, recover from injuries, and quell hunger.
You can also supplement vitamin C to make sure you're able to transform amino acids into collagen. To maximize effects, try a liposomal vitamin C supplement which is more bioavailable than traditional vitamin C powders or tablets you find on the market, meaning it is more efficiently absorbed by the body so nothing goes to waste.
Collagen is the most abundant and most important protein in your body - it's definitely something you don't want to let slip through the cracks. Keep an eye on how your body is changing and look out for the warning signs when it comes to your skin, joints, nails, and hair. It won't let you get away with not getting enough!