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Collagen Production Starts Declining In Your 20s—Here’s What You Can Do About It

Collagen is the most abundant protein in the body, helping to maintain skin elasticity, joint health, the integrity of the gut lining, and overall tissue strength. While it’s possible to obtain collagen from certain foods, like bone broth and fish, collagen foods are limited and not abundant in most people’s diets. As such, the popularity of collagen supplements has absolutely skyrocketed.

As early as our mid-20s to 30s, collagen production slowly begins to decline (at a rate of about one to 1.5 percent each year), leading to increasingly noticeable “signs of aging,” such as sagging skin, joint pain, and decreased muscle mass.

Whether you want to get ahead of downturns in collagen production or are already noticing some of the not-so-fun signs of its decline, rest assured that there are plenty of ways to support your body’s ability to make collagen and mitigate the negative effects associated with its degradation.

  • ABOUT OUR EXPERTs: Dr. Joshua Axe, D.N.M., C.N., N.M.D., is a naturopathic medicine doctor, chiropractor, and founder of Ancient Nutrition. Lena Bakovic, R.D.N., is a registered dietitian nutritionist with Top Nutrition Coaching. 

Signs of Collagen Decline

More than two dozen types of collagen have been found within the joints, ligaments, tendons, blood vessels, organs, and bones of the human body. 

Though declines in collagen production are generally considered a normal part of aging, certain lifestyle factors—such as a poor-quality diet, sun damage, smoking, and high stress levels—can accelerate collagen loss and the aging process.

According to Dr. Joshua Axe, D.N.M., C.N., N.M.D., naturopathic medicine doctor and co-founder of Ancient Nutrition, other contributing factors include genetic defects, poor intake of collagen-rich foods, nutritional deficiencies, and digestive problems affecting protein production.

As the production of these different collagen types starts to simmer down, you may notice some changes related to your appearance, mobility, exercise performance, and overall well-being. 

Some of the most common include:

  • Sagging skin
  • Wrinkles and fine lines
  • Joint pain and stiffness
  • Muscle weakness and decreased muscle mass
  • Brittle nails
  • Thinning hair and hair loss
  • Reduced skin elasticity
  • Delayed wound healing
  • Gum recession and tooth loss
  • Increased susceptibility to injury and bruising

How to Promote Collagen Production

Incorporating the tips, foods, and supplements below into your daily routine can help your body enhance collagen synthesis, work against collagen loss, and maintain agility and a youthful and vibrant appearance.

1. Utilize Collagen Supplements

In addition to producing its own collagen, the body also acquires “exogenous collagen” from food and supplements, according to dietitian Lena Bakovic, R.D.N., a nutritionist with Top Nutrition Coaching. 

“Supplementing with collagen can help replenish lost collagen and support healthy skin, hair, and nails, including promoting skin hydration and elasticity, hair and nail growth, joint mobility, healthy cartilage, and bone and ligament strength,” says Axe. By providing your body with the essential amino acids needed for collagen synthesis, these supplements can help replenish lost collagen and support overall tissue repair and regeneration, he says.

When choosing a collagen supplement, Axe suggests looking for a product that is bioavailable and easily absorbed by the body. Two good options: collagen peptides and hydrolyzed collagen, which have undergone a process that breaks down the collagen into smaller peptides, making them more digestible and absorbable. Additionally, consider collagen supplements sourced from grass-fed, pasture-raised animals or wild-caught fish to ensure top-notch quality.

Powdered collagen supplements are a popular option, as they’re easy to add to a hot beverage (like your morning coffee) and all sorts of other drinks and recipes, Bakovic says. Most powdered collagen supplements are tasteless, odorless, and simple to use, but recently some brands have added flavored options. You can also try collagen in capsule, liquid, or gummy forms. 

2. Up Your Intake of Collagen-Boosting Cofactors

“Increasing your intake of nutrients and supplements like hyaluronic acid and silica can support your body’s own collagen production,” explains Axe. Pairing collagen with these “collagen cofactors” can help you experience the greatest effects related to skin elasticity, joint function, and more.

You see, hyaluronic acid boosts skin moisture levels and joint lubrication, promoting joint function and mobility, which is beneficial for those experiencing joint discomfort or stiffness associated with collagen decline, Axe says. Meanwhile, silica (a trace mineral) supports collagen synthesis and strengthens connective tissues, enhancing the strength and resilience of the skin, hair, nails, and bones. Together, these cofactors synergistically optimize collagen’s effects.

Additionally, vitamins and minerals like vitamin C, zinc, and copper are among the most essential for collagen synthesis, adds Axe. To support collagen production from the inside out, seek foods rich in these nutrients, such as citrus fruits, bell peppers, nuts, seeds, and shellfish.

3. Ensure You’re Eating Enough Protein

Supplements are the most convenient and concentrated way to boost collagen intake, but eating enough protein overall is still important for supporting collagen production since your body uses the amino acids found in protein sources to synthesize collagen.

Collagen itself is a “complex protein” made up of 19 different amino acids linked together. It’s especially rich in the amino acids arginine, glutamine, glycine, and proline, which are found in complete proteins like meat, fish, and eggs, explains Axe.

Read More: 8 Ways To Enjoy Bone Broth—Because It’s SO Good For You

“To help your body make collagen, incorporate enough protein and collagen-rich foods, such as bone broth, wild-caught fish, and pasture-raised poultry into your diet,” Axe says. “These foods provide essential amino acids needed for collagen synthesis.”

4. Adopt an Anti-inflammatory Diet 

“Foods rich in antioxidants (such as fruits and vegetables) and omega-3 fatty acids (such as salmon, sardines, other types of oily fish, and, to a lesser extent, walnuts and flaxseeds) can help reduce inflammation, support collagen production, and prevent collagen depletion,” says Axe. He recommends limiting processed foods, sugar, and trans fats to keep inflammation in check and support overall skin, gut, and joint health.

5. Step up your hydration game

Axe and Bakovic agree that hydration is also key for maintaining skin elasticity and promoting collagen production. They recommend drinking plenty of water throughout the day and incorporating hydrating foods, such as cucumbers, watermelon, fresh-pressed veggie fruits, berries, and leafy greens, into meals and snacks. 

6. Be Smart About Sun Protection

“Excessive sun exposure can accelerate collagen breakdown and contribute to premature aging,” cautions Axe. 

While adequate sun exposure (about 15 to 20 minutes daily) is the best way to maintain normal vitamin D levels, you still want to turn to sunscreen when in the sun for extended periods, seek shade during peak sun hours, and wear protective clothing as needed to minimize UV damage, Axe notes. Limiting the amount of sun damage you’re exposed to can help preserve collagen integrity and keep your skin healthy and youthful for longer.

7. Prioritize Sleep and Stress Management

“Chronic stress and lack of sleep can mess with hormones in a way that impairs collagen production and contributes to premature aging,” notes Axe. Prioritize quality sleep, aiming for about seven to nine hours per night, and practice stress-reducing techniques such as meditation or yoga.

Read More: 6 Physical Signs You’re Way Too Stressed

Carving out time for self-care is important for supporting hormonal balance, keeping inflammation in check, and thereby supporting collagen synthesis and overall well-being, he says.

8. Optimize Your Exercise Routine

“Regular exercise promotes blood flow, fights inflammation, and can stimulate collagen production, contributing to skin elasticity and overall tissue health,” says Axe. 

To maintain muscle mass and support connective health in the face of declining collagen production, he recommends incorporating a mix of strength training, cardiovascular exercise, and flexibility work into your routine.

Don’t overdo it, though! Should you get injured, your routine can ultimately backfire on your muscle and joint health, as exercise-related injuries can contribute to strained and/or weak joints and ligaments.

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