What's the secret to younger looking skin?
Have you noticed wrinkles appearing? Maybe you’ve noticed your skin doesn’t have the elasticity and spring it once did? Or have you noticed dark circles under the eyes? Once you are over 40 the aging process ramps up especially when it comes to your skin. Oestrogen has a direct influence on collagen production and after menopause collagen drops by about 30%.
Looking after your skin is so much more than just about keeping up appearances. Your skin is the largest structural organ in the body and it is the main barrier that protects us from the outside world – from bacteria, infections, trauma, UV and toxins.
The skin is made up of the epidermis (the top outer layer that we see), the dermis (which lies underneath the epidermis) and a layer of subcutaneous fat which provides additional protection and cushioning.
The dermis is the main layer of skin and contains blood vessels, connective tissue, lymph vessels, collagen and elastin. Collagen and elastin are the main structural components of the skin and high amounts of hyaluronic acid as well.
Elastin gives the skin it’s elasticity and allows the skin to stretch and spring back to its original shape whilst hyaluronic acid helps the skin to retain moisture.
Collagen forms about 75% of the dry weight of the skin and about 35% of the total amount of protein in the body. It is rigid and acts like the ‘glue’ that not only holds the skin together but also supports, insulates and protects other body organs. It makes up ligaments, tendons, joins, cartilage, bone, gut linking, blood vessels and teeth. There are many different types of collagen but there are 5 main forms which are found in different locations in the body. Type I is the most abundant in the body and makes up 80% of skin collage with type II making up 15%. Collagen is predominantly made from the amino acids glycine, proline and hydroxyproline which link up in the sequence ‘glycine-proline-X’ or ‘glycine-X-hydroxyproline’ where X is one of 17 amino acids. As every third amino acid is glycine, this is the most abundant amino acid found in collagen.
As you age the ability to replenish collagen decreases by around 1.5% per year. As a result the density of collagen and elastin in the skin declines and the skin starts to become thinner and more rigid. There is also a loss in hyaluronic acid which reduces the moisture, suppleness and elasticity of the skin. Skin starts to appear looser, sags, lines appear and then eventually gravity plays a part leading to sagging eyelids, bags under the eyes and jowls.
The rate at which you age is determined in part by your genetics but also environmental factors. Skin aging is due to structural changes to collagen and elastin caused by the action of highly reactive free radical molecules called reactive oxygen species or ROS. The damage caused by Ros is known as oxidative stress. Air pollution, UV radiation, chlorine, cigarette smoke, alcohol are all sources of oxidative stress and can cause premature aging. One of the most significant sources of oxidative stress however comes from within the body through Advanced glycation End products or AGES. These products are formed by the reaction between glucose and proteins. Blood glucose management is therefore essential to maintain youthful looking skin.
Chronically elevated levels of the stress hormone cortisol also leads to changes in the production of collagen as well as affecting the skin through its effects on the immune system which accelerate the aging process.
So is supplementing collagen the answer?
Well to be clear, collagen is a large protein which cannot be absorbed via the skin and when taken orally is broken down into its constituent amino acids before being absorbed into the blood stream and circulates the body. So when you take collagen it doesn’t pass through the body as collagen and direct itself to the skin. There is no way of being able to dictate where these amino acids are then used. However, having a plentiful source of readily available amino acids will make it easier to produce collagen.
Hydrolysed collagen has higher bioavailability than collagen as the protein has been broken down into peptides which are more easily digested and absorbed. Hydrolysed collagen is also enriched in the major amino acids of collagen – glycine, proline and hydroxyproline however the proportions may not necessarily match those in collagen (i.e. glycine is 33% of collagen but a supplement may contain 20%).
Glycine and proline are predominantly found in animal proteins and hydroxyproline is only found in collagen and so it is impossible to get dietary intake of hydroxyproline from a vegan diet (good sources are bone collagen and fish skin). However, glycine, proline and hydroxyproline are non-essential amino acids and so can be produced in the body if all the raw materials are present but to do this a good intake of good quality protein containing all 9 essential amino acids is essential. In addition, there are co-factors such as vitamin C, without which collagen cannot be made, and so optimising vitamin C intake is also essential. Individuals with low protein intakes may benefit from supplementing with collagen.
There are many studies showing a decrease of about 30% in wrinkles when taking 10g of hydrolysed collage a day. Doses of 5g have been shown to improve skin moisture content and elasticity. However, the amounts of collagen taken in a supplement falls way below the levels required in these studies to get results. Often in studies with lower doses i.e. 1g that had successful results, the collagen was combined with other ingredients as well such as hyaluronic acid.
So if considering supplementing collagen things to consider:
1. Look for hydrolysed collagen not collagen,
2. Look for the dose (over 5g) or look for supporting nutrients such as hyaluronic acids and chondroitin sulphate,
3. Look for marine collagen which is similar in amino acid profile to human collagen.
However, as mentioned one of biggest aging factors is the advanced glycation products that are produced internally so taking a supplement is not going to address this. So if you really want to create a lasting change in your skin you will need to address diet as well as reducing your exposure to environmental factors that increase oxidative stress. Addressing diet will also add the supporting nutrients needed and create an internal environment supports healthy collagen production.
Top Tips for younger looking skin:
Limit exposure to oxidative chemicals in environment
Reduce sugar intake
Eat more anti-oxidants
Drink plenty of water
Eat plenty of protein and fat
Daily intake of vitamin C
Protect your skin against UV
Drink or use bone broth
If you would like to try and build healthy new habits to give your skin a youthful glow, please book a free consultation and see how nutritional therapy can help you.