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What is best when it comes to collagen — supplements or food?


Citrus is packed with collagen

Image: Edgar Castrejon | Unsplash

The beauty world can be a confusing one to navigate, especially when there’s a new “miracle” supplement or product coming out every week. Do these products actually work? Are you better off supporting your external beauty by tending to your internal health through the food you eat?

No doubt you have heard about collagen in recent years. What’s all the hype about and should you add it to your supplement regime?

Collagen is a hard, insoluble and fibrous protein that makes up one-third of the protein in the human body and is found abundantly in tendons, ligaments, skin and muscles. Collagen acts as a supporting structure in the body, providing strength and elasticity.

Vitamin C is found abundantly in citrus fruits, green leafy vegetables, strawberries, papaya and broccoli.

Naturally, as you age, the body produces less collagen, causing changes to your skin’s structural integrity and appearance, resulting in wrinkles, drier skin and slower wound healing. A reduction in collagen synthesis can additionally weaken joint cartilage, tendons and muscles.

In addition to the natural process of ageing, certain dietary and lifestyle choices such as the following can also damage your body’s collagen.

Eating a diet high in sugar

Sugar increases the rate of glycation, which is a process where blood sugars attach to proteins to form new molecules called advanced glycation end products (AGEs). AGEs damage proteins and can cause collagen to become dry, brittle and weak.

Smoking

Poor wound healing and reduced collagen production are more common in smokers. Research suggests this is due to the chemicals in tobacco which alter vitamin C levels and change the body’s inflammatory cell response.

Excess sun exposure

Long-term exposure to ultraviolet radiation (UV) induces structural destruction of the skin’s collagen fibre bundles, which comprise the major component of the skin. Excess UV exposure can lead to premature wrinkles and increase the risk of skin cancer.

The good news is that there are also a lot of ways to support collagen synthesis and slow the ageing process. It’s important to avoid high amounts of sugar, smoking and excess sun exposure. You can also take a collagen supplement which, in recent years, has become a very popular beauty go-to for helping restore ageing skin.

Collagen supplements are made from amino acids which are typically derived from the connective tissue, bones, cartilage and hides of cows or the skin of fish. Most collagen supplements are hydrolysed, meaning the collagen has been broken down into smaller protein units, making it easier for you to absorb.

Research has shown that taking oral supplementation of 2.5–5 grams of collagen compared to a placebo for eight weeks showed a statistically significant improvement in skin elasticity in elderly women and a slight improvement in skin moisture in comparison to those in the placebo groups.

Food for beauty

Research has also shown that enjoying certain foods can additionally help increase collagen production. These include:

Hyaluronic acid

Hyaluronic acid is an important molecule for skin collagen synthesis. It can be found in potatoes, meat and fish, bone broth, organ meats, bananas and citrus fruits.

Vitamin C

Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant and is essential for collagen synthesis. Vitamin C is produced by most plants and animals. However, humans lack the enzyme required to produce this particular vitamin; this means you must obtain vitamin C from the food you eat. Vitamin C is found abundantly in citrus fruits, green leafy vegetables, strawberries, papaya and broccoli.

Aloe vera

Aloe vera has long been recognised for its benefits in easing the redness and encouraging healing of sunburnt skin. However, research has also confirmed that taking aloe sterols, which are molecules in the aloe vera plant, can stimulate collagen and hyaluronic acid and reduce the appearance of wrinkles after eight weeks.

What’s the verdict?

Supplement with collagen or use your food as medicine? It comes down to the individual and your age.

If you are under 30 years old, focus on preventative measures for your skin health such as avoiding excess sun exposure, smoking and processed foods and enjoying a diet rich in antioxidants such as vitamins A, C and E and wholefoods that increase the production of hyaluronic acid and collagen.

If you are over 30, supplementing with a good-quality hydrolysed collagen powder, vitamin C and aloe resins in addition with a wholesome diet is likely to help support your skin’s elasticity, moisture and appearance.



 

Ema Taylor

Ema Taylor is a naturopath, clinical nutritionist and certified fertility awareness educator. For more, visit emataylor.com or @emataylornaturopathy on Instagram.