The body naturally produces collagen. Foods that stimulates collagen synthesis are foods high in protein, vitamin A, carotenoids, vitamin C, iron, zinc, copper, sulfur compounds, and chlorophyll.
What is collagen?
Collagen is a protein. Actually, it’s the most abundant protein in the human body. Collagen is approximately 30% of the human body protein content.
It is mostly found in connective and soft tissues, such as tendons and ligaments. Also, collagen is found in the skin, corneas, blood vessels, gut, intervertebral discs, bones and teeth.
Collagen is responsible for skin strength and elasticity. Additionally, collagen can prevent the formation of wrinkles. Thus, collagen has potent anti-aging properties.
As a protein, collagen is made from amino acids. The most common amino acids of collagen are glycine, proline, and hydroxyproline. Other amino acids, such as glutamine, glutamate, ornithine, and arginine are also important for the synthesis of collagen (1).
Moreover, various minerals (copper, iron, and zinc), vitamins (vitamin A and C), and oxygen are important cofactors for the synthesis of collagen (2,3,4).
Can the human body naturally produce collagen?
The human body can synthesize collagen naturally. It synthesizes collagen by combining amino acids, which are the building blocks of protein.
A healthy whole food plant-based diet can provide all the amino acids that the human body requires for collagen synthesis. Also, we have to consume foods high in vitamin C, vitamin A, zinc, copper, and iron.
Our bodies produce new collagen every day. However, the produced amount may not be enough in many cases. After the age of 20-25 years, we start to lose more collagen than we produce. Especially, if we don’t eat foods that stimulate collagen synthesis. Less collagen causes wrinkles, saggy skin, and weakened joints.
Furthermore, lifestyle factors, such as smoking, stress, air pollution, and exposure to harmful ultraviolet rays of the sun contribute to collagen depletion. A whole food plant-based diet is the best solution to increase collagen production and protect your skin from aging.
Should I take collagen supplements?
Actually, there is no need for healthy people to take collagen supplements if they follow a well-balanced diet. Collagen supplements have collagen peptides, which are slightly different from natural collagen. Collagen peptides are made of the same amino acids. But, they have shorter chains of amino acids. Hence, they are absorbed more easily.
Some health benefits of collagen peptides are (5):
- skin elasticity
- recovery of lost cartilage tissue
- reduced joint pain
- strengthened tendons and ligaments
- increased lean body mass in elderly men and premenopausal women
- increased bone mineral density in postmenopausal women
The main reason of these health benefits is that collagen peptides provide the necessary amino acids to the human body in order to synthesize collagen. We can get these amino acids from diet, though.
How much collagen should I take a day?
Many studies have shown that daily collagen doses of 3 grams can improve skin elasticity. Scientists didn’t observe any side effects even for dosages higher than 10 grams (6).
Foods high in collagen
Only a few foods contain collagen. Collagen is concentrated in connective tissues. So, only animal sources are good dietary sources of collagen. The food with the highest amount of collagen is bone broth. Even other animal sources aren’t particularly high in collagen.
Eating foods high in collagen doesn’t necessary mean that this collagen will be used to keep your skin elastic. The human body will break down collagen to amino acids. These amino acids will be used wherever they are needed the most.
Foods high in vitamin A & C stimulate collagen synthesis
Many studies have shown that vitamin C is essential for the synthesis of collagen. Vitamin C regulates and maintains the intercellular amount of collagen. Also, vitamin C is good for the skin as it has potent photoprotection properties.
Consuming foods high in vitamin C is necessary for increased collagen synthesis! Even topical application of vitamin C may enhance collagen production in the human skin. So, it’s better to prefer cosmetic products and collagen supplements containing vitamin C.
Vitamin A is also vital for collagen synthesis. You can get high amounts of vitamin A from animal-derived foods (retinol), or plant-based foods (beta-carotene).
Foods with zinc, copper & iron for increased collagen
Zinc is important for the skin. It’s beneficial for collagen production as well. Seeds and nuts are great dietary sources of zinc (7,8).
Moreover, eating foods high in copper can be beneficial for connective tissues, such as ligament and tendons, bones, and the skin. Copper also plays a key role in collagen metabolism. Copper is vital for the synthesis of elastin as well. Elastin is a protein which makes the skin elastic. Copper deficiency may have negative effect on collagen and elastin synthesis (9,10).
Furthermore, copper is essential for the absorption of iron. Iron is also vital for the collagen production process and for its structural integrity. Actually, iron is a key cofactor for elastin and collagen synthesis.
Foods high in iron are seeds (e.g. pumpkin seeds), nuts (e.g. walnuts, almonds), whole grains and pseudocereals (e.g. quinoa), and above all, beans (e.g. lentils, soybeans).
Aloe vera, green tea, garlic & foods with chlorophyll for collagen
Aloe vera is one of the most beneficial foods for the skin. It contains over 70 potentially beneficial for the skin compounds. For instance, aloe vera is a good dietary source of vitamins, enzymes, minerals, lignin, saponins, salicylic acids and amino acids (11).
In fact, aloe vera promotes collagen synthesis because it’s rich in amino acids. Aloe vera has 20 of the 22 required amino acids for the synthesis of collagen. Moreover, it has 7 of the 8 essential amino acids.
Additionally, aloe vera can increase the synthesis of hyaluronic acid, after oral or topical treatment.
Furthermore, green tea contains many compounds that can prevent the natural decline of collagen. Green tea is a good source of tannins, catechins, and other polyphenols, which protect the skin from oxidative stress. Green tea is beneficial for several dermatological conditions (12,13).
Garlic has unique active compounds that can prevent the formation of wrinkles. The most important of them are caffeic acid, S-allyl cysteine, and uracil. Moreover, these compounds in garlic can significantly inhibit the degradation of collagen (14).
Actually, diets high in sulfur compounds are beneficial for preventing collagen breakdown (15).
Also, foods high in chlorophyll increase collagen synthesis. Moreover, chlorophyll can reduce the formation of wrinkles and skin DNA damage (16).
Above all, we should stay well-hydrated. Collagen metabolism requires water. Many foods that boost collagen production tend to be high in water. In fact, many vegetables and fruits are over 90% water.
Which foods are bad for collagen?
It’s good for you to avoid foods high in sugars and refined flours. These foods tend to cause chronic inflammation, which is bad for the production and structural maintenance of collagen. So, avoid sweets, white bread, and highly processed products to protect your skin from aging (17).
Smoking, sun exposure, and alcohol abuse also reduce collagen synthesis rates in the skin (18).