Our friends at Two Islands asked Emily Jensen, nutritionist, naturopath and medical herbalist to explain.
Collagen is a type of protein that basically acts like a ‘glue’ to hold us together. It makes up around 75% of our skin’s structure giving us that plump and youthful appearance, while also playing an important role in healthy hair, nails and joints. Along with age, there are a few things that can cause collagen levels to decline, leading to wrinkles, stiff joints and brittle nails. Read on to find out what they are, and what you can do to support healthy skin and collagen production naturally.
As we age, our body’s ability to naturally produce collagen declines. From around our mid-twenties, our natural production of collagen begins to drop by approximately 1% per year. While this might not sound like a lot, this loss accelerates over time, and by age 50 we’ve lost about 40% of the collagen in our skin. Although age is inevitable, there are many things we can do to support healthy skin and collagen production such as avoiding smoking, reducing sun exposure, eating a wholefood diet and supplementing with a high quality collagen formula.
It’s well known that smoking is bad for your overall health, but it can also affect the appearance of your skin. Smoking directly damages collagen as well as elastin in the body, and this can lead to premature aging, fine lines and wrinkles. It also depletes nutrients such as vitamin C, which is needed for natural collagen production1.
When we’re stressed, our body releases a stress hormone called cortisol. Research has shown that this hormone can breakdown collagen and reduce our body’s natural production2. Chronic stress can therefore be a major factor when it comes to premature aging and skin wrinkles. Mindful activities such as yoga, walking, journaling and meditation are all great ways to lower stress and cortisol levels.
Sun and UV damage
It’s no secret that sun damage contributes to premature aging. UV exposure causes the collagen in our skin to break down at a higher rate thanks to the production of free radicals and DNA cell damage. It can also cause production of enzymes in the skin that breakdown our collagen and elastin fibres, leading to wrinkles and thinning skin. Our best tip? Limit your sun exposure, always wear sunscreen, and don’t forget your hat and sunnies.
Too much sugar
A diet high in sugar is inflammatory to the body and can effect the collagen in our skin. It does this by a process called glycation which causes collagen fibres to become cross-linked3. This results in stiffening and a loss of elasticity in our skin. Limit refined high sugar foods such as sweets, chocolate, biscuits and ice cream, and focus on wholefoods like fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts, seeds and legumes.
Not enough vitamin C
We need vitamin C to make collagen in our body. The only way we can get vitamin C is through our diet, so if we’re not getting enough, this can affect our natural collagen production as well as the health of our skin. Studies have shown that diets rich in vitamin C from fresh fruits and vegetables, and supplementing with vitamin C can increase collagen production resulting in fewer wrinkles and signs of aging.4
It’s in your genes
What lies in our genes is an important factor that determines how well our body can produce collagen. Like aging, genetics are something that’s outside of our control, so focus on diet and lifestyle changes that can promote healthy skin and collagen levels, such as a wholefood and vitamin C rich diet, limiting sugar and sun exposure, and avoiding smoking.