The truth about collagen

The truth about collagen

It is fundamental to the structure, feel and health of our skin, and vital for the health of our bodies. Our nutritionists bring clarity to the questions surrounding collagen like 'how is collagen produced?', 'where do collagen supplements come from?' and 'what are the alternatives to collagen'? Let us explain.

What is collagen?

Collagen is a protein, made from joined-up amino acids, and plays an important role in our bodies. We naturally produce collagen from three amino acids - glycine, proline and arginine - which we consume directly in our diet, or they're produced from other amino acids in our diet. 

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What does collagen do?

While most people think of collagen only for skin health, it actually has many more benefits than just for our skin, including our blood vessels, bones, gums, joints and ligaments.

How collagen impacts skin

Collagen forms the main structural and elastic component in our skin. As we age, our bodies produce less collagen, and it is this decrease in collagen that leads to the emergence of wrinkling, sagging and fragility of the skin seen in elderly individuals.

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How collagen impacts blood vessels

Collagen also provides the main elastic component of our blood vessels and helps to maintain their integrity and strength. Maintaining flexible blood vessels is essential for good blood flow and normal blood pressure, and a loss of collagen can lead to bruising more easily and a higher risk of blood vessels breaking.

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How collagen impacts bones

Although the main structural components in bones include Calcium, Magnesium and Phosphorus, collagen also plays a big role in our bone health. Collagen helps bind these minerals together and allows some flexibility of the bones which is important to help prevent bones breaking.

How collagen impacts gums

One of the main structural components in our gums and periodontal ligaments is collagen. The collagen in our gums is important for keeping our teeth in place and overall dental health.

How collagen impacts joints & ligaments

Joints and ligaments rely on collagen for their strength and flexibility. Collagen helps to protect the bones inside our joints and ligaments from rubbing against each other and keeping our the joints in the correct position.

 

How is collagen made from animals?

Collagen supplements are made from the boiling of bones and skin of cows, or taken from the shells of sea creatures. The process obviously requires the killing of the animals before the lengthy process begins to extract the collagen from the rest of the animal before it is dried and turned into powder or liquid form. 

What is vegan collagen?

There is no such thing as a vegan collagen supplement. The only 'vegan collagen' is what we produce in our bodies ourselves. Collagen comes from animals, and mainly cattle, or it is created in our body from amino acids.

Sadly, many people are misled by claims of ‘vegan collagen’. Some supplement manufacturers feed bovine (cattle-sourced) collagen to yeast, and before it is fully metabolised, they kill the yeast and this is then promoted as ‘vegan collagen’. While the yeast is technically vegan, these supplements still originate from metabolised cattle-sourced collagen. If the bovine collagen is fully metabolised by the yeast, then it is no longer collagen. In both cases, the term ‘vegan collagen’ is completely misleading!

There are a few supplements which claim to use genetically modified yeast to produce collagen, however this isn't appealing and a whole food diet, free from genetically modified food, is always recommended for better health. 

How do I increase my collagen?

It's actually easier and more effective to increase collagen production via your diet than taking a collagen supplement.

If you take collagen as a supplement, it gets broken down into its individual amino acids before being absorbed and used across the body. The more effective option is to ensure you get enough protein in your diet to allow your body to make its own collagen, and increase consumption of foods that contain the three vital amino acids - glycine, proline and arginine. 

Great foods high in one or more of these amino acids include:

  • legumes
  • spinach
  • peppers - a mix of colours is best
  • watercress
  • asparagus
  • mushrooms
  • strawberries
  • citrus fruits
  • nuts and seeds
  • wholegrains

Vitamins for healthy skin

As well as ensuring you're consuming enough protein and amino acids, there are a few additional nutrients to support the body’s production of collagen. 

Vitamin C

Vitamin C is needed directly for the production of collagen. Just increasing your Vitamin C intake alone can make a huge difference to the health of your skin and other collagen dependent structures in the body. Although Vitamin C is typically consumed in higher amounts in plant-based diets, your skin may still benefit from an additional supplement containing Vitamin C. 

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Antioxidants

Antioxidants from foods and supplements provide protection to your body's cells. This is important, because it is the 'telomeres' (part of a chromosome) inside our cells which decide how much collagen our cells produce. These 'telomeres' get shorter with age, and the shorter they become, the less collagen is produced. Antioxidants help to protect telomeres and preserve their length, therefore helping prevent a decrease in natural collagen production.

Zinc

Zinc is an essential mineral needed for collagen production, and is rich in foods including nuts, seeds, oats and tofu.

Copper

Copper works directly with zinc for the formation of collagen, and helps maintain the normal pigment of your skin. There are so many plant foods and animal foods providing copper, it is very rare for the body to have insufficient levels of copper to work with zinc. 

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Vitamin A, Vitamin E, Selenium

Both Vitamin A and Vitamin E are also important for your skin health.  Vitamin A is a vital nutrient for maintaining healthy skin, and Zinc is important for helping your body metabolise Vitamin A

Vitamin E and Selenium are both important nutrients to protect our skin cells from oxidative stress, as well as protecting our DNN and proteins from oxidative damage.  Selenium has the added benefit of helping maintain strong and healthy hair and nails.  

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