Updated: Sep 19, 2018
Collagen is the most abundant form of protein in our body. It is the building block to our skin, hair, bones, cartilage, tendons, muscles, organs, and blood vessels. Our bodies naturally produce collagen through adequate dietary consumption of complete proteins (foods that contain all of the nine essential amino acids) combined with other nutrients including vitamin C, copper, proline, and glycine (the procollagen nutrients).
Here is a list of rich plant-based sources of procollagen nutrients:
Proline and glycine: soy, watercress, spirulina, spinach, turnip greens, asparagus, and kidney beans
Vitamin C: bell peppers, broccoli, Brussel sprouts, strawberries, pineapple, papaya
Copper: sesame seeds, cashews, soybeans, mushrooms, sunflower seeds, tempeh
Unfortunately, as we age, our production of collagen decreases, which leads to wrinkles, sagging skin, and joint pain. In order to preserve the precious collagen our bodies create, we need to stay away from sugar, refined carbs, excessive sun exposure, and smoking (1). Daily consumption of foods rich in antioxidants (berries, spinach, and dark chocolate) help to protect against free radicals which want to destroy our body’s collagen. There are also certain nutrients that help restore the damaged collagen including vitamin A (found in sweet potatoes, carrots, and kale).
None of us want wrinkles or joint pain, but should we supplement with collagen in order to prevent or treat these natural effects of aging?
Some experts say eating collagen is just like eating other protein rich foods because the body breaks the collagen down into amino acids then uses it wherever it’s needed (2). Therefore, we aren’t guaranteed it will go straight to our wrinkles, joints, etc. Also, collagen is not considered a good source of protein since it doesn’t contain all nine essential amino acids. The main components of collagen are proline and glycine, which are a part of the non-essential amino acids (meaning our bodies make them) so we therefore do not need to consume them.
Another important thing to consider is the potential heavy metals that could get in the collagen supplements (which I must note is essentially ground up animal parts—clearly not vegan) during the extreme processing, which the FDA isn’t required to regulate. It’s not a good idea to consume something every single day that is highly processed, and, as with most supplements, daily consumption is recommended in order to see the most results.
There have been some studies that showed supplementing with collagen improved skin elasticity and joint pain.
For instance, one study in 2014 looked at the effects of collagen hydrolysate on women’s skin. Sixty-nine women between the ages of 35 and 55 were assigned a group. One group took the collagen supplement twice a day for eight weeks, while the other group took a placebo. The group that supplemented with collagen hydrolysate found a greater improvement in skin elasticity compared to the group who took the placebo. (No improvement in skin moisture was found) (3).
Another study published in the Nutrition Journal found that collagen supplementation in subjects with osteoarthritis did have short-term effects in relieving joint pain, but the authors questioned whether the effects of supplementing with collagen are long lasting (4).
It’s important to note that most of the research out there used collagen supplements that contained other ingredients than just pure collagen on their participants. For example, the study published in the Nutrition Journal used a collagen supplement that contained ingredients including vitamin C and MSM (both of which help produce collagen) and turmeric (which helps fight inflammation).
Although there have been some studies that showed benefits when supplementing with collagen, most of the research is still very limited and lacking in quality. There needs to be more evidence-based research before spending your hard-earned money on these high dollar supplements.
While new trends can be easily convincing, consistently eating a healthy, plant-based diet including a variety of antioxidant rich fruits and vegetables, whole grains, complete proteins, and healthy fats will give you the biggest and safest bang for your buck when trying to prevent signs of aging.
Here is an example of a collagen-building plant-based meal:
1/2 cup quinoa, cooked (high in protein and copper—helps produce collagen)
1 cup watercress (high in glycine and proline—the main components in collagen)
1/2 cup kidney beans (high in antioxidants, copper, and protein—especially glycine and proline)
1/2 cup sweet potato, diced (high in copper, vitamin A, and vitamin C—help restore the damaged collagen)
1/2 avocado, sliced (high in vitamin E—helps prevent the breakdown of collagen)
Grapefruit, halved (high in vitamin C—needed to produce collagen)
Throw ingredients into a bowl and enjoy the benefits!
1. Puizina-Ivic, N. Skin aging. Acta dermatovenerologica Alpina, Pannonica, et Adriatica. 2008;17, 47-54.
2. Harvard Health Publishing. (n.d.). What's the scoop on bone soup? - Harvard Health. Retrieved from https://www.health.harvard.edu/healthy-eating/whats-the-scoop-on-bone-soup
3. Proksch E, Segger D, Degwert J, Schunck M, Zague V, Oesser S, Oral Supplementation of Specific Collagen Peptides Has Beneficial Effects on Human Skin Physiology: A Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Study. Skin Pharmacol Physiol. 2014;27:47-55
4. Xie Q, Shi R, Xu G, Cheng L, Shao L, Rao J. Effects of AR7 Joint Complex on arthralgia for patients with osteoarthritis: Results of a three-month study in Shanghai, China. Nutrition Journal. 2008;7:31.
Casie Cuneio is currently in the Master of Science- Coordinated Program in Nutrition at Georgia State University. Casie is passionate about all things related to nutrition and cannot wait to obtain her registered dietitian's license to help others feel and look their best. Outside of studying nutrition, Casie enjoys exercising and hanging out with her pups!