How to Boost Collagen Synthesis with Diet

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Which foods can increase collagen deposition and prevent wrinkles?

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Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

As we age, the synthesis of collagen decreases by about 1 percent a year, which may contribute to the development of wrinkles. Though we don’t have evidence that collagen is superior to any other proteins for aging skin, those who do want to try it are advised to contact the manufacturers to clarify its source. Most collagen supplements don’t disclose this information, and for good reason. Terrestrial sources can include a witch’s brew of kangaroo and rat tails, duck feet, horse tendons, alligator bones, and frog skin. Aquatic sources are mainly from fish skins, bones, heads, scales, fins, and entrails.

Recommended questions for manufacturers include: “What measures were used to protect against contamination or adulteration? If sourced from fish, were low-mercury fish used? If sourced from cows, what steps were taken to ensure that no brain or nervous system matter was included, in order to prevent prion disease?” In the United States, collagen is exempt from FDA prohibitions against using risky tissues like brains—prohibitions in place to protect consumers against bovine spongiform encephalopathy, also known as mad cow disease.

So, for food safety, religious, ethical, or allergy-related reasons, there have been calls for non-animal alternatives. For example, 2 to 4 percent of the population is allergic to bovine collagen. To solve the mad cow conundrum, there have been calls to genetically engineer cattle without prions to “offer a safe source of collagen-based materials.” But why not just get plants to make it? A technique has been perfected to produce collagen from plants, but it has not yet reached commercial viability.

It’s hard to beat the cost of feet.

But, what about all of the vegan collagen products on the market? If you look closely, you’ll see the small print: vegan collagen builder or vegan collagen booster. It’s not actually collagen, since collagen is made by animals, but you’re an animal—you make collagen. So, they’re suggesting their supplements can boost production, but since it appears none of them have ever been put to the test, I assume it’s all a load of bunk. But, there are some foods and nutrients that have been investigated.

Researchers burned the butts of 20 women with a UV lamp before and after half of them ate three tablespoons of tomato paste each day for three months. And, there was a significant reduction in MMP-1 levels in the derrières of those who had been randomized to the tomatoes. (That’s a major collagen-eating enzyme that plays a key role in skin aging caused by the sun.) Butt biopsies also show that the amount of beta-carotene found in about one and a third cup of sweet potato can boost collagen production as much as four-fold within three months.

To test the effects of greens, Korean researchers randomized older women to the amount of chlorophyll found in a few tablespoons of cooked spinach a day. After three months, skin biopsies showed a significant increase in collagen production, accompanied by an increase in skin elasticity and a decrease of facial wrinkles. Unfortunately, this was just a before-and-after comparison to baseline, with no control group. But there have been placebo-controlled randomized trials, and of kale no less.

Compared to placebo, there was a significant improvement in a noninvasive measure of skin collagen status after 10 months of being randomized to an extract of curly kale. The researchers concluded that “a healthy lifestyle including a diet rich in carotenoids is the best prevention strategy against premature skin aging.” That led to dermatology journal commentaries with titles like “Eat plenty of green leafy vegetables for protection from the pro-aging rays of the sun.”

But might it actually be more than that? Sulforaphane, the cruciferous compound in kale and broccoli, may be able to mobilize cellular defenses that protect skin against damage by UV radiation, as well as mitigate the premature skin aging induced by air pollution particulate matter––though this was on skin cells in a petri dish.

Soybean compounds can increase collagen deposition and prevent wrinkles in mice. But what about in people? Given improvements of skin aging seen with menopausal hormone therapy, but concerned about the side effects, researchers in Brazil tried giving phytohormones––plant hormones in the form of soy phytoestrogens. Twenty-nine postmenopausal women were given the amount in four servings a day of soy foods for six months. Unfortunately, there was no control group, but they did take skin biopsies before and after, and found a significant improvement in skin thickness, along with increased collagen content and elastic fibers. The biopsies of 25 out of 29 women showed an increase in collagen.

You could also throw in some vitamin C-rich foods, as vitamin C appears to stimulate collagen production from human skin cells. Defective wound healing has long been known as a major manifestation of scurvy, the vitamin C-deficiency disease. A remarkable series of grisly experiments performed on British conscientious objectors during World War II involved being subjected to cuts and stab wounds after being randomized to different levels of vitamin C. The researchers found that the average daily vitamin C intake to prevent weak scar formation was about 95 mg, which is actually higher than the current recommendations––but nothing you can’t get from half a bell pepper.

Vitamin B12 also appears to be necessary for maximal collagen synthesis, which may explain why collagen synthesis rates appear to be about 10 percent lower in vegetarians, because the prevalence of B12 deficiency among those eating plant-based diets is so high. That is one of many reasons why it’s critically important that everyone consuming a plant-based diet ensure a regular, reliable source of vitamin B12.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Motion graphics by Avo Media

Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

As we age, the synthesis of collagen decreases by about 1 percent a year, which may contribute to the development of wrinkles. Though we don’t have evidence that collagen is superior to any other proteins for aging skin, those who do want to try it are advised to contact the manufacturers to clarify its source. Most collagen supplements don’t disclose this information, and for good reason. Terrestrial sources can include a witch’s brew of kangaroo and rat tails, duck feet, horse tendons, alligator bones, and frog skin. Aquatic sources are mainly from fish skins, bones, heads, scales, fins, and entrails.

Recommended questions for manufacturers include: “What measures were used to protect against contamination or adulteration? If sourced from fish, were low-mercury fish used? If sourced from cows, what steps were taken to ensure that no brain or nervous system matter was included, in order to prevent prion disease?” In the United States, collagen is exempt from FDA prohibitions against using risky tissues like brains—prohibitions in place to protect consumers against bovine spongiform encephalopathy, also known as mad cow disease.

So, for food safety, religious, ethical, or allergy-related reasons, there have been calls for non-animal alternatives. For example, 2 to 4 percent of the population is allergic to bovine collagen. To solve the mad cow conundrum, there have been calls to genetically engineer cattle without prions to “offer a safe source of collagen-based materials.” But why not just get plants to make it? A technique has been perfected to produce collagen from plants, but it has not yet reached commercial viability.

It’s hard to beat the cost of feet.

But, what about all of the vegan collagen products on the market? If you look closely, you’ll see the small print: vegan collagen builder or vegan collagen booster. It’s not actually collagen, since collagen is made by animals, but you’re an animal—you make collagen. So, they’re suggesting their supplements can boost production, but since it appears none of them have ever been put to the test, I assume it’s all a load of bunk. But, there are some foods and nutrients that have been investigated.

Researchers burned the butts of 20 women with a UV lamp before and after half of them ate three tablespoons of tomato paste each day for three months. And, there was a significant reduction in MMP-1 levels in the derrières of those who had been randomized to the tomatoes. (That’s a major collagen-eating enzyme that plays a key role in skin aging caused by the sun.) Butt biopsies also show that the amount of beta-carotene found in about one and a third cup of sweet potato can boost collagen production as much as four-fold within three months.

To test the effects of greens, Korean researchers randomized older women to the amount of chlorophyll found in a few tablespoons of cooked spinach a day. After three months, skin biopsies showed a significant increase in collagen production, accompanied by an increase in skin elasticity and a decrease of facial wrinkles. Unfortunately, this was just a before-and-after comparison to baseline, with no control group. But there have been placebo-controlled randomized trials, and of kale no less.

Compared to placebo, there was a significant improvement in a noninvasive measure of skin collagen status after 10 months of being randomized to an extract of curly kale. The researchers concluded that “a healthy lifestyle including a diet rich in carotenoids is the best prevention strategy against premature skin aging.” That led to dermatology journal commentaries with titles like “Eat plenty of green leafy vegetables for protection from the pro-aging rays of the sun.”

But might it actually be more than that? Sulforaphane, the cruciferous compound in kale and broccoli, may be able to mobilize cellular defenses that protect skin against damage by UV radiation, as well as mitigate the premature skin aging induced by air pollution particulate matter––though this was on skin cells in a petri dish.

Soybean compounds can increase collagen deposition and prevent wrinkles in mice. But what about in people? Given improvements of skin aging seen with menopausal hormone therapy, but concerned about the side effects, researchers in Brazil tried giving phytohormones––plant hormones in the form of soy phytoestrogens. Twenty-nine postmenopausal women were given the amount in four servings a day of soy foods for six months. Unfortunately, there was no control group, but they did take skin biopsies before and after, and found a significant improvement in skin thickness, along with increased collagen content and elastic fibers. The biopsies of 25 out of 29 women showed an increase in collagen.

You could also throw in some vitamin C-rich foods, as vitamin C appears to stimulate collagen production from human skin cells. Defective wound healing has long been known as a major manifestation of scurvy, the vitamin C-deficiency disease. A remarkable series of grisly experiments performed on British conscientious objectors during World War II involved being subjected to cuts and stab wounds after being randomized to different levels of vitamin C. The researchers found that the average daily vitamin C intake to prevent weak scar formation was about 95 mg, which is actually higher than the current recommendations––but nothing you can’t get from half a bell pepper.

Vitamin B12 also appears to be necessary for maximal collagen synthesis, which may explain why collagen synthesis rates appear to be about 10 percent lower in vegetarians, because the prevalence of B12 deficiency among those eating plant-based diets is so high. That is one of many reasons why it’s critically important that everyone consuming a plant-based diet ensure a regular, reliable source of vitamin B12.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Motion graphics by Avo Media

Doctor's Note

This is the last video in a three-part series on collagen. If you missed the others, see Do Collagen Supplements Work for Skin Aging? and Collagen Supplements for Arthritis.

In my webinar on the topic, I emphasize the last bit from my video about vitamin B12 deficiency by going through the research from How Not to Age demonstrating slower wound healing in vegans.

If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my videos for free by clicking here. Read our important information about translations here.

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