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Everything you need to know about collagen. Dr. Amee Daxini talks to us in details about collagen, its loss and how to restore it!
What is Collagen?
Collagen is the most abundant protein in the human body, and the main component of connective tissue–the scaffolding of bones, tendons, ligaments, cartilage, and skin upon which the body is built.
As its name implies, connective tissue holds all the parts of the body in place, like glue. Collagen is particularly important in skin, but it is also abundant in muscles, blood vessels, eyeballs, the gut, intervertebral discs, and the dentin of teeth.
Collagen in combination with elastin and keratin (which is a protein) gives skin its strength and elasticity. Gram for gram, the collagen in skin is stronger than steel. Combination with elastin, collagen also gives skin its flexibility, the ability to stretch and move and then bounce back into shape.
Collagen is also the mesh on which wounds repair, this is the body’s ability to generate new skin, after trauma or injury. This is called the “dermal matrix,” in which collagen provides a structure on which this new skin can grow.
Safe to say, skin would not be its best if there was no collagen!
With age, natural collagen production begins to slow, and cell structures weaken. Skin becomes thinner and sags while ligaments lose their elasticity, joints get stiffer, and much more.
In this article, Dr. Amee will dig deeper into what collagen is, how it works, and methods to replenish it in your body regardless of how old you are.
How is collagen produced?
Fortunately, the innate intelligence of the human body can synthesize collagen from amino acids (the building blocks of proteins). This process also requires essential elements like sulfur, vitamin C, zinc and copper.
Unfortunately, your body’s collagen production declines with age: an estimated one percent/year starting in our early thirties. Although men by nature have more collagen in their skin, women can lose up to 30% of their skin’s collagen production in the first five years post-menopause. This is one of the reasons supplemental estrogen is recommended for postmenopausal women. Also, a diet rich in estrogen containing foods can help sustain some collagen, like in soybeans, flax seeds and nuts.
The loss of collagen and elastin in the skin is what accounts for the difference between a baby’s plump, rounded cheek and the dry, thin, papery cheek of your grandmother. We have a natural desire to replace what our healthy, youthful bodies have lost, and therefore have this craze for collagen supplements and creams.
Do oral collagen supplements or topical collagen treatments work?
There are a few clinical trials that have shown skin improvements resulting from oral collagen supplements, which are generally derived from animal proteins, but I still remain skeptical.
Our stomach acid breaks down the collagen proteins taken orally before they can reach the skin, or joints, or other parts of the body.
The collagen molecules are too large to be absorbed into the bloodstream. To combat this, some supplement manufacturers claim to “shrink” the size of the collagen molecules so that they can be more readily absorbed; even if the collagen survives digestion, there is no way to direct it where you want it to go.
But there’s another option to increase or restore lost collagen. It’s what I recommend for my patients (and advice I follow myself):
Give your body the ingredients to make its own collagen!
The body makes collagen by combining amino acids that are found in protein-rich foods, like spinach, chicken, fish, beans, eggs and dairy products. As noted, the process also requires sulfur, vitamin C, zinc, and copper and is supported by estrogen, at least in females.
Glycosaminoglycans (GAGs) and hyaluronic acid are also important to constructing the dermal matrix that houses the collagen and elastin needed for a resilient epidermis. Lecithin is also important to repair and maintain cell walls and protect your cells from further damage.
Sulfur is found in every living cell in the body and plays a key role in collagen synthesis. Early studies have also indicated that sulfur-containing foods like garlic, onions, meat, and cruciferous vegetables can offer anti-inflammatory and detoxifying benefits. In addition, sulfur-rich foods like broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, and spinach are either high in glutathione (natural anti-oxidant) or contribute to its production.
Cutting it short:
The following is a simple list of foods that supply essential nutrients that are rich in antioxidants, anti-inflammatory agents, and collagen-builders. They assist with the cellular renewal process and help the cells hold more water.
Protein-rich foods like spinach, chicken, fish, beans, eggs, and dairy products
Berries like Blueberries, raspberries and strawberries
Sulfur sources like broccoli, cabbage, spinach, and Brussels sprouts
Lecithin from eggs, cauliflower, oranges, peanuts, and tomatoes
Some of my favorites which are high in vitamins and antioxidant content: Sweet potatoes, Vitamin A sources like carrots, mangoes and papaya, Vitamin C sources like amla and lime, B-carotene sources like carrots, pumpkin, Vitamin E sources like almonds, wheat germ, and dark leafy vegetables and Omega-3, -6, and -9 found in flaxseeds, cold-water fish, raw walnuts, and almonds.
Now, what about topical collagen treatments? Do they work?
Collagen creams include products are the ones that
- contain collagen,
- protect existing collagen, or
- promote collagen production.
- Research shows that they are somewhat effective. Creams that contain collagen generally are made of marine collagen or hydrolyzed collagen and, though they don’t increase the collagen content of your skin, they may temporarily plump the skin to minimize the look of wrinkles.
Creams formulated to help protect collagen often contain hyaluronic acid, which is a water-loving glycosaminoglycan (GAG) that can attract and hold up to one thousand times its weight in water. Keeping cells hydrated is essential to their proper functioning—including collagen production—and also keeps skin cells plump, moist, and flexible. In addition to ingesting GAGs and hyaluronic acid in the diet or by supplementation, it doesn’t hurt to apply these topically.
Creams that promote collagen production, often include retinol and its plant based alternative bakuchiol, which is the main skincare ingredient thought to help promote collagen production. It works by the same principle as exfoliation, or microdermabrasion: gentle irritation of the skin rouses its collagen-producing capabilities.
Preventing sun damage is essential to maintaining collagen. Collagen loss is accelerated by sun damage, as well as by smoking, pollution, and other environmental exposures. That’s why my numero uno skincare product, ahead of all others, is sunscreen. I also remind patients to consume foods which are called internal sunscreen by consuming foods like pomegranates, tomatoes, watermelon, and other red fruits—rich in lycopenes—along with foods that are high in beta-carotene (carrots, sweet potatoes, and other orange fruits, and dark, leafy greens like broccoli), healthy Omega-3 fats like cold-water fish and flaxseed, foods that are high in vitamin E, like almonds, and my personal favorite, dark chocolate. All of these have been shown protect skin against harmful UV rays and to increase the effectiveness of topical sunscreen products.
Other tips for keeping soft, smooth, supple skin:
- Water is essential to cellular health and life. It is understood that deterioration in all tissues is water loss. But because drinking your water tends to flush your system, and this can be achieved by consuming a diet high in water-rich foods, which are primarily fruits and vegetables.
- Manage your stress. Long standing stress promotes chronic inflammation of the tissues, which leads to degenerative effects of inflammation over time. Aging is almost always associated with stress and inflammation. Destressing and satisfaction in your life are not over-rated, they are an essential component of antiaging!
- Get your sleep. In addition to reducing stress, sleep is your body’s “rest and repair” cycle, the time it allocates for repairing and restoring the damage from the previous day. The circadian rhythm of our body r
- Moisturize, moisturize, moisturize.
Summarizing the collagen craze:
There are no short cuts to achieving glowing, youthful skin. Popping pills or using high promising products fall short of being "Skin Deep". The right choices in diet, good habits and lifestyle in combination with sun protection, are essential for a skin that is ever so young!!
Let's make Skin care a means to health care and vice versa...