Anytime you are faced with a change you want to make to your health, always look to nutrition first and what you can do differently to support your body in taking care of itself. If you don’t go to the source, you are merely putting a band-aid on something and sometimes you are working against your body if you don’t provide it with the nutrients it needs.
Collagen is an abundant protein in our bodies, and it is found in our muscles, bones, skin, blood vessels, digestive system and our tendons and ligaments. It is what gives our skin strength and elasticity and is what keeps our joints, tendons and ligaments healthier and moving with ease. Tendons are thick bundles of collagen that connect muscle to bone and allow movement, while ligaments are flexible bundles of collagen that connect bone to bone and protect your joints.
Good collagen production can also ease the pain of osteoarthritis. As we age, our collagen production naturally slows down. This degenerative process is accounts for signs of aging such as wrinkles sagging skin and joint pain due to weakened or decreased cartilage. Collagen helps our tendons ligaments and muscles heal after an injury or surgery.
Collagen is a long-chain amino acid compound of the individual amino acids proline, glycine, hydroxyproline and arginine. Collagen accounts for 30% of protein found in the body and 70% of protein in skin. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein.
The good news is, there are some things we can do nutritionally to help support collagen production.
First, a couple of things to stop or dramatically cut down on: Smoking, excessive sun exposure (that especially means tanning beds which are harmful in so many ways to our skin) and junk food/sugar consumption. We need the Vitamin D benefits of real sunshine, but we don’t need to be baking ourselves. Smoking, excessive sun exposure and a diet high in added sugar speeds up the deterioration of collagen. Second, consume more foods that support collagen production. The biggies are: Protein and Vitamin C. Third, weight bearing and resistance based exercise.
Vitamin C supports collagen production. Eating fruits and vegetables rich in vitamin C helps our bodies to maintain and build collagen. The top 10 foods for Vitamin C are: Oranges, Red Bell Peppers, Kale, Guava, Kiwi, Green Bell Peppers, Brussels sprouts, Broccoli, Strawberries & Grapefruit.
Protein from plant or animal based foods such as eggs (the protein is in the egg whites), beans, lentils, plain or lower sugar Greek or Icelandic yogurt, cottage cheese, hard cheese, quinoa, fish (canned tuna & salmon are easy options) chicken, turkey, beef, pork and to a lesser extent: nuts, seeds and higher protein vegetables. Vegetables highest in protein are asparagus, cauliflower, broccoli, brussels sprouts, artichoke, watercress and yellow corn. Nuts and seeds have protein and healthy fat. However, you cannot depend upon nuts and vegetables as your primary protein source. Quality protein powders whether whey protein or vegan proteins such as hemp, brown rice or pea protein with added BCAAs (branched chain amino acids) can be used to supplement your diet, if you are not eating a sufficient amount of protein (on average 100 – 125g of protein per day for older adults). Real food is always best, but if you are not getting enough protein, then supplementing can be a wise choice.
Exercise is beneficial for our overall health so it’s no surprise that exercise supports collagen production. 30 – 60 minutes of continuous exercise each day (30 minutes minimum) but building up to 60 minutes is optimal and you can do it in two 30-minute sessions). Walking is excellent and can be done by almost anyone anywhere. A walk around town, at the park, the parking lot at lunch, the perimeter of a large warehouse store or up and down your driveway gets the job done! Jumping on a mini trampoline has great benefits for our lymphatic system and bone density. Bicycling, dancing, taking a group fitness class, lifting weights circuit style are all options. Strength-Resistance training is very important as we age so be sure to prioritize resistance training. Find an activity and get out there and do it!
Other foods to eat more of to support collagen health:
Red fruits & vegetables due to the lycopene they contain
Dark green vegetables are rich in lutein and vitamin C
Beans help produce hyaluronic acid which is a lubricating fluid found in skin, eyes, joints and connective tissue
Prunes & Blueberries are high in antioxidants that help neutralize free radicals before they can do damage
Omega 3 fatty acids help create an ideal environment for collagen production. You find Omega 3s in seaweed, fatty fish, walnuts, chia and flax seeds as well as cod, flax, walnut and mustard oil (can be found in Indian food stores).
Broth made from beef, chicken or fish bones is rich in collagen and can be consumed by itself or used as a base for soup.
Collagen Peptides| Collagen Proteins is a supplement that you can consider for boosting your collagen production. Choose an unflavored powder and mix it in a glass of juice, your morning cup of coffee, or add it to a smoothie. There are also Collagen supplements in capsule form. Be aware of the different types of Collagen. If you purchase a Collagen product, there are products with a blend of different types of Collagen.
- Type I: This type accounts for 90% of your body’s collagen and is made of densely packed fibers. It provides structure to skin, bones, tendons, fibrous cartilage, connective tissue and teeth.
- Type II: This type is made of more loosely packed fibers and is found in elastic cartilage, which cushions joints.
- Type III: This type supports the structure of muscles, organs and arteries.
- Type IV: This type helps with filtration and is found in layers of your skin.
Ensuring that we are eating nutritious foods that support collagen production is important for every single person. If you are an older adult, or someone who is recovering from an orthopedic injury or surgery or an injury or surgery involving your skin, keeping your eye on your health relative to collagen production is essential and vitally important. It truly isn’t that difficult to do; we just need to know what to do.