Jennifer Irvine is a food health writer and entrepreneur who founded The Pure Package for London-wide meal deliveries in 2003. In January 2013 she successfully launched The Pure Package’s sibling, Balance Box, developing her business into a UK-wide venture.
Collagen is touted by many as a “miracle ingredient” in the battle to age gracefully. Once best known as an injection to plump up the lips and improve the appearance of lines, the beauty and wellness industries have found less painful ways to support the body’s collagen levels and keep signs of ageing at bay. With the multi-billionpound collagen market expected to grow at a rate of 6.5% per year until 2025 (according to a 2020 report by Grand View Research), it’s clear that it’s not just smoke and mirrors.
Our ability to produce collagen slows after we hit around 25 and reduces even more in women after menopause, contributing to the “baggier” skin we notice as we age, and why those creases on our face we sometimes wake up with take longer to fade away. It’s also affected by exposure to UV rays, pollution and smoking, meaning everything becomes less elastic and our skin loses its plumpness. This is where injections come into play, including collagen fillers and stimulators, however, these are not for everyone. Some people can’t afford to have injections or collagen-stimulating treatments and others are put off by any side effects.
Injections aside, the natural process of losing collagen can result in a host of issues if patients are not properly replenishing the nutrients in their bodies needed to synthesize it. Non-invasive alternatives include increasing collagen levels using supplements and ensuring enough collagen is consumed through the diet.
Collagen is the most abundant protein in our body and is a crucial component of our connective tissue. This tissue provides structural and functional support to our bones, skin, muscles, tendons, and organs. Collagen also sends out important signals to our cells, which can combat inflammation and repair damage and, for this reason, it has become a well-known ingredient in supplements and skincare, due to its ability to increase skin suppleness and firmness and promote cell renewal.
Aside from its proven credentials in the beauty world for giving us the youthful, plump, juicy skin and enviable hair we all crave, collagen also has a host of other benefits to our health. It can help to improve painful joints, and some claim it can even help with athletic performance. Recent research has also shown that consuming collagen could help us to reduce our risk of developing heart-related conditions.
“Collagen is the most abundant protein in our body and is a crucial component of our connective tissue”
You’ve likely come across a number of collagen supplements online, but with the plethora of pills, powders and shots on the market it can be confusing to know which the best, or even whether pills and powders are the best route to send patients down.
Dietician Carrie Gabriel suggests the key thing to consider is bio-availability – the body’s ability to use a nutrient.
Gabriel says, “Foods like bone broth contain a bio-available form of collagen that your body can use right away, making it arguably superior to supplements. Collagen is synthesized when we break down dietary amino acids from protein-rich foods like dairy, meat and firm tofu, with a dose of vitamin C needed to help connect the collagen-forming amino acids.”
Registered dietician and hormone nutritionist Kay Ali says, “There are three amino acids important for collagen synthesis: proline, lysine, and glycine. What’s more, by eating a varied diet that contains foods with bio-available forms of collagen and amino acids such as egg whites, shellfish and bone broth we can ensure that we are also feeding ourselves with a variety of nutrients like calcium, glucosamine and magnesium that the body needs.”
Ensuring your diet contains enough vitamin C is also critical for the production of pro-collagen, the body’s precursor to collagen. Foods such as citrus fruits, berries and tropical fruits are all high in vitamin C, as are tomatoes and bell peppers, and these also contain anti-inflammatory compounds such as lycopene and capsaicin which may also combat signs of ageing. High-protein beans can often contain the amino acids necessary for collagen synthesis as well as copper, another nutrient necessary for collagen production. It’s worth advising patients to up the amount of leafy greens in their diet too – studies have shown that chlorophyll, (the component responsible for the green colour), increases the precursor to collagen in the skin. Ensuring that we consume a wide range of mineral-rich fruit and veg alongside protein-rich foods will help the body to produce the collagen it requires. Too much sugar and refined carbohydrates however, can not only cause inflammation but also damage the collagen we already have.
For some of your patients, ensuring they consistently consume a variety of foods can be a difficult task, which is where a meal prep service such as The Pure Package can help. But they may still want to ensure that they are getting enough collagen with the support of supplements. The collagen in many good quality supplements has already been broken down or hydrolysed, which is why it can be an effective way of ensuring we consume the collagen we need efficiently.
When choosing a supplement, it’s important to know that not all are created equal. Many supplements do not contain nearly the amount of collagen required to slow down its breakdown in the body. Ali is keen to point out that, “10g is the average amount required”. It’s also important to check that supplements contain hydrolysed collagen to ensure they can be absorbed effectively by our digestive system.
There are a wide variety of formulas out there but choosing peptides and powders can be a natural and effective choice. Do be sure to check however that it is sustainably sourced if it contains fish or is bovine (ideally grass-fed). Many vegan and vegetarian options are also available on the market.
There are of course other lifestyle factors that can influence collagen production: avoiding direct sunlight which can cause collagen to break down at an increased rate, cutting back on alcohol, refined carbs and sugar which can damage collagen molecules; and avoiding smoking which can affect collagen synthesis. Our busy lifestyles might also affect whether or not we decide to opt for collagen supplements or decide to ensure we are consuming the right amount through a natural, balanced and varied diet.
Whichever your patients choose, it’s clear that the health benefits of ensuring we get enough collagen as a part of a healthy and balanced lifestyle could give us much more than a youthful glow.
COLLAGEN-RICH BONE BROTH RECIPE
This recipe is a great way to use up any leftover chicken bones from a roast dinner.
1 chicken carcass, skin and fat discarded
1 large red onion, roughly chopped
large carrot, roughly chopped
1 garlic clove
Break the chicken carcass into smaller pieces and add to a roasting tin with the onion and carrot. Roast for 45 minutes until golden.
Put the roasted chicken bones in a large pan and pour over enough cold water to cover them (approximately 1 litre). Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer gently for a couple of hours.
Add the vegetables to the pan (you can even include some peelings) with some garlic. I prefer to keep my broth fairly basic as I can then add flavourings later. Allow to cool, cover and leave in the fridge overnight.
The next day, bring the stock back to the boil and simmer for 1 hour. Remove and throw away the bones. Continue to heat the stock to reduce the liquid to your preferred quantity and intensity.
How to enjoy it
• Simply heat and serve in a mug.
• Turn it into something more filling by adding cut leftover cooked chicken and any cooked vegetables you like, then warming through.
• Add an Asian twist by adding finely grated fresh ginger, thinly sliced garlic, soy sauce and serve with noodles.
• Make it Italian by adding tomatoes, herbs and drained white beans.
• Add a Middle-Eastern twist with warming spices and chickpeas.