Collagen supplements have become increasingly popular for joint, bone, skin, and connective tissue health. But what is collagen and do you really need it? Collagen is the primary connective tissue protein and the most abundant protein in your body. It is absolutely essential for the health of your skin, tendons, cartilage, bones, and blood vessels. You need it for a strong and flexible body, wound healing, blood clotting, and skin health.
Today, I want to talk about connective tissue health and the importance of collagen. This is a two-part series. In Part 1, I discussed the importance of your connective tissues and various connective tissue injuries, musculoskeletal issues, and connective tissue disorders. Here, in Part 2, you will understand the importance of collagen for your connective tissues. You will learn how to support collagen production naturally and how to supplement with collagen.
What Is Collagen?
Collagen is the primary connective tissue protein (1). It is a hard, insoluble, and fibrous potent substance made up of long, thin fibrils packed together. In the human body, collagen makes up about one-third of all protein (2). Collagen serves as a support structure for your cells and provides elasticity and strength for your skin.
There are 28 known types of collagens in the collagen family (3). All of them have different structures and functions. Type I collagen is the most common type of collagen in the human body. It helps your body to be strong and flexible and supports wound healing, blood clotting, and healthy skin (4, 5). Type II collagen is the most common form of collagen found in supplements. It may benefit your joint health and digestive system (6, 7). Type III collagen supports the structure of your muscles, blood vessels, and organs (8, 9, 10). Type IV and type V collagen serve as building blocks of your skin, and are important for wound healing, digestive issues, and eye health (11, 12, 13).
Uses of Collagen
After the age of 30, your body starts to lose collagen and will lose more and more collagen as you age. The reduction of collagen will lead to more wrinkles and fine lines. It may also increase the risk of issues with your connective tissues. Beyond aging, other factors may also play a role in collagen loss and damage, such as genetics, stress, smoking, and nutrient deficiencies.
It’s not surprising that collagen is often used in medical and cosmetic settings. Collagen may be used for:
- Wound healing (14)
- Collagen supplement for arthritis (15)
- Collagen-tissue grafts in peripheral nerve regeneration, arterial reconstruction, and vascular prostheses (16)
- Collagen-based membranes for periodontal and implant surgeries (17)
- Collagen supplements, creams, and topicals for skin anti-aging and skincare (18)
- Collagen injections as skin fillers (19)
- Collagen supplements for hair growth (20)
Nutrients That Support Collagen Production
Your body naturally loses collagen as you age. Fortunately, there are some nutrients that can support collagen production, reduce symptoms of collagen loss, and help protect your connective tissues.
Vitamin C is possibly the most important nutrient that supports collagen production. Vitamin C is an antioxidant that serves as an essential cofactor in collagen synthesis. This means that vitamin C is absolutely essential for forming collagen; without it, your body can’t make it. Vitamin C supports your DNA in regulating intracellular collagen levels (21). As an antioxidant, vitamin C also fights free radical damage and supports the cellular regeneration of your skin cells. According to a 2018 review published in the Orthopedic Journal of Sports Medicine and a 2019 review published in the International Journal of Sports Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, vitamin C supplementation supports collagen synthesis, fights oxidative stress, and supports bone regeneration (22, 23).
I recommend eating plenty of foods rich in vitamin C, including citrus fruits, strawberries, pineapples, papaya, blueberries, bell pepper, broccoli, kale, leafy greens, Brussels sprouts, and parsley, to support collagen production. You may also benefit from vitamin C supplementation to improve collagen levels.
Zinc is another nutrient that supports collagen production. Zinc deficiency may increase the risk and symptoms of connective tissue problems. A 2011 study published in Biological Trace Element Research has found that zinc deficiency is more common in people with RA than in those without (24). Improving zinc levels may help. According to a 1981 study published in Surgery, Gynecology, and Obstetrics, zinc may support collagen synthesis and tissue healing (25). As a pro-antioxidant mediator, zinc may also reduce the risk of oxidative damage (26).
You may benefit from consuming foods rich in zinc, such as pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, almonds, cacao, spinach, kidney beans, lentils, and chickpeas, to support collagen production. You may also try supplementing with zinc to improve collagen levels.
Copper is another critical mineral for collagen production. Copper is necessary for blood cell, connective tissue, and bone formation. It activates lysyl oxidase, which is an enzyme necessary for collagen maturation and the formation of fibers required for tissue support. A 2014 study published in Current Chemical Biology has found that copper may support skin elasticity and the well-being of the skin (27).
You may benefit from consuming foods rich in copper, such as sesame seeds, almonds, cashews, Swiss chard, spinach, kale, shiitake mushrooms, and spirulina. to support collagen production. Your body only needs a small amount of copper, which you can usually meet through diet alone. However, since your body cannot make copper, if you have low copper levels, you may also try supplementing with copper or using a zinc supplement with copper to improve collagen levels.
Silicon supports collagen production. It supports the structure and elasticity of your skin. Silicon is also critical for your bone strength and may help to lower your risk of osteoarthritis and osteoporosis. A 2002 study published in the American Journal of Nutrition has linked low levels of silicon to reduced bone and connective tissue health (28). Low levels of silicon may also increase the aging process of the skin.
I recommend eating plenty of foods rich in silicon, such as oranges, cherries, apples, strawberries, grapes, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, almonds, cucumber, carrots, beets, eggplant, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, rice, oats, and barley, to support collagen production. You may also benefit from silicon supplementation to improve collagen levels. It may be particularly beneficial for premenopausal and menopausal women who are at a higher risk of osteoporosis.
Certain amino acids, including lysine, glycine, and proline help to support collagen production (29, 30, 31). Lysine supports collagen synthesis. According to a 2016 study published in the Journal of Bone and Mineral Research, lysine is essential for bone health and bone mineral density (32). According to a 2013 study published in Communicative and Integrative Biology, lysine also supports wound healing (33). According to a 2018 study published in Cell Biology International, glycine supports tendon health and repair (34). A 2017 study published in The Journal of Nutrition has found that proline is essential for collagen synthesis and wound healing (35). According to a 2012 study published in Amino Acids, it may also support skin health (36).
I recommend eating plenty of foods rich in lysine, including green peas, cooked spinach, squash, pumpkin seeds, quinoa, and beans to support collagen production. I recommend eating plenty of foods rich in proline, such as cabbage, asparagus, mushrooms, sunflower seeds, egg whites, and seaweed, and foods rich in glycines, such as asparagus, spinach, beets, carrots, sweet potatoes, sunflower seeds, pumpkins seeds, apples, bananas, pistachios, carob seeds, egg whites, and seaweed to support collagen production. You may also benefit from supplementing with these three amino acids to improve collagen levels. You also need to ensure adequate levels of vitamin B1, B2, B6, C, iron, and glutamic acid for lysine absorption.
Using Collagen and Hydrolyzed Collagen Supplements
You may also benefit from supplementing with collagen. You may supplement with Type 1, Type 2, or Type 3 collagen, or hydrolyzed collagen supplements.
Type 1 Collagen
Type 1 collagen is the most abundant in your body. It is beneficial for your tendons, cartilage, tendons, skin, blood vessel walls, or corneas (37, 38, 39). Good sources of type 1 collagen include bovine and marine collagen. Bone broth made from bovine or fish are great sources of type 1 natural collagen.
Note on bone broth and histamine intolerance: Bone broth is high in histamine and can be triggering if you have histamine intolerance or mast cell activation syndrome (MCAS). If you have histamine intolerance or MCAS, I recommend avoiding bone broth. You may try a soup instead made in an instant pot.
Type 2 Collagen
Type 2 collagen is another major collagen in your body that’s essential for your cartilage health and the structural health of your rib cage, bronchial tubes, nose, and ears (40, 41, 42). Most type 2 supplements are made from chicken collagen and are the most beneficial for joint health. Bone broth made from chicken is a great source of type 2 natural collagen.
Type 3 Collagen
Type 3 collagen is generally found in the same locations and serves some similar roles as type 1 collagen. It is important for your skin and organ structure and health (43, 44, 45). Bovine collagen is a great source of both type 1 and type 2 collagen. Bone broth made from bovine is a great source of type 1 and 3 collagen.
Hydrolyzed collagen is a type of collagen that is broken down into smaller particles. These small collagen particles are easier to process and are more bioavailable for your body. According to a 2018 study published in Clinical Medicine Insights, hydrolyzed collagen is beneficial for joint health and reducing symptoms of osteoarthritis (46). According to another 2018 study published in Nutrients, hydrolyzed collagen may help to improve skin elasticity, skin density, and hydration (47). If you are looking to improve your skin, joint, bone, and connective tissue health, hydrolyzed collagen may be the most bioavailable way to improve collagen levels.
Other Strategies to Reduce Collagen Damage and Connective Tissue Problems
Beyond supplementing with collagen-supporting nutrients and collagens, you may help to reduce collagen damage and protect your issues with the help of the following dietary and lifestyle strategies:
Stretch Regularly and Exercise Smart
Exercise, strength training, and stretching are very important for connective tissue health and collagen production. According to a 2016 study published in the Journal of Cellular Physiology, stretching can reduce inflammation of the connective tissue (48). Exercise may also help to improve your collagen levels and connective tissue health. A 2015 study published in the Journal of Physiology has found that there is an increased collagen production after exercise (49).
According to a 2019 book, Connective Tissue and Disease, exercises that improve mobility and strength can improve connective tissue health and joint problems (50). According to a 2015 study published in the International Journal of Sports and Physical Therapy, strength training plays an important role in tendon and muscle health (51). No wonder strength and resistance training are an important part of physical therapy. Adding collagen may help too. According to a 2019 study published in Nutrients, combining resistance training with collagen supplementation may help to improve muscle strength in postmenopausal women (52). Improving muscle strength may reduce the risk of joint and tendon problems as well (53).
Yoga, pilates, and barre workouts are great low-impact activities that can improve strength, balance, and flexibility. If you are ready for it, I recommend adding bodyweight workouts, resistance bands, weight training, or kettlebell workouts to your routine as well. Exercising with the proper form, avoiding overtraining, strength training, and stretching can reduce the risk of connective tissue injuries. These practices may also help to protect your body and reduce symptoms if you are dealing with a connective tissue disorder.
Try Linus Pauling’s Formula for Collagen Support
Your blood vessels are one of the connective tissues you need to protect. Linus Pauling’s formula for blood vessel health is all about supporting collagen. This protocol includes vitamin C, proline, and lysine. Linus Pauling is a two-time Nobel Prize winner American scientist known for his work on treating heart disease. He found that long-term vitamin C deficiency can contribute to atherosclerosis and heart disease and that heart disease may be prevented or improved with the help of vitamin C and other supplements. In addition to vitamin C supplementation, Pauling also recommended two amino acids, lysine and proline, as these amino acids may help to remove plaque from damaged arteries and strengthen them (54, 55, 56).
The Pauling Therapy includes:
- Vitamin C: Generally between 5,000 to 10,000 mg or as your bowel tolerates it without diarrhea, spread across the day in two doses 12 hours apart to protect the wall of your blood vessels.
- L-Proline: About 3 mg twice a day to prevent and reduce plaque formation and deposition.
- L-Lysine: About 3 mg twice a day to prevent and reduce plaque formation and deposition.
- Co-enzyme Q10: 90 to 180 mg twice a day to strengthen your heart muscles.
- L-carnitine: 3 mg twice a day to strengthen your heart muscles.
- Niacin: Starting at 250 mg at lunch, 500 mg at dinner, and 500 mg before going to bed the first day gradually increasing it to as much as you can tolerate up to 4 grams to reduce lipoprotein production.
- Vitamin E: 800 to 2400 IU per day to reduce the multiplication of smooth muscle cells in your artery walls.
Remove Refined Sugar and Refined Carbohydrates from your Diet
According to a 2011 review published in Recent Progress in Hormone Research, a high-sugar diet can increase glycation (57). Glycation refers to the process when blood glucose attaches itself to proteins creating advanced glycation end products (AGEs). Unfortunately, AGEs can harm proteins and leave collagen weak and brittle.
Quit smoking or if you are not a smoker, don’t start. According to a 2007 review published in the Journal of Dermatological Science, tobacco can damage collagen and lead to premature aging of your skin (58).
Protect Yourself from UV Damage
Though sunshine can improve vitamin D production and boost your mood, dangerous UV rays from the sun can damage your skin and reduce collagen production. According to a 2013 review published in Biopolymers, the UV rays from the sun can increase the breakdown of collagen (59). Reduce mid-day sun exposure and use sunscreen and protective gear.
Try Aloe Vera
According to a 2009 study published in the Annals of Dermatology, aloe vera may help type 1 procollagen gene expression. Thus it may help to reduce wrinkles, increase the elasticity of the skin, and support wound healing (52). You may use aloe vera gels topical or oral supplementation.
Don’t forget to read Part 1 of this series on collagen and connective tissue health. In Part 1, I discuss the importance of healthy connective tissues and you can learn about connective tissue injuries and connective tissue disorders.
If you are looking for personalized tips and dietary recommendations or want to improve your health, wellness, and mental well-being, I welcome you to start a personalized functional medicine consultation with me. You may book your consultation here.