Understanding Collagen Synthesis and Dietary Support for Tissue Health

Understanding Collagen Synthesis and Dietary Support for Tissue Health

Collagen, a vital protein in our bodies, forms the structural framework for various tissues. While marketing often emphasizes collagen supplements as the ultimate solution for boosting collagen production, the truth is more nuanced. If that were true then people on plant based diets would have no collagen in their bodies – which is obviously not  the case. Consuming collagen doesn't necessarily mean a direct increase in collagen levels within our bodies. Instead, the body synthesizes collagen from specific amino acids found in our diet, and these can come from many sources including plants.

Importance of Specific Amino Acids

Proline, hydroxyproline, and glycine are integral to collagen structure. While our bodies can synthesise these amino acids, research suggests that consuming these specific amino acids may benefit people who don't get a protein rich diet. However, under normal circumstances, glutamate, which can either be eaten or which is made in our muscle tissue, is transformed naturally in our bodies to glutamine, then proline and also hydroxyproline, which together with the abundant glycine form the primary structure behind the collagen triple helix. Iron facilitates the conversion of proline into hydroxyproline, while Vitamin C protects the collagen formation process, and so these nutrients are also vital in supporting collagen synthesis.

Sources of Key Amino Acids and Nutrients Involved in Collagen Production

Each food source with protein has its own amino acid profile, and the body can either use or make a full spectrum of amino acids from a complete diet. Glycine and proline are two of the semi-essential amino acids that might be important to get directly from foods in times of disease or repair – for example after surgery or in recovery from a virus like COVID-19. But under normal circumstances, these amino acids are made and balanced naturally in our own bodies metabolism and also from glutamate – the “eat me” signal and neurotransmitter extraordinaire.

Did you know that this is why the processed food industry laces low-nutritional foods like chips with MSG (monosodium glutamate) - because they were trying to make industrialized food tasty. MSG was invented by a Japanese food chemist in the early 1900's while trying to replicate the flavour of seaweed. But we say - why not just put the seaweed back into food and eat natural glutamate with wholefoods. Tomatoes and mushrooms are rich in glutamate as well which is why we love fried tomatoes and mushroom aromas.

Glutamate is a vital and one of the most abundant neurotransmitters in our brain and is vital for learning and memory. We love the smell of it because we need it! We also get adequate amounts of it in general and we don't need to supplement it. So it is a bit "Wonderlandish" of the food industry to lace non-nutritional foods with "Eat Me" signals, and it is better to focus on the foods that are naturally rich in glutamate, taste delivers and are packed with wholefood nutrition.

Alongside glutamate and it's conversion into glutamine and proline to make collagen, we also need Vitamin C and iron that play pivotal roles in the metabolism of collagen creation. Fortunately, these micronutrients are also available in sources like seaweed and many of the fruits or vegetables that you  might serve up in a dish of PhycoMuesli or SeaShells pasta, aiding the body's collagen-building process.

Collagen Production and Plant-based Diets

Despite collagen being a protein of animal origin, people who eat plant based diets also have collagen in their bodies because it is synthesised from the amino acids in their plant-based diets. Ensuring an adequate intake of amino acids across many plant proteins, including seaweeds, is important for collagen production and not difficult if you eat a diverse range of protein rich plants, and whole fruit and vegetables rich in iron and Vitamin C.


The Role of Dietary Components Beyond Collagen

Supporting tissue and joint health involves not just collagen but also complex carbohydrates like glycans—molecules akin to collagen that the body can manufacture. Consumption of these molecules seems to bolster tissue and joint health significantly, and our research continues to shine a light on just how important these glycan carbohydrates are to tissue structure and function, in addition to regulating inflammation processes. Without these carbohydrates, collagen cannot achieve an organized structure, and so they go hand in hand.

Recommendations for Improved Tissue Health 

  • Protein Intake: Research supports adequate protein intake from diverse sources with different peptides, and amino acids for overall protein formation including collagen, elastin, fibronectin and other tissue proteins.
  • Specific Nutrients: Certain nutrients (iron, Vitamin C) contribute to collagen synthesis.
  • Physical Activity: Collagen stimulation increases with exercise, particularly for connective tissue collagen.
  • Reducing Collagen Breakdown: Increased amino acid intake might reduce the breakdown of existing collagen, but so will Vitamin C and potentially glycans, as well as a good protection from the sun in the case of skin collagen.

In conclusion, a well-rounded diet rich in protein, specifically targeting glycine, proline, and hydroxyproline sources, alongside adequate Vitamin C, iron, and beneficial carbohydrates, appears instrumental in fostering better skin and connective tissue health. Remember, it's not just about consuming these nutrients but also utilising them to maintain healthy tissues—use it or lose it!

Try our new Connective Tissue Bundle that include products for your pantry that have some or all of the nutrition and protective support that you need to build the amino acids behind healthy collagen and tissue in your joints and in your skin.