Collagen is the most abundant protein in our bodies. There are over 20 types of collagen that have very specific functions in different organs. Collagen is important in gut health, bone health and all of the connective tissue in our bodies. Collagen I makes up about in 70% of our skin in a dried state, which is why when it breaks down with age it is evident as wrinkles. While collagen imparts strength and structure to the skin, other proteins like elastin give the skin it’s ability to stretch and return to its shape. These proteins are made by the skin cells themselves and deposited outside the cells to create skin structure.
Contrary to a lot of marketing, you cannot eat collagen to deliver collagen to your skin and joints. When collagen is digested, it is but one source of amino acid building blocks from your diet. For example a 24hour chicken frame broth will be rich in collagen and deliver the amino acids that can be used to build new collagen, however you body might decide that these amino acids are needed elsewhere for other proteins. As long as the amino acids you eat are the right ones and in adequate amounts, it doesn’t really matter whether the amino acids came from collagen or other proteins in your diet, including plant proteins. Your body will decide which proteins it wants the amino acids, that you eat, to make. You just have to make sure your diet is diverse and adequate enough to provide the essential building blocks for the collagen that your body wants to make (boosting collagen), and that you care for and protect the collagen that you make.
The green image above is highlighting actual collagen that has been made by skin cells cultivated on a scaffold of our PhycoDerm seaweed extract. In this research we have been exploring what are the signals that trigger different types of skin proteins to be made by skin cells, towards improved wound healing solutions.
As a protein, collagen is made up of amino acids. Some of these amino acids are essential and you can only get them through your diet. This means that eating collagen rich sources is one way to get these building blocks to structure your own collagen. However other foods that are rich in amino acids glycine, proline, lysine and arginine among others, are equally suitable to delivering the building blocks for collagen. You don’t have to eat animal products to get these proteins, although dairy and eggs are very good sources. As outlined in in our protein story, many plant protein sources contain these amino acids, including certain seaweeds. Dietary protein is so important in the formation of skin that in wounds it has been shown to double the healing rate if it is added to diets deficient in protein.
Vitamin intake is vital in skin and collagen formation. Of importance to creating the helix structure of collagen is adequate Vitamin C intakethrough your diet. Inadequate Vitamin A can also prevent the proper deposition of collagen as your cells form it.
Trace elements like copper, zinc and manganese all have important roles and can help to up-regulate the production of collagen and elastin. Some of these micronutrients need other proteins to be transported, such as albumin for zinc, and here is where amino acids from dietary proteins are important again.
It is natural for your body to turn over collagen and to continuously replace skin with new skin. However you can also damage skin and collagen excessively, and this is where protection is important. There are a number of things that will accelerate collagen damage in our daily lives. Two obvious ones include smoking and eating too much refined sugar, but I don’t think I need to offer a solution to these problems as you know what the solutions are; don’t smoke and don’t eat too much refined sugar.
However, sun exposure and inflammation are two lifelong challenges that are hard to avoid, can be more cryptic, and have ways of sneaking up on us if we don't have strategies in place to defend our collagen.
Reducing sun exposure is, in theory, straight forward and includes protecting yourself from UV damage with clothing or with daily sun screen on exposed skin. The problem with some sun protection however is that the strongest types that we should use on the beach or in the glaring snow are also quite greasy have some environmentally damaging molecules. They are not the type of sun protection that you want to apply everyday. This is why we developed a more skin and environment friendly daily SHIELD which has a lower SPF of 15, but which is something that can be applied every morning, under make-up, and just helps to reduce the UV and pollution stressors a little each day. It includes our anti-oxidant rich seaweed extract with excellent hydration properties and the multiple skin healing properties of zinc.
Anti-oxidants are also a part of your arsenal against sun damage. With lots of different types of anti-oxidants both inside through diet and outside on your skin, you can address some of the rapid and immediate repair that, for example, UV damage can do. We chose to maintain a high level of phenolic compound in our SeaFibre-3 products, as well as throughout our skin care range, as these are molecules associated with anti-oxidant function. We have tested extracts from our unique species of seaweed from different production methods through to the processing techniques, to optimize different types of phenolics and their anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory activities as shown below. You can see that the seaweed on the left is higher in both anti-inflammatory (GAE) and anti-oxidant (DPPH) activity.
Because diversity is key in anti-oxidants, you will not find a full diversity of types of anti-oxidants in any one plant. This is why we include diverse plant sources of anti-oxidants in our formulations to complement the unique anti-oxidants found in our seaweed. Alongside our skin soothing and anti-oxidant seaweed extract in PURIFY and SOOTHE, we have formulated other anti-oxidants such as Rosemary and Chammomile in NOURISH, super anti-oxidants in white tea extracts which are the youngest and most anti-oxidant rich extracts of tea, Vitamin C and anti-oxidant rich Australian botanicals Kakadu and Quandong plums in CLEANSE. It has been shown that topical vitamin C can support collagen production if your dietary intake is inadequate, and that is why it is added to skin care products, but the jury is still out on when and how this works if you have adequate Vitamin C in your diet. Our strategy is to include it on skin as well as from the inside through good nutrition.
A further PhycoDerm compound that we concentrate in our skin care extracts has been shown to protect structural collagen from enzymes that would otherwise degrade it. You can see in the figure below that, over time, the collagen in the pink bar is protected when as is exposed to our PhycoDerm extract versus the other collagen in red and blue that is not. This research is still in it's early days as to how and if it can do the same from the outside as from the inside of skin, but these early results are promising for a suite of applications in skin care treatments.
In summary, to maintain the best lifelong collagen condition in skin, diet comes first to boost the creation of collagen, followed by diet and skin care regimes to protect collagen and hydrate tissue. This is why we designed our Gut and Skin health pack, which also serves to reduce inflammation triggers from the inside using SeaFIbre-3. It is never to late to help your skin be the best it can be.
Our gut microbiomes are complex ecosystems, much like rainforest soils, and should host many different types of bacteria. Therefore, a combination of dietary fibre is as important, and more effective, in maintaining a good gut balance.