Collagen is the most abundant structural protein within the body.
A structural protein contains tightly-packed molecules that provide structure to various tissues in the body. Examples of such tissues include skin, bone, tendons, and ligaments.
As a person ages, their body produces less collagen. This can lead to issues such as wrinkles, sagging skin, and stiff joints.
Some foods contain proteins and nutrients that the body needs to produce collagen. These proteins and nutrients are also available as collagen supplements.
This article looks at the roles of collagen in the body and outlines the best foods to boost collagen production. We also list the various collagen supplements available.
According to an older review, collagen makes up one-third of the total protein in a person’s body. Collagen forms connective fibers, which give structure and support to numerous tissues and organs within the body, including:
Collagen and elastin are important structural components of the skin. They help to maintain the skin’s smoothness and elasticity. As a person ages, these proteins decline. This is one of the reasons a person’s skin starts to become looser and wrinkle with age.
Besides maintaining youthful-looking skin, people also need collagen for the following:
There are many different types of collagen, but the most common types in the body are:
- Type I: This forms the connective tissues of the skin, bones, teeth, tendons, and ligaments.
- Type II: Cartilage mainly contains this type of collagen.
- Type III: This gives strength and shape to organs, skin, muscles, and blood vessels.
- Type IV: This a major component of the membranes that separate a person’s body tissues.
Some foods contain proteins called amino acids, which the body can use to make, or synthesize, collagen. Examples include:
Some essential amino acids that are important for collagen synthesis include:
Certain vitamins and minerals also help with collagen synthesis. The table below lists the different micronutrients that help with collagen synthesis, alongside their associated food sources.
Some people may want to increase their collagen intake by taking supplements. Some different types of collagen supplements include:
- collagen pills or capsules
- collagen peptide powders
- collagen protein powders
- liquid collagen
- collagen drinks
- marine collagen from fish skin
Below is some research into two key health benefits of collagen-boosting foods and supplements.
Connective tissue health
Amino acids help promote collagen synthesis, and this could improve the health and function of the connective tissues.
A 2019 study investigated concentrations of amino acids (AAs) in the blood following consumption of different collagen and dairy proteins and collagen-rich bone broth.
The authors suggested that the release of AAs could promote collagen formation in ligaments and tendons during exercise.
The findings showed that the intake of collagen proteins increased the AA glycine, and the consumption of dairy proteins increased the AA leucine. The bone broth resulted in a slower and more prolonged release of AAs compared to the supplements.
However, according to a 2019 study, the amino acids in bone broth vary according to which preparation a person consumes. The authors added that it is unlikely that bone broth can consistently support new collagen synthesis.
One of the criticisms of collagen supplements is that they are broken down and destroyed by acids and enzymes in the gut.
However, hydrolyzed collagen (HC) is chemically processed collagen that the gut can digest more easily. This means that it may remain in its intact form while the blood delivers it to the skin and joints.
A small 2015 study investigated the effects of hydrolyzed collagen supplements on skin health and appearance in post-menopausal women.
The supplements contained additional antiaging ingredients, including hyaluronic acid, vitamins, and minerals.
The study found that the oral supplement led to a significant reduction in wrinkle depth and a noticeable improvement in skin elasticity and skin hydration.
Collagen supplements may be a convenient way for a person to boost their collagen.
However, different supplements may contain varying amounts of collagen. This can make it difficult for a person to tell whether a particular supplement will be effective.
Given that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) do not regulate supplements, people may have concerns about their contents, safety, or toxicity.
People should also consider that collagen supplements usually derive from the skin and bones of animals such as cows and pigs. As such, they are not suitable for vegans, vegetarians, or people of certain religions.
Boosting collagen through the consumption of a healthful and varied diet is likely to be safer and more beneficial for health.
When a person consumes a healthful diet, they are receiving multiple nutrients that will confer a wide range of health benefits.
To maintain collagen levels, people should limit or avoid foods containing excess added sugar.
Sugar can cross-link with collagen fibers and produce compounds called advanced glycation end products (AGEs). These compounds can damage the body.
Collagen is an essential protein that provides structure to numerous body tissues. As a person ages, their body produces less collagen. This decline in collagen levels can adversely affect the skin, joints, and connective tissues.
Certain foods contain nutrients that are necessary for collagen production. Consuming these foods may help to boost levels of collagen in the body.
Supplements may be another convenient way to boost collagen production. However, people should not take supplements as a substitute for a varied and healthful diet.
A healthful diet is likely to confer numerous health benefits besides increased collagen production alone.