Collagen is the most abundant protein in our bodies, providing structure and strength to our skin, bones, muscles, tendons, and ligaments. It is a protein comprising a chain of amino acids at its core. Collagen is formed within our cells, where amino acids are linked together based on the information in our DNA. The amino acids are precisely arranged to form a triple helix, a unique structure that gives collagen its strength. This triple-helix structure, procollagen, is transported outside the cell.
Once outside the cell, the procollagen undergoes several modifications to become mature collagen. Specific enzymes chop off the ends of the procollagen molecule, allowing it to form a stable, complex structure with other collagen molecules. This structure forms the basis of our skin, bones, and connective tissues.
There are at least 16 types of collagen, each with a specific function that keeps your body functioning and your skin in good health. However, the ones you’ll hear about most often are types I, II, and III.
Type I collagen is the most abundant and strongest type, making up our skin, hair, nails, organs, and bones. Its fibrous composition is responsible for providing our skin with its firmness and elasticity.
Type II collagen is mainly found in cartilage and is vital for joint health. When we talk about keeping our joints agile, type II collagen is behind the scenes, ensuring smooth and flexible movement.
Type III collagen is the second most abundant type in our body, often working with type I. It’s found in our skin, blood vessels, and organs, helping to maintain the structure and keep them working as intended.
As we age, our collagen production naturally declines. Starting around our mid-20s, we lose about 1% of our collagen yearly. This is a normal part of aging and can contribute to skin becoming less firm and elastic over time. In addition to aging, various external factors can speed up collagen loss. Exposure to sunlight, specifically UV radiation, can damage skin collagen and hinder natural production. Smoking also accelerates collagen loss, reducing the skin’s blood supply and disrupting the process of collagen synthesis.
Collagen loss is a normal part of aging, but that doesn’t mean we can’t take steps to mitigate the loss. By understanding the sources of collagen and how to boost its production, we can take control and help maintain our skin’s vitality for longer.
Dietary Sources of Collagen
While lotions and serums have their place, one of the most potent beauty and health tools is your diet.
Collagen, like all proteins, it’s composed of amino acids. When we eat protein-rich foods, our digestive system breaks down the protein into constituent amino acids. These amino acids are absorbed into the bloodstream and transported to cells throughout the body.
Once the amino acids arrive at a cell, they can be used to produce new proteins, including collagen. This process is driven by fibroblasts, specialized cells that produce collagen, which take the amino acids and use them to create the procollagen molecule, the precursor to collagen.
Certain nutrients, including vitamin C and copper, are fundamental to collagen production. Vitamin C is involved in several steps of the collagen synthesis process; without it, the body cannot correctly produce collagen. This is why scurvy, a disease caused by vitamin C deficiency, is characterized by issues with skin, joints, and bones – tissues that rely heavily on collagen. Therefore, foods rich in these nutrients, such as citrus fruits and leafy greens, are critical for supporting collagen production.
- Bone Broth: Slow-simmering bones (chicken, beef, or fish) release collagen into the broth, making it a rich and easily absorbed source.
- Fish and Shellfish: Not only are these seafood favorites a great source of lean protein, but the skin and scales of fish are particularly rich in collagen.
- Chicken: The chicken’s skin and cartilage are loaded with collagen.
- Egg Whites: Known for their protein content, they also contain large amounts of proline, one of the amino acids necessary for collagen production.
- Citrus Fruits: While not a source of collagen, oranges, lemons, and limes are rich in vitamin C.
- Berries: Strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, and blackberries also pack a vitamin C punch.
- Leafy Greens: Spinach, kale, and other green veggies contain an antioxidant called lutein, which is known to support collagen synthesis.
- Garlic: High in sulfur, a necessary element for collagen production, garlic adds more flavor to your meals.
Collagen supplements have surged in popularity in recent years, with many people adding these to their daily regimen in hopes of reaping many benefits, from improved skin elasticity to joint health. Research into the benefits of collagen supplements is still ongoing, but several studies suggest they can be beneficial. For instance, collagen supplements have been found to improve skin elasticity, hydration, and dermal collagen density. They also support joint health by reducing pain and stiffness associated with osteoarthritis.
Hydrolyzed collagen (collagen peptides) and gelatin are the two most common types. Hydrolyzed collagen is essentially collagen that’s been broken down into smaller, easy-to-digest particles. Gelatin is derived from collagen, but it goes through less processing.
Supplements can be sourced from cows (bovine collagen), fish (marine collagen), chickens, and eggshell membranes. Bovine and marine are the most commonly used, with bovine collagen being rich in types I and III collagen like in Elon Essentials Skin Anew, and marine collagen, sourced from fish skin and scales, being a rich source of type I collagen like those you’ll find in Elon Essentials R3 Extra Strength. When choosing a supplement, look for hydrolyzed collagen or collagen peptides – these have been broken down into smaller molecules, making them easier for your body to absorb.
Interested in collagen supplements but unsure where to start? The skincare experts at ADCI & AST can recommend high-quality, dermatologist-approved supplements that fit into your lifestyle, dietary preferences, and health objectives. Stop by one of our locations for tailored advice on your selection, or browse the online shop!