More than just a skincare ingredient, collagen is a protein that has an important role to play in how you feel about your body at 50, 60, or even 70 years old. We speak to naturopath, Will Shannon, to understand what collagen does to your body.

What is collagen?

“Collagen is the main protein found in the human body,” says naturopath Will Shannon, president of the Australian Complementary Medicine Association. “It makes up about 25 to 35% of all the connective tissue in the body. People associate it with the skin but it’s also in muscle, bones, tendons, ligaments and even in your teeth.”

As vital as it is, collagen loss begins as early as your 20s!

“Some studies suggest we lose around 1% of collagen per year as we age,” Will says. “If you want to increase collagen levels after 50, you can take an oral collagen supplement, as well as taking steps to eat better.”

Increasing you collagen levels can be positive for slowing bone-mass loss, building muscle that can help with weight loss, as well as making it easier to get down on the floor to play with the kids.

Experts also believe collagen can improve gut health, leading to wellness benefits as wide-ranging as better mental health and fewer tummy upsets.

What are collagen-rich foods?

“I prefer to take a natural approach, so the first thing to try is eating foods naturally rich in collagen – go for fish, meat, and diary – and then seeing whether you’d like to try a collagen supplement as well,” Will advises.

“Supplements aren’t the only way but they certainly are an option.”

The main sources of dietary collagen used in supplements are made from beef or come from the sea.

Will has noticed marine collagen – often extracted from the scales and skin of fish – is gaining popularity.

“People who are environmentally conscious are looking towards collagen extracted from seafoods rather than land animals,” he reveals. “Fish, krill, seaweed, and kelp are also densely packed with minerals, such as iodine, which can be used by your body to further boost collagen production.”

No discussion on collagen can ignore the bone broth trend, which as well as being easy to make by slowly boiling animal bones, is now wider sold in liquid and dehydrated forms.

“Before collagen supplements, our mothers and grandmothers were making collagen-rich bone broths,” Will says. “You can definitely use bone broth as a source of collage, but also remember bones are high in calcium and protein so it’s useful whenever you’re dealing with any illness.”

If you’re taking a collagen supplement or drinking bone broth, consider taking vitamin A, C, and E supplements or eating antioxidant-rich foods to help your body make the most of it.

“Foods that encourage your body to make healthy new cells – like fresh fruit and dark, leafy greens – support your collagen absorption,” Will says. “Good oils like flaxseed and avocado, plus nuts and seeds, can be really helpful, too.”

Other means of collagen

Whether or not topical collagen creams can help your skin is still hotly debated. With skincare, it depends on the molecular weight of ingredients and whether they’re small enough to pass through the dermis,” Will says. Talk to a beauty therapist or dermatologist about whether one of these preparations might be worth a try.

Revving up your circulation via light exercise or massage can also make a positive difference.

“Every cell in your body needs blood to nourish it and take the toxins away,” Will says, adding that the final step is preventing further collagen loss.

“Avoiding collagen breakdown comes back to lifestyle adjustments, like not smoking and minimising alcohol, sugar, caffeine and processed foods.”

This article was first published on The Singapore Women’s Weekly.