What is collagen and how can we get more?

Collagen is often seen on the labels of high-end beauty products, but can it really make us look younger? We take a look at what it can do for us from the inside out.

What is collagen?

Found in the connective tissues of all animals, this triple helix protein makes up at least 25% of all the protein in the human body. Bones, ligaments, tendons, skin and even our eyes contain this super-strong, super-flexible protein. It’s essential for skin elasticity, healthy hair and nails, and even our digestion. These multiple benefits mean it’s not uncommon to see collagen on the labels of some beauty products. But be aware! Molecules are measured using daltons, and the size limit for even surface skin absorption is 500 daltons. Collagen molecules measure over 10000 daltons, so clearly won’t be absorbed through the epidermis, although it does have very good surface moisturising properties and slows down moisture loss.

What happens when collagen declines?

When we get to our mid-twenties, the body’s collagen production starts to slow down at a general rate of 1-2% every year. Almost 75% of our skin is made of collagen. When it declines through age and free radical damage, our skin starts to lose its elasticity and texture. This important protein is the scaffolding under our skin that keeps it plump and smooth. As deterioration occurs, more wrinkles appear and skin starts to sag.

The good news is that we may be able to give our bodies a hand with collagen production – and even potentially reduce the effect of its slow decline – by eating more protein and collagen-rich foods. Although the collagen we eat does not pass directly into the skin (it’s a protein, so its amino acids are broken down by the digestive process), it does supply the body with the perfect building blocks to recreate more of our own from within.

How can we get more in our diets?

In our Palaeolithic days, it was much easier for us to get more collagen into our bodies as we ate ‘nose to tail’. This diet included foodstuffs that nowadays we tend to avoid, such as offal, tendons and bone marrow. But, by boiling up trotters, knuckles and bones in a broth, we can make use of their collagen content and help give our bodies the building blocks we all need to make more. Gelatine is essentially cooked collagen and there are plenty of ways to use this in the kitchen.

Collagen contains glycine and proline, two vital amino acids without which we can’t produce. It not only contributes to smoother, younger-looking skin, but it’s also thought to help with joint mobility and digestion. While the best source is from animal products, vegetarians can find glycine and proline in several common foods such as dairy products and soya beans. These amino acids are used to build collagen within the skin. Collagen liquid supplements (normally derived from fish skins) are also thought to boost our intake, but tend to be expensive. There is scant scientific evidence that they work, although there are many users who say they see a difference after a month’s use, and much of the anecdotal evidence is positive. A more economical way to help our bodies produce this beautifying protein is to eat more bone broth – and jelly!

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Wellbeing Wisdom

  • Collagen contributes to smoother, younger-looking skin, and is also thought to help with joint mobility and digestion
  • One of the best – and cheapest – ways to get more collagen in our diet is by eating bone broth