I remember going through an unfortunately apparent “awkward phase” in high school—a time characterized by a growth spurt that left me uncoordinated, the development of acne all over my face, and my first encounter with PMS. Yuck. But just when I thought awkward phases were long gone, I hit the age of 27 and realized I was getting acne and wrinkles at the same time. It’s a cruel, cruel world.
While I’ve perfected my skincare routine to help combat hormonal acne, I’m new to the world of wrinkle prevention. Are creams the best way to go or should it be tackled from the inside out? Are there specific foods that can help in this area? The journalist in me decided to do some research, which is what led me to collagen. The most abundant protein in our bodies, collagen is mainly found in our bones, skin, tendons, blood vessels, and digestive system. The main amino acids that make collagen include glycine, proline, hydroxyproline, and hydroxylysine. Unfortunately, however, the amount of collagen our body produces declines starting in our mid-twenties, which essentially translates to skin becomes thinner and looser1. (Don’t kill the messenger!)
Thankfully, researchers have established that nutrition plays a key role in skin health and, consequently, its appearance1. And it turns out that collagen is particularly beneficial to the skin. In a placebo-controlled clinical trial, it was found that collagen supplements that were taken for eight weeks led to: increased skin hydration, increased collagen density, and a reduction in fragmentation of collagen fibres1. In other words, those who used a collagen supplement were able to encourage the production of better-quality collagen and increase the thickness of our skin’s outer layer, which is typically associated with a more youthful appearance.
While people normally associate collagen with skincare, it has actually been shown to be beneficial for reducing joint pain2, increasing bone density3, improving leaky gut4, and strengthening nails and hair5. So, the question becomes: how do we increase the amount of collagen in our body to reap all of its wonderful benefits?
1. Naturally increase collagen production with food.
Collagen needs certain vitamins to be created, particularly antioxidants like vitamin C and E, carotenoids (found in fruits and vegetables that are yellow, orange, or red), and minerals like selenium and copper6. Vitamin C is abundant in papayas, bell peppers, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, strawberries, pineapple, oranges, cantaloupe, and cauliflower. Great sources of vitamin E include: sunflower seeds, almonds, spinach, Swiss chard, avocados, peanuts, asparagus, beet greens, and mustard greens. Finally, selenium can be found in tuna, shrimp, sardines, salmon, mushrooms, asparagus, barley, tofu, eggs, and brown rice, while copper can be found in sesame seeds, cashews, soybeans, mushrooms, sunflower seeds, lentils, walnuts, and beans.
As mentioned previously, collagen is made up of glycine, proline, hydroxyproline, and hydroxylysine. Foods that contain these different amino acids include: egg whites, spirulina, cod, and foods high in sulfur like garlic, onions, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and cabbage.
2. Drink bone broth.
Also known as “stock,” bone broth is a mineral-rich liquid typically made from boiling vegetable bones with vegetables and herbs. When you allow these bones to simmer for a long period of time, they release the collagen and gelatin they contain. While making your own bone broth can easily be done in a slow cooker, companies are starting to make powdered bone broth if you’re short on time. Just make sure you’re using a high-quality supplement that’s made from organic ingredients with no added artificial ingredients.
3. Take a collagen supplement.
Collagen supplements come in a variety of forms, from powders to capsules. However, note that most collagen supplements are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which means it’s up to the manufacturer to ensure that the product is high-quality. As such, pay attention to the ingredient list and how the collagen was sourced. Non-GMO powders made from grass-fed cows are a good option.
For vegetarians and vegans, it’s important to note that most collagen powders are made from animal sources, meaning supplementation is likely not an option. In this case, stick to plant-base foods that provide the building blocks for collagen (as outlined above).
Are there any side effects?
In a 12-week study of more than 1,200 participants, it was found that no adverse effects occurred with collagen supplementation7. However, some people may develop hypercalcemia, which is when the body accumulates too much calcium8. This can lead to bone pain, constipation, fatigue, and abnormal heart rhythms. Be sure to pay attention to these side effects and have your blood work done by your physician regularly. Additionally, pregnant and breastfeeding women should avoid collagen supplementation as not enough research has been done on its safety during these time periods.
The Bottom Line
Collagen supplementation can be a great option for those who are looking to improve skin quality, decrease joint pain, and more. However, make sure you’re using a collagen supplement that’s high quality and made by a reputable brand. Finally, include foods high in amino acids that help create collagen to support its production.
Kristina Virro is a Registered Holistic Nutritionist and soon-to-be psychotherapist who is passionate about the intersection between mental health and physical health. She has a weekly blog and podcast on this very topic, Fresh Insight. When she isn’t sharing her passion for health and wellness, she can be found drawing or playing with her 180-pound Great Dane.