From the Greek kolla (meaning ‘glue’), collagen is the most abundant protein in mammals, representing 25% of protein mass and 5% of bodyweight (1).
Classed as a structural protein, it is found in the extracellular matrix, the network of macromolecules that surround and provide cohesion to our cells, and in most body tissues (skin, joints, muscles, bones …) (2).
28 different types of collagen have been identified to date (3). The best-known are:
Amongst others, collagen affects how youthful we look as it provides softness and firmness to the skin (7). The body produces sufficient levels of collagen up to the age of around 30, after which production of this fibrous protein gradually declines, and visible evidence of the ravages of time start to appear (8).
That’s why it’s important to ensure a good intake of it from the diet … and to memorise the top 10 natural collagen sources!
Though collagen is found mainly in animal-source products, vegans and vegetarians have a plant source they can turn to in spirulina! This microalgae is well-known for containing high levels of protein, and is notable for its content of glycine, an amino acid which makes up collagen (9).
What do milk, yogurt and cheese have in common? They all contain lysine and proline, two amino acids with a direct role in collagen synthesis (10). Try to eat a variety of these foods once or twice a day, for optimum benefits.
Like meat, all fish contains varying levels of collagen. Salmon, has a slight advantage in that it also contains essential fatty acids and zinc (which helps maintain normal skin and bones). Sardines are another option, with fewer heavy metal residues, the small edible bones of which contain collagen (11).
As it’s made from the bones, heads and shells of shellfish, fish stock contains a significant amount of collagen (12). A good choice for flavouring your sauces!
Collagen, in the form of type I, V and X, is found naturally in egg whites and eggshell membranes, as well as in egg yolks (which also contains sulphur, glycine and proline) (13). So eat the whole egg to benefit from this excellent synergy!
Because they’re peppered with small bones, chicken wings are a mine of collagen (14). The only drawback is they’re eaten in no time at all, having barely any meat on them.
Since muscle fibres are enveloped in collagen, it’s no surprise that beef is a good source (15)! The cuts with the highest levels are unfortunately the least tender: shin, brisket, shoulder, flank…
Used for making jellies and panna cotta set, gelatine is obtained by boiling animal connective tissue (usually pork or beef) for a long time. It’s an excellent source of collagen (16), a characteristic not shared by its vegetarian counterpart, agar-agar.
If you like osso buco, you’re in luck, as at its gelatinous centre is bone marrow. Naturally rich in collagen, bone marrow easily takes second place on the collagen podium. It also contains a wide range of minerals: calcium, magnesium, phosphorus...
It’s not something we eat very often, but we should! With a base of long-simmered beef or chicken bones, it’s no surprise that bone broth takes the collagen gold medal (17). It also contains hyaluronic acid, another key component of the extracellular matrix, as well as chondroitin and glucosamine, naturally present in connective tissue and cartilage.
Though they don’t naturally contain collagen itself, some foods have an indirect effect in promoting its production:
As the best sources of collagen are not necessarily the most appetising foods (or those we tend to eat large amounts of), you may wish to consider collagen supplementation to give your intake a significant boost. Supplements vary according to their origin and the type of collagen used.
Obtained from fish scales and bones, marine collagen provides type I, which, as mentioned, is the predominant form in the body. It’s therefore positioned as a safer alternative to bovine collagen (the supplement Marine Collagen uses a patented form obtained via enzymatic hydrolysis, a cutting-edge process which facilitates uptake by tissues) (22-23).
Type II collagen, has a particular affinity with cartilage tissue (playing a role in traction resistance). Indeed, it is still widely studied in the context of rheumatology. But make sure you choose an undenatured form, the only one that stays biologically active (such as UC-II, a patented type II collagen enriched with glucosamine and chondroitin for maximum efficacy) (24-25).
Some formulations combine several types of collagen (the 100% natural supplement Tendo-Fix contains type I, II, V and X collagen obtained from eggshells and chicken sternums) (26).
Last but not least, there are specific, synergistic beauty supplements that feature collagen for enhanced effects (such as Natural Skin Formula, which combines type II collagen with hyaluronic acid, elastin and ceramides) (27-29).
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Collagen is an essential protein present in all the body’s tissues. In particular, it plays a key role in keeping the skin supple and hydrated. Here’s a brief overview of collagen and the ways of boosting its production.