By Jill Levy
If you’ve done your research regarding the best collagen sources and their many benefits, you may already be supplementing with a Multi Collagen Protein powder in order to support the health of your joints, skin and gut.
The next step to take is to clean up your diet and lifestyle in order to maximize your body’s use of collagen, as well as its ability to produce more of its own.
What types of foods, sleep patterns and exercise habits can diminish collagen production? Find out below how you can make the most of a collagen-boosting diet and supplement routine, while limiting collagen diminishers that can wreak havoc on your collagen levels.
Why We Need Collagen
Collagen helps maintain the structure and function of almost every part of your body — including your bones, joints, ligaments, tendons, skin and gastrointestinal tract.
Whether you’re an infant, young child, elderly adult, endurance athlete, pregnant woman,or simply a middle-aged adult, your body needs collagen.
Although it’s the most abundant protein found in the human body, many people are not consuming enough collagen from traditional sources such as bone broth.
And in addition to consuming less-than-ideal amounts from their diets, diminished collagen is also an issue for many due to factors like age, an overall poor diet, overall health status and high amounts of stress.
Related: 12 Best Collagen-Boosting Foods
Vital Role Collagen Plays for My Past Patients and Family (and Me!)
What makes collagen so special? Collagen contains amino acids (the “building blocks of proteins”) such as glycine, proline and arginine that aren’t abundant in typical protein sources, such as boneless chicken breasts and other lean meats.
You might already eat a protein-rich diet, or at least one that covers your basic protein needs, but still be lacking the collagen that could help optimize your nutrition.
Furthermore, if your diet lacks natural sources of collagen such as bone broth, you’ll also be missing out on beneficial cofactors (compounds that naturally occur within collagen-containing foods) that offer support for connective tissues throughout your body.
I make sure to emphasize quality proteins in my diet, and suggest to my past patients (when I ran my functional medicine clinic in Nashville from 2007 to 2014) that they do the same, because protein has many essential functions. Collagen and other forms of protein have many benefits in common, such as supporting growth of muscle mass and a healthy metabolism; however, collagen is unique in several key ways thanks to its amino acid profile.
Collagen-rich foods and supplements support overall health and wellbeing by:
- Facilitating normal muscle repair and growth
- Supporting healthy skin and skin elasticity
- Supporting joint comfort and mobility
- Helping gut health and gut lining integrity
- And much more
Collagen Diminishers to Remove From Your Life
Unfortunately, while aging is associated with diminishing collagen levels, there are also a number of lifestyle and dietary factors that can also contribute to loss of collagen at any age.
This in turn can contribute to overall low amino acid reserves and take a toll on the health of your cells, tissues and organs.
In addition to supplementing with a high-quality Multi Collagen Protein powder — ideally one that’s hydrolyzed and made from real food ingredients with zero weird chemicals, artificial ingredients, sweeteners or flavors — you can support the collagen your body is already making by avoiding these collagen diminishers:
1. Consuming a nutrient-poor diet with mostly processed foods
Some foods can help to bolster your body’s ability to absorb and utilize the collagen you get in your diet, while others have the opposite effect.
Inflammatory, highly processed foods can be damaging to collagen molecules since they can increase oxidative stress, thereby diminishing the quality of your connective tissues.
To bolster your collagen stores, foods to avoid include: those made with added sugar, processed meats, sugary drinks, white flour and refined carbs (like cereal, pasta, bread and baked goods) seed/vegetable oils, and trans fats.
2. Chronic stress
Chronic stress, whether from unhealthy relationships, an overwhelming schedule, financial problems or other worries, can increase inflammation, take a toll on immune system health, and deteriorate overall well-being.
Feeling stressed also makes it harder to stick to a healthy diet, to get enough sleep, and to practice self care in other ways, so it contributes to a vicious cycle.
3. Too little or too much exercise without enough recovery
Both a sedentary lifestyle and too much intense exercise without proper recovery can be inflammatory habits, contributing to hormonal issues, susceptibility to injuries, slow normal healing and affect a person’s outlook.
Striking a balance between two extremes is essential for boosting the immune system, maintaining physical wellness and taking care of your overall health.
4. Sleep deprivation
Adequate sleep is crucial for muscle recovery, cognitive function and for maintaining a healthy immune system.
Most adults need between 7-9 hours of sleep per night, yet because many of us are overwhelmed with daily responsibilities, getting this amount isn’t always as much of a priority as it should be.
5. Exposure to environmental pollutants and pesticides
Whether it’s exposure to fossil-fuels, hormones fed to cattle, or consumption of fertilizers and pesticides used to grow conventional crops, chemical exposure and pollution can stress our immune systems and increase inflammation.
While avoiding all pollutants isn’t always possible, doing your best to choose clean, organic foods and a healthy work and home environment is important for warding off free radical damage and chronic inflammation.
6. Smoking and excessive alcohol consumption
One of the most important ways you can improve your health is by quitting smoking and limiting alcohol/drug consumption. Cigarettes and excessive alcohol intake increase oxidative stress and can put you at greater risk for a range of serious health consequences.
7. Nutrient absorption
While a healthy diet should be a top priority, it’s only going to benefit your body to the extent that you can absorb and use the nutrients you consume.
Taking care of your gut health, whether from dietary changes and/or use of supplements, should be considered an essential step for optimizing overall health.
8. Too much UV light exposure
While some sunlight exposure is beneficial for providing you with essential vitamin D, too much can damage your skin and increase oxidative stress. Ideally aim to get out 10-20 minutes of sunlight exposure most days, and then take steps to minimize any damage by covering up or using sunblock.
Hormones including thyroid hormone, estrogen, testosterone, cortisol and adrenaline are affected by many lifestyle factors, such as your diet, level of stress, sleep patterns and exercise habits.
High levels of “stress hormones” and low levels of “sex hormones” can contribute to fatigue, muscle weakness, overall discomfort, digestive issues, a “down and out” perspective and more.
The best way to keep things in balance is to live an overall, holistically healthy lifestyle, such as by following the recommendations mentioned above.
- No matter your age, gender or level of physical activity, collagen is necessary for keeping your body in tip top shape, since it helps form connective tissues like joints, skin and tendons.
- The problem is that many people fail to include enough collagen-boosting foods in their diets, plus they experience collagen loss due to issues like stress, poor sleep, poor exercise recovery, and exposure to chemicals/pollutants.
- Collagen supplements, such as collagen powders and easy-to-take capsules, are a convenient way to increase your collagen and protein intake. Your diet and lifestyle also play a significant role in boosting your body’s collagen.
- To hold onto collagen as your age and to put this protein to good use, avoid collagen diminishers including an inflammatory diet, sedentary lifestyle, chronic stress, smoking, and too much UV light exposure.
Jill Levy has been with the Dr. Axe and Ancient Nutrition team for five years. She completed her undergraduate degree in Psychology from Fairfield University, followed by a certification as a Holistic Health Coach from the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. Jill takes a “non-diet” approach to health and really enjoys teaching others about mindful eating, intuitive eating and the benefits of eating real foods.