Collagen is the most abundant protein in our bodies, helping to form connective tissues found in every bodily system. In fact, you need collagen to build and repair your skin, cartilage, ligaments, joints, muscles, bones, blood vessels, and digestive system. This is why it’s sometimes described as the “glue” that helps hold the body together. With so many important jobs, you can see why getting enough collagen in your diet—and supporting your body’s ability to make its own collagen—is crucial, especially for healthy aging. Here’s a breakdown of the importance of collagen, plus five simple ways you can boost collagen production.
Why Healthy Collagen Production Is Important
You can thank your body’s production of collagen for maintaining your skin’s strength and elasticity, and for maintaining the healthy joints and cartilage that allow you to be mobile and shock-resistant.
Collagen also contributes to a healthy gut lining, which is needed for proper nutrient absorption and immune function. The protein plays a role in maintaining healthy hair, nails, and bones, too.
As we age, our bodies start making collagen at a slower rate, so intentionally consuming more is a wise way to support healthy skin, joints, gut function, and more throughout the years.
5 Ways To Support Your Body’s Collagen Levels
You can ensure your body has the collagen it needs by taking steps to support its natural production of collagen and by consuming the protein itself. Here are my five top strategies for keeping your collagen plentiful.
1. Take a Collagen Supplement
A complex protein, collagen is made up of linked amino acids, including high amounts of the amino acids arginine, glycine, glutamine, and proline. Interestingly, these amino acids aren’t available in great quantities in most other protein foods. This specific amino acid content is one reason why collagen supplements are unique compared to other protein powders, and why they’re increasingly sought out.
One type of collagen supplement that is thought to be highly effective is collagen peptides. In this form, the collagen has undergone a process called hydrolysis to break it down into shorter chains of amino acids that are easier to digest.
Also known as hydrolyzed collagen, collagen peptide supplements are basically tasteless and super-simple to use; they dissolve in both hot or cold water and can be added to coffee, smoothies, soups, stews, and even baked goods.
If you prefer taking capsules over powder, you can also take collagen in either pill or gummy form.
2. Drink Bone Broth Regularly
Bone broth is a traditional stock made with simmered animal bones, marrow, cartilage, tendons, and ligaments, which are all naturally rich in collagen. It also contains important minerals, including calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, silicon, and sulfur, which contribute to overall joint and gut health.
Since collagen can be generally hard to consume from your average diet, bone broth is one of the best ways to obtain more of it. Drinking it regularly can contribute to a healthy digestive tract, healthy immune defenses, and more.
You can either purchase bone broth from your local health food stores or butcher shop or make your own using bones left over from cooking or stock bones purchased at the meat counter. You can also supplement with bone broth collagen powders.
3. Eat Enough Protein
Complete protein sources—think meat, fish, eggs, organ meats like liver, and dairy products—provide you with all the amino acids your body requires for numerous functions. Having ample amounts of these amino acids at the ready helps your body synthesize collagen as needed, so make sure to include a source of protein in every snack and meal.
High protein intake is especially important during middle and older age as it is also associated with bone and muscular health benefits. (Not to mention, protein is filling and supports a healthy metabolism.)
4. Increase Your Intake of Vitamin C and Zinc
Vitamin C is essential for collagen synthesis. Therefore, emphasizing vitamin C-rich foods in your diet is an important piece of the puzzle in promoting your body’s levels of the protein.
Some of the best sources of vitamin C include leafy greens, all types of berries (including superfood berries like camu camu and goji), citrus fruits like oranges and grapefruits, cruciferous veggies like kale and broccoli, mango, kiwi, pineapple, bell peppers, and seaweeds such as kelp.
Read More: 8 Foods That Are Loaded With Antioxidants
An added benefit of eating lots of vitamin C and zinc? Doing so supports immune system and skin health, as these nutrients work to fight free radical damage.
5. Avoid Collagen-Degrading Habits
Certain habits can cause your body to lose collagen at an increased rate because they contribute to free radical damage and oxidative stress. We call these “collagen killers,” and they can cause earlier signs of aging and “wear and tear” on your skin, in your joints, and elsewhere.
To help hold onto as much collagen as possible, avoid these habits:
- Smoking cigarettes
- Consuming high amounts of alcohol
- Too much sun exposure, which damages the skin
- Sleep deprivation and chronic stress, which impair immune function
- A diet containing lots of processed foods and added sugar
- Low intake of antioxidants, protein, and essential vitamins and minerals
- Sitting all day and lack of activity
The Bottom Line
Collagen is crucial for health and wellbeing for a number of reasons—and taking daily steps to help boost collagen production (while avoiding lifestyle factors that inhibit collagen) can go a long way.