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Collagen is the most abundant protein in your body, making up 80% of tendons,1 70-80% of the skin, 2 60% of cartilage3 and 30% of bones.4 It's what gives our skin strength and elasticity, keeping us looking young; however, when we age cells slow down their production of collagen which makes our skin show signs of aging and our joints feel weaker.
According to Dr Sarah Brewer, 'Collagen is key to maintaining youthful, plump, well-hydrated skin and there are steps you can take to optimise collagen production and elasticity in later life. Oestrogen stimulates collagen production, for example, so as oestrogen levels fall due to menopause, plant hormones such as soy isoflavones can provide a useful oestrogen boost when taken as supplements and applied via isoflavone enriched skincare products. Other diet and lifestyle changes can also help, as explained below.'
Unfortunately, the natural process of aging isn't the only contribution to slowing collagen production; by smoking, being in the sun and eating sugar, you're also slowing its production. And while you may think that applying collagen-rich cream to your face it can't actually be absorbed through the skin, though it has hydrating properties it won't reverse the speed of production. The large protein molecule that is collagen can't cross into the lower layers of skin, however if you apply a cream or serum with plentiful peptides, vitamins and antioxidants this can boost collagen supplies and restore elastin.
The way we eat affects us much more than just what goes into our gut. Collagen production can be significantly slowed down if your sugar and refined carbs intake is high; this is because sugar molecules attach to collagen proteins and interfere with collagen's ability to repair itself.5
Fish is fantastic for you; two portions of oily, fatty fish are recommended every week as it's high in omega-3. Specifically, ensuring that you're getting enough omega-3 can help reduce the production of molecules linked to inflammation, and if you choose to supplement through cod liver oil, the vitamin A helps to scavenge free radicals, both of which can prevent loss of collagen.
Hyaluronic acid is found in foods that are rich in amino acids, like root vegetables, beans and soy; it has the unique capacity in retaining water,6 as well as providing elasticity and flexibility.
Vitamin C is a super vitamin; although it can't be produced by the body it is linked to impressive health benefits such as normal bone function, contributing to the nervous system and the immune system. That isn't everything though, vitamin C contributes to normal collagen formation which helps skin, teeth and gums. Citrus fruits, papaya, strawberries, broccoli and green, leafy vegetables are rich in this super vitamin - however, if you can't get enough of these in your diet you can always supplement!
Antioxidants, quite like vitamin A, protect against free radical damage. They're naturally found in both plant and animal origin, but especially vegetables, fruits and drinks like coffee and green tea.
Everyone has their own preferences to how they choose to live their life, however some habits may be damaging to collagen production.
Smoking reduces collagen production because of the combination of chemicals;7 nicotine also restricts the blood vessels, compromising the delivery of oxygen and nutrients to the skin.
Your body repairs and restores while you're sleeping, poor sleep has been linked to increased stress hormones which intensify existing skin problems - this includes the breakdown of both collagen and hyaluronic acid.
When the summer finally arrives, some may forget that the UV rays from the sun can be extremely damaging to the skin if not properly looked after. Protect your collagen with sunscreen to avoid break down and rebuild of incorrectly forming wrinkles.
Nothing beats a healthy, balanced diet to provide all the nutrients we need. But when this isn't possible, supplements can help. This article isn't intended to replace medical advice. Please consult your healthcare professional before trying supplements or herbal medicines.
1Yang G, Rothrauff B, Tuan R (2013). Tendon and ligament regeneration and repair: Clinical relevance and developmental paradigm. Birth Defects Research Part C: Embryo Today: Reviews, 99(3), pp.203-222.
2Oikarinen, A. (1994). Aging of the skin connective tissue: how to measure the biochemical and mechanical properties of aging dermis. PubMed - NCBI.
3Fox S, Bedi A, Rodeo, S (2009). The basic science of articular cartilage: structure, composition, and function. Sports health,1(6), pp.461-468.
4 Wen X, Wang F, Xu C, Wu Z, Zhang Y, Feng Y, Yan Y, Lei W (2015). Time Related Changes of Mineral and Collagen and Their Roles in Cortical Bone Mechanics of Ovariectomized Rabbits. PLOS ONE, 10(6), p.e0127973.
5 Danby, F (2010). Nutrition and aging skin: sugar and glycation. PubMed - NCBI
6 Papakonstantinou E, Roth M, Karakiulakis G (2012). Hyaluronic acid: A key molecule in skin aging. Dermato-endocrinology, 4(3), pp.253-258.
7 Knuutinen A, Kokkonen N, Risteli J, Vähäkangas K, Kallioinen M, Salo T, Sorsa T, Oikarinen A, (2002). Smoking affects collagen synthesis and extracellular matrix turnover in human skin. British Journal of Dermatology, 146(4), pp.588-594.