by Dianna Richardson, ND, For the News Tribune | March 27, 2019
Collagen is a protein found in connective tissues — tendons, ligaments and skin.
It is 30 percent of total body protein. There are 29 types of collagen in the body with types I, II, and III making up the largest amount. Type I is primarily in the skin promoting elasticity and strength. Type II is mainly in cartilage, and type III is found in skin, blood vessels and internal organs. So, what is the make-up of collagen and can we get it from food?
Collagen contains 19 amino acids but is not a complete protein as it does not contain tryptophan, one of the essential amino acids. According to research, the body cannot absorb collagen in a whole form. For this reason, a supplement form of collagen is broken down via a chemical or enzymatic process into peptides. The peptides also function as antioxidants, helping to protect existing collagen in the body. Whether taking a supplement or getting it from food, the body will use collagen where needed, not necessarily where we want. If you need protein for wound healing the body uses it there, not to improve skin.
Collagen can be found in bone broth (simmered 24 hours or more), meat, fish, egg whites, cheese, beans, quinoa and spirulina. Keep in mind taking a supplement or upping intakes of collagen foods does not improve your body's own production of collagen. Remember, collagen is produced by the body from amino acids, vitamin C, zinc, sulfur and other cofactors. What does this mean?
Meat eaters easily consume those essential amino acids plus the extras. Vegetarians also can obtain these building blocks by combining foods to make complete protein. Citrus fruit, peppers, strawberries, blueberries or tomatoes are examples of foods rich in vitamin C. Other needed vitamins and minerals for collagen are found in (sulfur) broccoli, onions and garlic. Zinc is found in foods such as red meat, poultry, beans, nuts, pumpkin seeds, certain types of seafood, whole grains and dairy products.
Please keep in mind certain lifestyle factors will reduce your body's own production of collagen. High sugar intakes (loss of strength and flexibility in collagen fibers), smoking (reduces vitamin C and other nutrient absorption), pollution exposure and poor dietary intakes of nutrients will all reduce your body's ability to produce collagen.
Bottom line, most studies involving collagen supplements involve small study groups. While the benefit of collagen to the body is becoming documented, the body can find all the needed nutrient to produce collagen in foods. With concerns about heavy metals and toxins in the bones of animals, it should be noted these can transfer to supplements. Choosing high quality foods will give the body needed building blocks for collagen production.
Dianna Richardson of the Health, Wellness & Nutrition Center in Jefferson City has served communities as a wellness practitioner for more than 20 years. She has her doctorate degree in naturopathy, a master's degree in health and wellness, a bachelor's degree in public health education and is a certified wellness specialist. Core to her practice has been the use of nutrition to enhance health and improve vitality.