Collagen is the most abundant protein in our bodies. It’s responsible for the skin’s structure, firmness and elasticity. As we age, collagen production can slow, leading to signs of ageing. Modern beauty and wellness marketing would have us believe that there is nothing we can do about this part of the ageing process, other than reaching for 'anti-ageing' products and supplementing with collagen. Whilst I am generally all in favour of high-quality supplementation*, there is something that tells me we need to go to the root cause when it comes to collagen, and that the key task is to seek to prevent and reduce the decline in its production before we reach for the supplements.
When we talk about the root cause of something, we're focusing not just on what's happening, but why it's happening. Looking for the root cause helps us to understand the origins of a problem or issue so that we can try to take action that stops, slows or reverses the issue. Understanding the root cause shows us what's really going on, rather than simply addressing the symptoms. So let's consider the root cause of the decline in collagen production.
Whilst there are a number of contributing factors associated with the decline in collagen production as we age including changing hormone levels and decline in growth factor, one of the most significant causes is reduced fibroblast activity. Fibroblasts are the cells that produce collagen and as we age, their activity levels can be heavily impacted by lifestyle factors. So rather than collagen decline being something we just have to accept, it appears that - with some healthy lifestyle changes - we can support our fibroblasts to continue to produce collagen, which in turn keeps our skin, bones and connective tissues healthy and supple! (That's right: collagen is essential for bone and joint health, so these changes are helpful whether you want to keep your skin youthful, or if you want to keep your bones healthy).
The tips below will be things you know well, but they are known to support fibroblast activity. I find it so empowering to know that these simple, healthy living strategies can contribute not just to our wellbeing and longevity, but can help us to achieve our skincare goals without having to buy endless different skincare products!
7 strategies to support natural collagen production
Take regular exercise to support circulation, oxygenation and release of growth factors. Find exercise that you love, and try to get a combination of strength training, cardio, and mobility
Eat a healthy diet rich in vitamins C and E, zinc, copper and protein
Stay hydrated for optimum cellular function. I like to add salt and lemon juice to my water in the morning for an extra electrolyte boost
Manage stress to mitigate against the damaging impact of increased cortisol. Exercise helps, as does journalling, task planning and meditation
Avoid smoking & excessive alcohol consumption - both damage fibroblasts and impair collagen synthesis
Maintain a healthy weight to support your extracellular matrix and the structural integrity of your skin. Again, exercise, a good diet, stress reduction and reduced alcohol consumption will all support with achieving and maintaining a healthy weight
Prioritise sleep so that you allow your body adequate time for rest and repair. Some of us need more sleep than others so, rather than aiming for 7 hours, find the time that works for you
I hope this helps you to see that collagen production is something we have far more control over than we think! I'd love to continue the discussion in the comments below, so please share your thoughts and ask any questions you may have.
*I am a big fan of supplementing where I struggle to get something through my diet, or where my body benefits from more of a particular vitamin or mineral than is available through my diet. I've never taken a collagen supplement and it's not something that I plan to add to my routine in the near future, but I wouldn't rule it out. I know lots of people who love taking collagen and feel the benefits, and others who have tried it and not continued with it, and I think that probably comes down to a number of factors including quality of the supplement, the general health of the person taking the supplement, and how consistent they were in taking it. If you take collagen and love it, I'd love to hear more in the comments.