Collagen is the most abundant protein in the body, accounting for about 30% of all the protein the body contains.
It’s one of the main building blocks for your bones, teeth, skin, hair, muscles, tendons, and ligaments. It’s also found in other body parts, including your blood vessels and eyes.
You make it naturally in your body, but you produce less and lower quality collagen as you age. This decline in production begins in your twenties and, for women, accelerates after the menopause.
One of the most visible signs of this decrease is in the appearance of your skin.
Recently there has been a lot of hype in the beauty industry about collagen. It has been widely hailed as a miracle ingredient for firming and smoothing skin, strengthening nails and hair and ‘reversing the signs of aging’.
With so many collagen based products on the market how do you choose?
Should you go for a supplement, a cream or just dismiss them all as the latest fad?
In this article we review the evidence to help you decide.
More About Collagen
Firstly, it is not a single molecule, in fact there are about 16 different types!
Out of all of them, type I, II, III are arguably the most important.
Each type has a specific role in the body:
- Type I accounts for 90% of your body’s collagen. Made of densely packed fibres, it provides structure to your skin, bones, tendons, connective tissue, and teeth.
- Type II is made of more loosely packed fibres and is found in the cartilage which cushions your joints.
- Type III supports the structure of your muscles and arteries.
Can You Help Increase Collagen Production in Your Body?
There is some good evidence to suggest that your diet may affect your body’s ability to produce this important protein.
All collagen starts off as a molecule called procollagen, and to make procollagen your body joins two amino acids; glycine and proline. To do this it needs to use vitamin C.
You can help your body produce procollagen by making sure you get plenty of the following in your diet:
- Vitamin C (found in citrus fruits, bell peppers, and broccoli).
- Proline (found in egg whites, dairy products, cabbage, and mushrooms).
- Glycine (found in pork skin, chicken skin, and gelatin).
- Copper (found in sesame seeds, cashews, and lentils).
In addition, your body will need plenty of high quality protein as a source of amino acids.
Having a healthy balanced diet with good quantities of these key components could increase your production of this key skin protein.
Can You Decrease the Collagen in Your Body?
Unfortunately, the evidence suggests that there are certain behaviours which damage collagen or its production.
Again, diet is key. Eating too many refined carbohydrates and sugar rich foods will impact negatively on your collagen levels. It seems that sugars reduces the ability of the body to repair collagen, leading to a decline in levels.
Avoiding over exposure to sunlight is also important. Ultraviolet radiation has been shown to reduce collagen production. Applying a good sun block is essential.
For those of you who still smoke, here is another good reason to consider quitting. Smoking reduces collagen production.
Is it Worth Taking a Collagen Supplement?
There is some evidence that links collagen consumption with increased levels in the skin. There are also studies which correlate collagen consumption with wrinkle reduction, improved skin elasticity and wound healing.
While the results from these studies are encouraging, more work needs to be done. Many of the studies are on animals, and the human studies which have been done are relatively small.
Collagen has other health benefits, in particular for joint and bone health, so taking a supplement could benefit more than your skin.
If you do decide to opt for a supplement choose one which has hydrolysed collagen. This means that the manufacturer has broken the collagen down into smaller collagen peptides. These are much easier for the body to absorb and use.
What About Collagen Creams?
These topical creams may help moisturise the skin, but the evidence suggests that is probably all they do.
The problem is that collagen is produced in the deepest layers of the skin (the dermis) and large collagen molecules rubbed into the surface of the skin will not be able to penetrate to this layer.
So avoid these creams if you want more than moisturising. Research suggests that vitamin C serums may reduce collagen breakdown, so these would be a better investment if you want a product to apply directly to your skin.
To Sum Up
Collagen plays an important role in many organs of the body.
Your diet and lifestyle choices can help your body make and preserve this protein.
Collagen supplements may improve skin elasticity and reduce wrinkles. They also have other health benefits.
There is little evidence to suggest that topical collagen creams improve skin quality.