Collagen is the most abundant protein in your body. It is crucial to all ‘connective tissue’ which includes your skin, bones, joints and blood vessel walls. Repair and restoration of tissue depend on collagen production, which is the most important substance in the most superficial layer of your skin that keeps it looking strong and supple. The dermis is made up of 70% collagen and this gives skin its firmness. This is where the blood vessels which can develop into spider veins are found. Optimal collagen levels supports not only your skin structure and tone, but also it will support your bones, joints and cardiovascular health. But how can you ensure you’re giving yourself everything you might need to maintain healthy collagen levels? Here’s our guide on how to maximise protein production, to give your body its best fighting chance!
The science behind your proteins
Collagen is a major structural protein in your body. If you’ve never heard of it before, you`ll be surprised to learn that approximately 30% of all proteins in the body are collagen1. Proteins have many functions within the body, including promoting normal growth and repairing damaged tissue.
Collagen is a tightly-wound triple helix, forming a sturdy, rope-like structure, arranged in ordered bundles, like finely woven cloth. When the structure is disorganised, ‘signs of ageing’ to both outer and inner skin and tissues may occur. So this is why externally, your skin may wrinkle and sag.
Another reason your skin might show signs of ageing could be down to fibroblasts. Fibroblasts are the cells that help manufacture collagen, so when these collapse the collagen in your body becomes fragmented and visible signs of ageing can start to show2.
How can I incorporate proteins into my diet?
All proteins require freely available amino acids and since some can only be obtained from our diet, it is important to ensure your diet is filled with foods rich in proteins. This should provide the building blocks for all of the proteins in your body, including collagen and for the enzymes needed to maintain collagen renewal.
If you have good protein intake and maintain optimal collagen levels in your body, you’ll see great benefits to the outer layer of your skin. This will include good skin tissue repair, less puffiness and smoother, firmer, more resilient and youthful skin. Ensuring that you have optimal collagen production may also help to maintain skin elasticity so that laughter lines remain just that—lines during laughter, with skin ‘bouncing’ back to its place and lessening of deep wrinkles.
Mix up your diet
Eating a varied range of dietary protein can be a great way to boost your collagen levels: providing the amino acids that it needs for production. But what counts as a ‘quality’ source of protein? Meat, fish, poultry, eggs and dairy are fantastic primary sources. If you follow a plant based diet why not try including beans, pulses, nuts and seeds? For the meat-eaters out there, a fantastic way to make the most of the bones and help your health is by making bone broth. It is an excellent source of amino acids for collagen production whether consumed as a snack or used as a base for soups, stews and sauces instead of water.
If you’re unsure where to start, begin with the first meal of the day. To increase your breakfast intake of protein try soft-boiled eggs or if porridge is your preferred option add nuts and seeds. Nut butters on toast instead of butter or jam are an ideal protein-packed alternative.
Adding chicken or lentils to your favourite soup will increase your protein intake. Yoghurt with chia seeds and fresh blueberries is a protein packed alternative to biscuits. Additionally adding seeds and nuts to soups, smoothies, or sprinkling over salad is an easy way to boost your protein levels.
If you are vegetarian or vegan, you may need to monitor your protein intake. Why not try protein filled hummus or eggs (for vegetarians)? Another great meat and dairy free alternative is soy, with the added benefits of isoflavones which are a type of phytoestrogen that resemble oestrogen-like activity in the body. Reduced oestrogen levels can affect collagen production 6 so it is important to add foods with a high isoflavone content into your diet such as tempeh, edamame beans and miso. into your diet to help regulate this activity. Sufficient oestrogen levels have been shown to have positive effects on the skins collagen, hydration, elasticity and thickness9. A 2006 study even showed soy components improve skin in middle-aged women10. Some great options include tempeh, edamame beans and miso.
The importance of collagen production should not be underestimated — especially when there are endless health benefits including some we can actually visibly see! With just a few simple changes you can balance and maintain healthy collagen levels and reap the benefits.
1. Goodsell D (2000) RCSB Protein Databank: Molecule of the Month: Collagen. Available online http://www.pdb101.rcsb.org/motm/4. Accessed 14th February 2017.
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3. Baroni ERV, Biondo-Simões MLP, Auersvald A, Auersvald LA, Netto MRM, Ortolan MCAB, Kohler JN (2012) Influence of aging on the quality of the skin of white women: the role of collagen. Acta Cir. Bras 27:736–740.
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9. Stevenson S, Thornton J (2007) Effect of estrogens on skin aging and the potential role of SERMs. Clinical Interventions in Aging 2:283-297.
10. Izumi T, Saito M, Obata A, Arii M, Yamaguchi H, Matsuyama A (2007) Oral intake of soy isoflavone aglycone improves the aged skin of adult women. J. Nutr. Sci. Vitaminol (Tokyo) 53:57–62.