Collagen is responsible for the youthful appearance of our skin, but it’s also an important element in many other parts of the body including the joints. Sadly, we lose collagen as we get older, meaning that we develop visible signs of ageing including sagging skin, aching hips and knees.
But we can help to boost our collagen levels by choosing certain foods and supplements that help to support the manufacturing process of collagen in the body.
Could our diet be the secret to youthful looking skin and supple joints? Here’s the facts on collagen and how you could be boosting your levels.
What exactly is collagen and what does it do?
Collagen is a protein, and is in fact the most abundant protein in the human body. It has a role as a structural protein, adding support and strength to many of the tissues in the body, including within the connective tissues, blood vessels, muscles, bones and the cartilage found inside the joints.
But perhaps most well-known is the role that collagen plays in the health and appearance of our skin.
Collagen fibres form under the skin in a criss-cross pattern, creating a microscopic ‘biological scaffold’ for the skin to sit on. It keeps the skin plump, hydrated, lifted and youthful. However, we gradually begin to lose collagen as part of the natural ageing process. Estimates vary on when this begins, but it’s probably earlier than we think – somewhere between our mid-20s and our mid-30s.
As we lose collagen fibres, weaknesses begin to form in the structure holding up the skin. As a result, over time the skin begins to lose support, leading to fine lines and wrinkles, as well as sagging and drooping – the tell-tale signs of ageing.
The natural process of ageing also brings with it aches and stiffness in the joints. This is in part due to the loss of collagen in the cartilage that’s responsible for keeping the joints cushioned and lubricated.
Many people therefore choose to think about ways to boost their collagen levels, to try to minimise these signs of ageing. Collagen supplements are now very popular, and eating a diet rich in collagen boosting foods can also be beneficial for the health of our skin as well as that of our joints, muscles and bones.
Collagen boosting foods vs collagen rich foods
Our collagen levels can be supported as we age by eating a diet rich in collagen boosting foods. These are foods that contain nutrients such as vitamin C, copper, manganese and zinc, as these micronutrients are all required to synthesise collagen.
All proteins, collagen included, are made up of smaller molecules called amino acids. The proteins in the foods we eat are broken down during digestion into amino acids, the body can then use these to manufacture different proteins, including collagen. Therefore, eating a diet rich in different protein sources can also be beneficial for supporting healthy collagen levels.
Collagen boosting foods include those that contain protein, vitamin C, copper, manganese and zinc. But what about actually consuming collagen itself? Is that possible?
It turns out, yes! There are certain foods that contain collagen, as well as collagen supplements. Most of these are animal based foods, but there are plenty of plant based foods that support collagen production.
Examples of collagen boosting and collagen rich foods and supplements
Vitamin C is one of the most important micronutrients in the manufacture of collagen, so make sure you’re eating plenty of vitamin C rich foods. These include citrus fruits, berries, red peppers, sweet potatoes and broccoli.
Copper, manganese and zinc are all also important. Copper rich foods include offal, shellfish and nuts, while bread, cereals, nuts, green leafy vegetables and black tea all contain good levels of manganese. Zinc is found in meat, shellfish, dairy products made from cows’ milk and foods made with grains such as cereals and bread.
Consuming a range of different protein rich foods will provide a variety of different amino acids that will also help to build collagen. Lean meat, fish, eggs and dairy products are all great protein sources, as are plant-based foods such soya products, beans, nuts and seeds.
These are all foods that form part of a healthy balanced diet so far. But what about foods and supplements that are actually rich in collagen? Bone broth is one of the most abundant natural sources of collagen, it is made from boiling the connective tissues and bones of animals such as cows, antelope and bison.
Collagen supplements are proving to be ever popular and the majority are found in powdered form, that you use to make a savoury, warming drink.
Collagen is found in the bodies of animals as well as humans, and most collagen supplements derive from animal sources. The main two are bovine collagen made from the bones of cows and marine collagen made from the scales, fins, skins and bones of fish.
Look for high quality collagen supplements such as organic bovine collagen from grass fed cows and organic marine collagen made from sustainably caught wild fish. That way you know you’re getting a purer, more concentrated supplement.
As with any supplemented diet, it may take a few months before you notice any difference. But persevere and consume plenty of collagen rich foods and you could be reaping the benefits as you age.