Multi-tasking is hard, but the collagen in our bodies seems to do just fine! This miraculous protein contributes to everything from taut, young-looking skin to active joints and strong nails, and has myriad health benefits that keep us ticking over smoothly.
Luckily for us, our bodies produce collagen naturally, synthesising it from Vitamin C, zinc, copper and amino acids. With time though, less and less collagen is produced, until we find ourselves unable to replenish our diminishing stocks. These decreasing collagen levels are the cause of several of the typical symptoms of age: achy joints, wrinkly skin, stiffer tendons and ligaments, and weakening muscle tissue.
This means collagen has long been a must-have in people's beauty routines and their battle against time, but it's increasingly coming to the attention of a broader range of consumers. Patients recovering from illness or injury; patients with chronic joint, bone or muscle conditions; athletes - all of these people are reaping the benefits of boosting their body's natural ability to produce collagen.
But what exactly is collagen, how does it help us stay young and healthy, and how can we encourage our bodies to keep producing more of it? Take a breath, and let's deep dive.
Collagen: the Super Protein
Collagen is one of the many proteins synthesised within our bodies, but it's also one of the most abundant and significant. It's a structural protein, meaning it acts like a 'glue' that holds all of your connective tissues together - in fact, 'collagen' comes from the Greek, 'kolla,' which means glue! It's vital to the strength and elasticity of your skin, muscle tissue, bones, cartilage, ligaments and tendons, and it supports the cell structure of every single cell in your body.
Collagen's omnipresence is what makes it vital to our general health, and why decreased production has drastic results on our physical well-being. But beyond keeping us in one piece, this magical protein has several other benefits that keep us looking and feeling young.
Health Benefits of Collagen
Healthy Gut Barrier
Your intestinal walls consist of a series of microscopic folds, called villi, which are made up of - you guessed it - collagen. Maintaining healthy collagen levels prevents 'leaky' gut, a condition whereby toxins, food particles, and infections pass through the intestinal wall into your bloodstream, causing inflammation and immune reactions. The amino acids in the collagen seal up the gaps in your gut by supporting cellular health and tissue growth.
One of the amino acids in collagen, glycine, supports the growth of muscle tissue by transforming glucose into energy. Muscle tissue burns more calories than fat, so the more lean muscle you develop, the easier you keep the weight off. Collagen helps turn your body into a fat-burning machine, even while you're at rest!
Glycine and proline, two amino acids in collagen, help to support joint mobility and healthy inflammatory response. This means your joints, tendons and ligaments can slide over each other as smoothly and efficiently as possible!
Proline, one of the component amino acids in collagen, plays a role in the deposition of fat in arteries and in the repair of arterial tissue. This helps to regulate blood pressure and diminish arterial hardening.
Your bones are 1/3 collagen, which is what gives them their flexibility and shock-absorbent properties. Adding collagen to your diet can, therefore, help maintain your bone mineral density.
Collagen prevents the build-up of amyloid-beta proteins, which form clumpy plaques commonly found in patients with Alzheimer's.
Skin Elasticity, Strong Nails, Luscious Hair
It's well known that collagen helps retain skin elasticity, limiting wrinkles or sagginess and masking cellulite. It also keeps hair and nails healthy, preventing brittleness and breaking. This is the reason collagen is found in beauty aisles around the world!
Boosting Collagen Production
Another stroke of luck for us is that the more collagen is in your system, the more collagen your body produces. This means that one very obvious way to boost collagen production is to ingest collagen, whether through your diet or nutritional supplements. But consuming enough of collagen's component nutrients is also vital so that your body can work at maximum capacity.
Eating a diet rich in collagen, collagen-promoting nutrients and anti-oxidants is the best way to make sure your lifestyle supports healthy levels and continued production of this heroic protein.
Collagen is found in the bones, joints and skin of animals or fish, so bone broth is one of the easiest and most convenient ways to add it into your diet. Bone broth contains a slew of other nutrients as well, such as calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, glucosamine, chondroitin, and a variety of amino acids, making it a staple of healthy eating.
Vitamin C, zinc, copper and the amino acids proline, lysine and glycine, are all vital ingredients in the synthesis of collagen. Ensuring your diet is rich in these building blocks means your body will actually be able to process any additional collagen you're including in your routine.
- Egg whites are rich in proline
- Beans contain copper as well as many amino acids
- Cashew nuts are rich in copper and zinc
- Tomatoes, bell peppers, citrus fruits, berries and tropical fruits are all excellent sources of Vitamin C.
- Leafy greens contain chlorophyll, which promotes the growth of the precursor to collagen.
Environmental/Lifestyle Factors that Affect Collagen Production
- Sugars, alcohol and refined carbs damage collagen and lead to brittle connective tissues.
- Long-term stress is known to deplete Vitamin C levels.
- Smoking and pollution also contribute to decreased collagen production.