Total Health blog - How to Build Collagen Naturally

How to Build Collagen Naturally

Collagen is more than just beauty and looks.

Collagen is a type of protein that’s found in our connective tissue, cartilage, bone, and tendons. Yes, it helps to keep wrinkles at bay and skin looking plump, but it also plays a critical role in supporting the health of our nails and joints.

Our bodies naturally make collagen, but the collagen production normally declines when we age. From the mid 20’s our collagen production can decrease by 1% per year and can drop even more in women after menopause and with other factors such as smoking, sugar and ultraviolet rays. Today lots of people are talking about and taking collagen supplements, hopeful of defying the aging process. This collagen-buying trend is fuelled by advertising as well as a growing number of celebrities promoting it. This has become a big market as in 2020, consumers spent – $300 million on various collagen products. This is a sixfold increase since 2014. Let’s look at what we need to know about collagen, collagen supplements, and why the food you are eating is the healthiest and most important place to start.

What Is Collagen?

Let’s look at the facts – collagen is a protein and it is the single most abundant protein in the animal kingdom, containing one-third of the total protein in our body and accounting for three-quarters of the dry weight of your skin. Collagen is so important because it provides structural support to the connective tissue that makes up your body: skin, tendons, bones, ligaments, blood, organs and much more. It basically holds everything together, which is why collagen is often called the body’s framework. In the skin, it helps by providing volume that keeps your skin looking smooth with fewer visible fine lines and wrinkles. This is why so many people are hopping on the bandwagon by adding more collagen in the form of supplements and other collagen and beauty products.

How does Collagen decline?

Collagen naturally declines as we age, but this varies from person to person. Your genetics play a small role, so if you have skin that retains a healthy glow while others are getting wrinkles, you might be able to thank your parents and grandparents. Your genetics are only a small fraction of the whole story. Other lifestyle factors (Epigenetics) may play a larger role when it comes to collagen breakdown in your body. And these factors are directly within your control and responsibility so you can do something about them compared to your genetics which you cannot change.


The foods you put into your body will have a major impact on your health in every way and this also includes your collagen health. It is a well known fact, that nutritional deficiencies which are very common with the standard modern diet, can prevent new collagen development. E.g. without a supply of antioxidants, excessive free radicals can damage cells and devastate your body’s natural repair ability. Even worse, foods low in antioxidants like high sugar, refined carbohydrate rich and processed foods have the ability to increase oxidative stress and inflammation in your body. In this case, the thin layers of collagen can be weakened and thinned and this highlights signs of ageing. Foods like Broccoli, spinach, carrots, and potatoes are all high in antioxidants, and so are artichokes, cabbage, asparagus, avocados, beetroot, radish, lettuce, sweet potatoes, squash, pumpkin, collard greens, and kale.

Sun Exposure

Sun and skin are one of those subjects that has strong beliefs on both sides of the camp. Sure, not getting too much sun isn’t just important for preventing sunburn which damages not only the skin but comes with too much UV radiation which compromises collagen production, which in turn can lead to collagen insufficiency in your body. Moderate amounts of sun exposure can be healthy (not only for vitamin D production), but excessive doses of UV light may disable antioxidants in the skin and further promote the degradation of collagen and elastin. This can decrease the overall strength of the skin, cause wrinkles, and even create an environment that enables skin damage and cancer. Be aware the lighter you skin, the more you are at risk of skin damage from UV radiation than those with darker skin.


Smoking is clearly one of the worst behaviours in connection with skin health. The Marlboro Man may have looked strong and tough at the start, but soon developed very wrinkly skin along with lung cancer, bronchitis, and heart disease. Cigarettes destroy collagen throughout the entire body. They are especially damaging for our blood vessels which can also increase the risk of cardiovascular disease. Researchers found that the elasticity of the forehead and the thickness of the dermis of the cheeks were significantly lower among smokers compared to non-smokers. (


Stress can also play a major role when it comes to collagen. A stressed-out body is more likely to produce less collagen and be less able to prevent the breakdown of existing collagen. A stressed body releases more of the hormone epinephrine (or adrenaline) as part of being in fight-or-flight mode. This means that the cells that produce the collagen proteins are not able to perform their job very well. This can slow down wound healing and skin repair. When someone is overwhelmed by stress (having a short fuse and snapping at others and perceiving attacks everywhere) they may have thin skin and other health issues from these effects.

Can You Get Collagen from Food?

Collagen itself is only found in animal products (like meat, fish, and eggs) that contain connective tissue. But this does not mean that the collagen you eat gets automatically absorbed so your body can use it. This is because the body is not able to absorb collagen in its whole form. Your body digests the protein into its essential amino acids, which it may then use to build new proteins. The amino acids necessary for collagen production can come from any protein source, animal, marine or plant proteins. Besides meat, fish and eggs some sources of protein include tofu, legumes including beans, peas, lentils, nuts and seeds, gluten free whole grains, and even vegetables like broccoli. The amino acids that are most important for collagen production are glycine, proline, hydroxyproline, and lysine. Some of the best plant sources of these amino acids are nuts, seeds and legumes. In addition to protein, other nutrients assist the body in the production of collagen. See below the list of the nutrients and foods that can most benefit your collagen health. Eating a wide variety of these foods can help support your body’s natural collagen production and maintenance.

Vitamin C

Vitamin C is a necessary cofactor for the two enzymes required for collagen synthesis: prolyl hydroxylase (to stabilize the collagen molecule) and lysyl hydroxylase (to give structural strength by cross-linking). Recent research has further shown that vitamin C acts directly on your DNA to regulate how much collagen you have within your cells. Vitamin C also functions as an antioxidant, combating oxidative stresses that would degrade existing collagen. All fruits and vegetables contain vitamin C, but some of the best food sources include kakadu plum, cherries, rose hip, guava, capsicum, black currant, parsley, mustard leaves, kale, kiwis, our favourite all round health booster broccoli, brussel sprouts, lychees, citrus fruits, persimmon, pawpaw, strawberries, potatoes, sweet potatoes and tomatoes.

Vitamin E

Consuming vitamin E, an antioxidant, helps to protect collagen stores from oxidative damage. A few good sources of vitamin E include avocado, nuts, seeds, leafy greens, red capsicum, kiwi and mango.


Zinc is another cofactor in collagen production. It can also help support your skin health and integrity, repair collagen, assist in wound healing. Food sources of zinc also include nuts, seeds, legumes, blackberries, pomegranate, cacao, kale, green beans, gluten free whole grains and seafood.


Sulphur is also a cofactor in collagen production as it helps to stabilize collagen. It’s found in foods high in protein as well as in sulfinates, allicin, sulphides, thiamine, and biotin. Some good sources of sulphur come from the allium family of veggies, which includes onions, garlic, chives, and leeks. Sulphur is also found in cruciferous vegetables, leafy greens, radish, nuts, seeds, legumes, and whole grains.


Copper is a key cofactor that enables the enzyme lysyl oxidase to support the body’s natural elastin and collagen functions. Good sources of copper in your diet include gluten free whole grains, beans, nuts, seeds, avocado, quinoa, asparagus, kale, potatoes, tofu, leafy greens, cocoa and chia seeds.
Note: Copper is one nutrient that is especially important to get in its natural form = from foods rather than supplements. Supplementing copper can easily overload the body and excess copper may be even worse than a deficiency.


Iron is required for the synthesis of collagen. Without adequate iron, your body struggles to make and maintain collagen stores. While many people get too much iron, getting enough is also critical. Some sources of iron besides meat are legumes, tofu, quinoa, nuts, seafood, pumpkin seeds, and leafy greens especially spinach, silver beet and broccoli.


Polyphenols are responsible for some of the extraordinary benefits that plants are offering. For example, polyphenols through their natural antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects reduce oxidative damage and inflammation in the skin. These plant compounds also prevent collagen degradation, increase collagen production, and help to keep inflammation under control. Polyphenols can be found in fruits and vegetables such as cacao, blueberries, blackberries, elderberries, raspberries, strawberries, apples, capsicum, garlic, onions, flaxseed meal, extra virgin olive oil and spices like peppermint, black pepper, turmeric, sage, rosemary and thyme.

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Collagen supplements – beneficial or just money making?

If our body makes collagen from the amino acids in protein, so what exactly are the collagen supplements made of and do they support and work?

How are Collagen Supplements produced?

The collagen in supplements is mostly sourced from cows, chickens, pigs, as well as marine life like fish, octopus, and jellyfish. Some use crocodiles, kangaroos, and sheep and some products use GMO yeast or bacteria.

Do they work?

Collagen supplements come in powder, capsule, or liquid form, and in topical creams. When our stomach digests them, they are broken down into amino acids that are then distributed throughout the body depending on the demand. So, there is no guarantee that they actually end up in specific areas of the body. Some products make claims that they do that. Sometimes claims say that they can improve skin elasticity, reduce visible wrinkles, and increase blood flow to the skin. Unfortunately, there is no evidence that this is actually true. Only little research is available on the effect of collagen supplements on human collagen production and skin health and at this point, the findings are weak, conflicting, and mainly anecdotal. Some research indicated that supplementing collagen may help to relieve joint pain, prevent bone loss, promote muscle mass, and support heart health. There are supplements that are collagen-boosters. They, provide a mix of nutrients that can help support your body’s natural production of collagen. But these boosters provide nutrients that you could get also from food. Collagen-booster supplements might support, but at best they will mimic the benefits of a well-balanced diet by including nutrients that could help improve your body’s own collagen production. Before using these, we would recommend maximising your diet to get all of the benefits through your food. If you are not able to eat a well-balanced diet that covers all nutrients or if you have higher protein requirements due to age, illness, recovery or athletic activity, you could add a food-based collagen booster as a supplement but as said not as a replacement for a healthy diet. Always check with your healthcare practitioner if you need personalised support.

Collagen Vascular Diseases
Collagen vascular diseases are autoimmune conditions in which the body attacks healthy tissue like collagen, reducing its production and existence.

Some examples include:
Lupus, a disease in which the immune system becomes hyperactive and attacks healthy tissues. Symptoms often involve a cheek rash, fatigue, skin lesions, joint pain, and shortness of breath.
Systemic scleroderma, which causes abnormal collagen growth and affects the skin, joints, and other organs. Common symptoms include fingertip swelling, joint pain, spider veins, and calcium bumps (deposits of calcium that develop just under the skin, known officially as calcinosis cutis, ironic because most people that get them don’t find them cute at all) as well as, in more severe cases, heart failure and kidney disease.
Rheumatoid arthritis, a chronic inflammatory disorder that causes the lining of the joints in the feet and hands to swell. Symptoms generally include fatigue, joint swelling, pain and stiffness, and bumps of tissue on affected limbs.
Sjögren’s syndrome, a systemic autoimmune disease that affects the entire body and often occurs alongside other immune disorders like rheumatoid arthritis and lupus. It generally can cause dry eyes and mouth and may eventually impact joints and organs including the skin, liver, and kidneys.

If you are interested in more details or need personalized support or are interested in a Skin Rebuilding or Maintenance program and need help to work out what is best for you and your loved ones, consider booking in for an Initial Natural Medicine Consultation: