If you’ve searched for ways to slow down the aging process and keep your skin looking smooth, plump and supple, chances are: you’ve come across collagen. And if you’ve ever wondered what collagen is good for, it’s safe to say we wouldn’t be much more than a pool of human paste without it.
You see, collagen is a protein found throughout the entire body. In fact, approximately 30% of the protein in our body is collagen. While it’s a nutrient highly concentrated in the tough inner layer of the skin— and perhaps best known for keeping skin firm and youthful— collagen is also found in the hair, nails, joints and intestinal tissue. Dr. Josh Axe describes the function of collagen nicely: as the “glue” that holds us together.
There are at least 16 types of collagen found in the body (1). Approximately 90% of the collagen found in the human body are types I, II, and III. Collagen types I and II are concentrated in the skin, bones, tendons, and ligaments, while type II is found primarily in the joints.
Our bodies produce collagen, but as we enter our mid-late 20’s, our natural collagen production begins to decline. This is when visible signs of aging surface, such as fine lines and wrinkles. In our later years, we may begin to experience other conditions linked to collagen deficiency, such such as rheumatoid arthritis (2).
In addition to the natural aging process, toxins, and environmental pollutants, excessive sun exposure, smoking, and eating a diet high in refined sugar and fried foods also destroy our natural collagen. These factors can interfere with future collagen production, and cause visible signs of aging (3).
Luckily, there’s a way to prevent collagen breakdown and boost collagen production naturally— and it all begins with what’s on your plate. Forget botox, injections, or expensive supplements: many foods found in nature contain the nutrients required to form collagen, making your diet the best weapon against fine lines, wrinkles, and other signs of aging.
Here are the top foods to eat to boost collagen naturally.
Top 12 Foods High in Collagen
If we could recommend only one food to boost collagen, it would be bone broth. While most foods contain antioxidants and other nutrients to help the body synthesize collagen, bone broth is one of the rare foods to actually contain a bioavailable form of collagen your body can use right away.
Since collagen types I, II, and III are concentrated in the tendons, ligaments, bones and joints, cooking down these animal parts for long periods of time helps release collagen from the bones (as well as other amino acids, proteins and electrolytes that can improve the skin’s appearance), resulting in a nutrient-rich broth, arguably superior to collagen supplements.
Wild salmon contains zinc, a trace mineral that’s been shown to activate the proteins needed for collagen synthesis (4).
Wild salmon is also an excellent source of omega 3 essential fatty acids, which are needed to reduce inflammation and build healthy skin cells. Healthy fats such as omega 3’s are also needed to keep your skin moisturized from the inside out, which naturally promotes a more youthful appearance.
Our bodies can’t produce omega-3 essential fatty acids, so we must obtain them from dietary sources. If you’re not a salmon fan, you can get your omega-3’s from other fatty fish such as mackerel and tuna, seafood, organic eggs, and grass fed meats.
Note: it’s always best to choose wild salmon over farmed whenever possible. Farmed salmon may contain toxins such as PCB’s, which can damage cellular health.
If you’ve heard of retinol cream before, you may know it’s often recommended for boosting collagen production. This is because retinol cream is concentrated in the antioxidant vitamin A, which has been shown to help boost collagen levels (5). However, chlorella, a single-celled algae, may be Nature’s version of retinol— only in a green tablet or powder form.
Not only is chlorella a rich source of beta-carotene, but it also contains another nutrient that may help boost collagen production: Chlorella Growth Factor.
Chlorella Growth Factor, also known as CGF, is a nutrient that’s entirely unique to chlorella. CGF contains the nucleic acids RNA and DNA, which give our cells “instructions” on which functions to perform— including cellular repair and regeneration, which may help boost collagen synthesis.
You can take chlorella in powder form and add it to your smoothies or take chlorella tablets as a nutritional supplement.
We know green vegetables are some of the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet for disease prevention, but they may also be a powerful way to prevent collagen breakdown.
All green plant foods (such as bok choy, green algae, arugula, kale, lettuce, green beans, and broccoli) contain chlorophyll, which is the pigment that gives plants their vibrant green color. Studies have shown that consuming chlorophyll increases the precursor to collagen (procollagen) in the skin (6).
Chlorophyll and liquid chlorophyll supplements (which are an easy way to get a highly concentrated dose of chlorophyll) have also been shown to provide strong antioxidant activity against UV damage and the free radicals from toxins that promote premature aging (7).
Vitamin C helps “link” the amino acids together that are needed to form collagen, such as proline, which makes it an essential nutrient in the pre-collagen production phase (8).
As an antioxidant, vitamin C also protects against toxins found in our air, food and water supply that contribute to breaking down collagen and damaging the skin’s inner layer. Vitamin C may also help with skin cell repair and regeneration, which is why it’s commonly recommended for wrinkle prevention and added to skincare productions.
Citrus fruits are amongst the richest sources of vitamin C, so be sure to load up your smoothies, salad dressings and homemade vitamin water recipes with lemon, lime, orange, and grapefruit.
Chicken eggs are another one of the rare foods that actually contains collagen in the yolk and eggshell membranes. In fact, eggshell membrane supplements have become a popular natural remedy for improving joint health due to their collagen content (9).
Eggs are also rich in sulfur, a trace mineral required for collagen production (10). Sulfur supports phase II liver detox, which is the phase of detoxification where your body is getting ready to eliminate environmental toxins (such as pollutants), which break down and interfere with the production of collagen.
Berries contain a nutrient called ellagic acid, which has been shown to prevent collagen breakdown from UV damage (11). In addition to being protective against the signs of aging, berries may also help produce collagen. Like citrus fruits, berries are rich in vitamin C, which as you now know, helps link specific amino acids together for collagen formation.
Tomatoes are rich in the antioxidant lycopene, which has been shown to protect the skin from sun damage and prevent collagen breakdown (12). Some sources say lycopene also helps with collagen synthesis, although few reputable studies have confirmed this. Either way, tomatoes contain a variety of antioxidants (including vitamin C), which protect the skin at a cellular level, so it never hurts to include them in your diet.
Pumpkin seeds are one of the richest plant sources of zinc, which as mentioned above, acts as a cofactor for collagen synthesis. Studies have also shown taking zinc supplements may help slow down the rate of collagen breakdown, suggesting zinc rich foods may do the same (13). Zinc also helps speed up wound healing, and maintain healthy cell membranes, which makes zinc a must-have nutrient for skin health (14).
Other plant based sources of zinc include kidney beans, spinach, garbanzo beans, walnuts, cashews, and almonds.
Another food with powerful antioxidant benefits, avocados provide vitamin E to help prevent collagen breakdown, as well as healthy fats to improve the health of skin cells. One study done on rats fed a diet with avocado oil showed a significant increase in soluble collagen, which suggests it may also help boost collagen production in humans (15).
It may be worth enduring garlic breath in exchange for younger looking skin.
As mentioned above, sulfur is a trace mineral that helps synthesize and prevent the breakdown of collagen. Garlic and its close cousins shallots, leeks, chives, and onions are the best dietary sources of sulfur, so don’t be afraid to add them to your recipes liberally.
Chia seeds are an excellent plant-based source of omega-3 essential fatty acids (16). As we remember, these healthy fats contribute to anti-aging by building healthy skin cells and providing moisture to the skin, which creates a smooth, supple appearance from the inside out.
What About Collagen Supplements?
While it may seem like a good idea to take a collagen supplement for anti-aging benefits, the nutrients from supplements aren’t always bioavailable, meaning they’re not easily absorbed or utilized by the body for their intended purpose.
Personally, we recommend using “food as medicine” when it comes to boosting your collagen intake. Sipping on a comforting mug of bone broth each morning, trying new varieties of leafy greens, and regularly eating the foods listed above are the most effective ways to maintain healthy collagen levels in your body.