Is Collagen the Key to Anti-Ageing?

As we get older skin starts to sag and wrinkle. There are, in essence, two things going on. One is oxidation which makes tissue less flexible. The other is collagen breakdown, which means less ‘fill’. That is mainly why people have fillers of one sort or another that plump up places. The trouble is many fillers break down, some even drift, and we’ve all seen Hollywood movie stars who end up looking rather odd.

How Skin is Structured

That core structure under the skin is a protein matrix called collagen. According to skin expert Dr Gaby Prinsloo “Collagen is a building block for bones, muscles, tendons, ligaments and connective tissue, and is vital for a strong, resilient body. It is also an important part of skin. Collagen fibres form a structural framework within the dermis which gives the skin strength, flexibility and elasticity.” Wound healing, for example, is dependent on collagen formation.

Collagen is made primarily from the amino acids glycine and proline. You may have heard of glycine as TMG (trimethylglycine) which is an important nutrient for methylation, helping to turn genes on and off and make neurotransmitters.

How Vitamin C Supports the Production of Collagen

About a third of collagen is glycine and a quarter is proline and, most importantly, hydroxyproline.[1] Hydroxyproline is the key ingredient for collagen formation and the ‘hydroxy’ part is added on by vitamin C. That is why a chronic lack of vitamin C results in scurvy, with collagen breaking down, gums bleeding, blood vessels weakening and so on.

That is also why more vitamin C helps wound healing and is extolled for its anti-ageing properties. Zinc is also involved in the production of collagen, ensuring that the collagen fibres are strong and stable which is why I combine them in ImmuneC.

Your optimal intake of Vitamin C – 2 grams up to age 40 – goes up with age, possibly increasing by 500mg a decade from the age of 40. So, if over 60 take 3 grams a day, over 70 3.5 grams and over 80 4 grams (4,000mg).

If you eat well – enjoying fresh fruit and vegetables – you may achieve 200 to 400mg if you’re a really healthy eater with a penchant for berries, peppers, broccoli and citrus fruits, which are all good sources.

Skin creams can provide ‘transdermal’ vitamin C in a form that crosses through the skin (ascorbyl palmitate).

Vitamin C, together with vitamin A, are the primary skin anti-oxidants protecting the skin from sun damage. Other antioxidants, from glutathione, NAC and alpha-lipoic acid, also help.

Vitamin A and Anti-Ageing

Vitamin A, in the form of retinyl palmitate, also crosses through into the skin and skin creams that provide this in sufficient amounts really help anti-ageing the skin. Environ’s AVST cream (they also have C-Boost) are among the best.

Vitamin A, in the form of retinol, is rich in fish which also provide choline, a source of omega-3, which is itself anti-ageing.

Supplementing Collagen

But what about supplementing collagen itself or applying collagen to the skin? A review of all studies last year found that both oral and topical collagen can contribute to reducing or delaying skin aging.[2] The review concluded that “both oral and topical collagen supplements help to delay the aging process, with no differences arising between the two types of collagen.

The evidence from the reviewed studies suggested that both collagen supplements improve skin moisture, elasticity, and hydration when orally administered. Additionally, collagen reduces the wrinkling and roughness of the skin, and existing studies have not found any side effects of its oral supplements.”

Since collagen is consistently being broken down and synthesized you need quite a lot. There are many forms of collagen and much will get broken down by digestive juices. Hydrolysed of collagen peptides are more bioavailable. Supplementing under 2.5 grams a day is unlikely to have much effect. The most psotive studies gave 10 grams. Similarly, the concentration in skin creams and the form it is in will greatly effect how much gets through into the deeper dermal layers of the skin.

Supporting Your Body to Make Collagen

There is a good argument to let your body makes its own by ensuring adequate protein (which is the easy part) and an optimal intake of vitamin C. I’d also include zinc which is highly synergistic with vitamin C on many fronts – collagen formation, immune system function, and both mental and physical energy production.

Vitamin A has been rather demonised, with warnings not to take more than 3,500iu when pregnant. Our ancestors’ intake of vitamin A was closer to 20,000iu, again rich in fish, meat and especially organ meats. I prefer to supplement at least 5,000iu a day as part of my Optimum Nutrition Formula and I also use a vitamin A skin cream (Environ’s AVST).

Next Steps

A combination of these nutrients – both in your diet, supplements and skin creams – is the way to go for those wishing to stay youthful and looking good.

Exercise to maintain muscle tone, is also a vital part of the anti-ageing equation, supported by all these collagen forming nutrients.

Further Information

Read more about keeping your skin healthy in Solve Your Skin Problems.

ImmuneC, which combines high levels of Vitamin C with zinc and Optimum Nutrition Formula can be found at HOLFORDirect.