Many people might assume you need to directly supplement collagen to see an increase in the collagen within your body – this is not the case.
In food, collagen is only ever found in animal tissues; meat and fish contain connective tissue. Yet, we still manage to naturally produce collagen without constantly eating meat or animal cartilage. Let us thank the wide range of plant foods that contain material to stimulate natural collagen production within our bodies.
Our bodies steadily produce less collagen as we age. The production of collagen tends to drop most rapidly due to smoking, alcohol intake, lack of sleep, poor dietary habits, sun exposure, and lack of exercise.
When it comes to aging, collagen found within the deep layers of skin changes from a “tightly organized network of fibers to an unorganized maze (1).”
Collagen has now become a top-selling supplement due to its ability to assist in joint pain, inflammation, and skin aging.
While we naturally produce collagen through the food we eat, namely via amino acids glycine and proline, supplementation with these types of precursors can help dramatically boost declining production. This is especially important for those with digestive issues, on a low-protein or restrictive diet, or those with chronic inflammation.
We’ll touch upon how exactly supplementation with collagen precursors helps to produce collagen in the body. This is the basis of all “vegan” collagen supplements since they cannot contain collagen directly.
Amino Acids – Glycine, Lysine, and Proline
Collagen contains specific, key, amino acids. These include glycine, proline, hydroxyproline, lysine, and arginine (2). Hydroxyproline is derived from the intake of proline, and hydroxylysine is derived from the intake of lysine.
Procollagen is the precursor to collagen. It is created when proline and glycine are combined. Copper, magnesium, and zinc are minerals needed for protein translation of collagen synthesis. Following synthesis, “polypeptide chains” undergo enzymatic changes, which include “hydroxylation” of proline -> hydroxyproline. This process requires iron and ascorbic acid (vitamin C).
Following this step of hydroxylation, these polypeptides (amino acids are peptides) form into procollagen (3).
In this formation, glycine is the tiniest amino acid, which allows the structure of collagen to remain tight. The structure of collagen itself is pretty complex, with layers of different amino acid chains together.
Collagen synthesis, then, can be understood as a multi-step process involving the use of many different structures within connective tissue.
Vitamin C is an important cofactor for collagen synthesis. We already know that a vitamin C deficiency can lead to scurvy, which relates to poor collagen synthesis and leads to the development of weak connective tissue. This results in what we see as bleeding gums, skin discoloration, and wounds that won’t heal.
Lysine only constitutes 3-4% of the total amino acids in collagen, but plays a functional role in the formation of the fibers of collagen (4). Lysine is essential for collagen production.
Earth & Elle’s vegan collagen booster contains glycine, proline, vitamin C, and other cofactors like zinc to ensure a beneficial boost in natural collagen production.
How Can You Boost Collagen Synthesis?
We are innate with the ability to produce collagen. Our bodies know how to do it.
We just need to provide our bodies with the right precursors through plants, like those contained in our supplement. Vitamin C, trace minerals, antioxidants, beta-carotene (vitamin A), and key amino acids glycine and proline are all essential to collagen production, and perhaps more beneficial than supplementing with bone broth or gelatin.
Conversely, these cofactors – like vitamin C, also help to boost production by more effectively converting proline into hydroxyproline.
Plant foods that can help increase collagen synthesis include:
- Proline – cabbage, soy (tofu, tempeh, edamame), asparagus, peanuts, legumes, lentils
- Lysine – legumes (tofu, black beans, kidney beans, chickpeas), avocados, beets, tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, mangoes, pumpkin seeds, cashews, quinoa
- Glycine – spinach, dried seaweed or kelp, asparagus, cabbage, legumes (chickpeas and tofu), pumpkin, carrots, potatoes, and sweet potatoes
- Copper – whole grains, quinoa, nuts *peanuts, cashews, walnuts, almonds), legumes (kidney beans, black beans, chickpeas), mushrooms, dark chocolate
- Vitamin C – berries (blueberries, strawberries, raspberries), citrus fruits, tomatoes, potatoes and sweet potatoes, leafy greens, most fruits or veggies
- Zinc – oats, chickpeas, lentils, walnuts, cashews, flaxseeds, chia seeds, pumpkin seeds, quinoa, mushrooms, leafy greens
What Prevents Collagen Synthesis?
You can sabotage collagen synthesis yourself – through unhealthy dietary habits, nicotine addiction, alcohol use, and poor sleep schedules.
Of course, there are a number of external factors that can impact collagen synthesis and production as well – for those people, supplementation with a product like our vegan booster becomes more important.
External factors impeding healthy collagen production can include infection (viral or bacteria), chronic inflammation, or autoimmune disorders (lupus, MS, and others). One study specifically looked at the impact of sustained inflammation on collagen, finding that it “deteriorates collagen structures (5).”
Targeting Inflammation with Collagen
Earth and Elle provides you with all the collagen precursors you need in an easy-to-take gummy, to help ensure healthy collagen production – regardless of age or health condition. Our keystone supplement is formulated with vitamin C, proline, lysine, glycine, beta carotene, folate, biotin, zinc, and beneficial botanicals (resveratrol from Japanese knotweed).
Tissue damage, joint pain, and inflammation can all be caused by a viral infection, disease, or autoimmune condition.
These all cause a degradation of collagen, in turn. This cascade further increases inflammation and immune response, while also presenting as unwanted physical side effects like hair loss, or muscle weakness. We commonly see this after people recover from viral illness or severe bacterial infection.
It is well accepted that collagen and collagen precursors exhibit potent anti-inflammatory effects, helping to improve physical appearance while supporting proper muscle function. Understanding the process of collagen synthesis can perhaps help people understand that they don’t need to directly supplement with collagen peptides from animal bones to get all the same benefits.