Collagen Guardians: These Nutrients Help Protect the Collagen You Have

and Support Your Body to Produce It

In our article, Choosing Collagen to Mitigate Degeneration Associated with Aging: Understanding Types and Sources of Dietary Collagen, we explored collagen in-depth. We discussed how the collagen protein biomolecule has an important connective role in biological structures including us humans. Comprising close to one-third of a human body’s tissue, collagen forms the conjunctive and connective tissues in the human body: skin, joints, and bones. Over time, as we all have discovered or certainly will one day, our collagen fibers degrade, losing thickness and strength. Consumption of collagen can be very important in mitigating the degeneration associated with aging, but we can also shore up our existing collagen as well as our body’s ability to create more of it by ensuring we get a number of important nutrients. This article discusses some of those nutrients.

There are a number of “collagen guardians” that fall into the categories of anti-inflammatory or antioxidant or both. Inflammation is destructive to our existing collagen and so is the free radical damage to skin and body caused by ultraviolet radiation which antioxidants fight. Chronic and excessive inflammation is the primary offender in visible signs of aging which include the destruction of collagen and elastic tissue.

Vitamins C and A are “collagen guardians” and fall into both categories.

Vitamin C

Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) is vital to collagen biosynthesis and the formation of the extracellular matrix. In fact, it’s essential throughout every step of the collagen formation process. It also speeds wound healing which cannot happen without the presence of enough collagen. In order for proper wound healing to take place, a great deal of extra collagen is required by the body.

“The biological function of vitamin C in the skin is its active role in collagen synthesis. It is responsible for the biosynthesis of collagen through its role in the hydroxylation of proline and lysine residues to hydroxyproline and hydroxylysine. It donates electrons to enzymes involved in hydroxylation, resulting in the conversion of procollagen to collagen.” —Monika Michalak et al in Bioactive Compounds for Skin Health: A Review

For more information on this topic, please see the article in which we discussed the amino acids proline and hydroxyproline (and others) as they relate to collagen, Proline and Hydroxyproline: Amino Acids Critical for Collagen Stability.

Scientific evidence shows that ascorbic acid plays an active role in the proliferation and migration of skin fibroblasts(1) while it stimulates the production of collagen and elastin. Vitamin C being what is perhaps the greatest antioxidant, possesses very protective properties for the skin and especially the epidermis. Not only does this protection include defending against oxidants generated by ultraviolet radiation but it defends against other environmental factors as well.

“Vitamin C promotes the formation of the epidermal barrier and collagen in the dermis, protects against skin oxidation, helps to counteract skin ageing, and plays a role in the signaling pathways of cell growth and differentiation, which are linked to the occurrence of various skin diseases.” —Monika Michalak et al in Bioactive Compounds for Skin Health: A Review

The best source of any nutrient is first and foremost the whole food source itself. Excellent sources of vitamin C include:

citrus fruits, seaberry, dog-rose, blackcurrant, strawberry, raspberry, kiwi, hawthorn, rowan, cruciferous vegetables (Brussels sprouts, kohlrabi, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower), spinach, chicory, green bean, red pepper, chives, parsley, nettle, five-flavor berry, and oregano.

Vitamin A (retinol)

This vitamin is a potent antioxidant and guardian of collagen. It protects against collagen degradation and ultraviolet damage that destroys collagen. The guardian effect on skin cells and the collagen matrix is particularly vital to post-menopausal women who need more than ever to protect what collagen they have since their bodies’ ability to product collagen is not as robust as it once was.

Provitamin A carotenoids(3) are turned into vitamin A by your body. They are found in fruits, vegetables, and other plant-based products. The most common provitamin A carotenoid in foods and dietary supplements is beta-carotene.

Excellent sources of vitamin A include:

liver, fish liver oils, dairy products, butter, cheese, egg yolk, meat products, certain saltwater fish, plant products (β-carotene).


Lycopene indirectly preserves collagen. Lycopene is the antioxidant abundant in tomatoes. If you eat a diet relatively rich in tomatoes (sauce, paste) the lycopene safeguards your existing collagen by doing away with free radicals created by sun damage.

Lycopene is a non-provitamin A(3) and carotenoid(2) that is the source for the yellow, orange, red and pink colors in tomatoes, carrots, and other foods.

Processed tomato products are the primary dietary lycopene source in the U.S. and when heated by cooking produces an even more potent antioxidant activity.

Carotenoids both protect and build collagen.

“Tomato paste containing lycopene provides protection against acute and potentially longer-term aspects of photodamage.”—M. Rizwan et al in Tomato paste rich in lycopene protects against cutaneous photodamage in humans in vivo: a randomized controlled trial


Lutein is the deep yellow pigment of the xanthophyll(6) class, found in the leaves of plants and in egg yolk. It protects dermal collagen against ultraviolet radiation. It also promotes synthesis of pro-collagen Type 1. Consume lutein in green and dark green leafy vegetables such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, spinach, and parsley. Pumpkin, acerola, rose hips, Chlorella micro-algae and eggs all contain lutein, too.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids Combined with Vitamin A

Consuming foods rich in both omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin A can help you protect your skin’s collagen, scavenge free radicals and prevent loss or degradation of collagen. These will offer both anti-inflammatory and antioxidant potency.

You can get omega-3 fatty acids in the form of fatty fish, fish oil, and cod liver oil. If you eat a purely plant-based diet, get sea buckthorn oil which will not only give you omega-3s but also omega-6, -7 and -9 beta-carotenoids.


Silicon plays an extremely important role in the synthesis of collagen, elastin and GAGs(4) (glycosaminoglycans which are abundant structural components of the extracellular matrix in addition to collagen fibers).

Get silica in rice, barley, oat, wheat, grain products (breakfast cereals, bread, pasta), root vegetables like carrots, beet root, radish, onion, and potatoes, beans, maize, bananas, melons, cucumbers, dried fruits, nuts, and the herbaceous perennial plant horsetail.


Selenium supplementation could be an important strategy for mitigating wrinkles because it can reverse ultraviolet light damage. One study showed that a selenium-rich tuna heart extract enhanced collagen synthesis in vivo and promoted the proliferation of skin fibroblasts. These results in vivo potentially translate to anti-aging and anti-wrinkle effects.


Iron plays a vital role in collagen synthesis. It is also essential in the transport of oxygen throughout the body and participates in many enzymatic systems that are key to collagen formation.


Copper activates many enzymes in the body including lysyl oxidase which is responsible for increasing the production of elastin and collagen. Its antioxidant properties make it a good collagen guardian.

Get copper in liver, avocados, buckwheat, olives, sunflower seeds, lentils, almonds, dark chocolate, asparagus, seafood, nuts, oysters, seeds, some whole grains and legumes.

Copper Peptides(5)

Copper peptides are small protein fragments capable of binding and transporting copper ions throughout the body. It should be noted that not all copper peptides have positive actions so be careful and very discerning if you decide to purchase a copper peptide product.

For good skin care, copper peptides would be included in a class of peptides that, at a minimum, 1) speed skin repair, 2) have potent anti-inflammatory action, and 3) increase hair follicle size.

“The copper-peptide molecules not only have the power to shift your skin’s biology from aging to rejuvenation, they do it in a safe and gentle way.” —Dr. Loren Pickart, Ph.D.

Human blood naturally contains the perfect copper peptide: GHK-Cu (glycyl-l-histidly-l-lysine: copper 2+).

“The GHK [copper] peptide [glycyl-histydyl-lysine] is a fragment of Type 1 collagen and a proven stimulator of fibroblasts.” —Dr. Loren Pickart, Ph.D. in GHK Copper Peptides: for Skin and Hair Beauty

The GHK copper peptide is proving something of a near miracle. It has so much to offer in not just the rejuvenation of skin but many other health conditions as well. For an exhaustive study on GHK, look for Dr. Loren Pickart’s book, GHK Copper Peptides: for Skin and Hair Beauty.

GHK copper peptides seem to tighten and firm loose skin losing elasticity and thicken older more fragile skin while repairing skin barrier proteins. As a result, lines appear to be reduced as well as the depth of wrinkles. Skin becomes smoother and more radiant. Hyperpigmented skin is repaired showing less dark spots.

“The copper tripeptide complex (GHK-Cu and GSH-Cu) plays an important role in the protection and regeneration of skin tissue, increases the synthesis of collagen and elastin, and improves the condition of ageing skin.” —Monika Michalak et al in Bioactive Compounds for Skin Health: A Review


Zinc seriously influences collagen metabolism. A trace mineral, it works as anti-inflammatory and antioxidant to promote synthesis of collagen and elastin. It accelerates wound healing, cell growth and immunity. Zinc can be found in pumpkin, seeds, legumes, mushrooms, spinach, shellfish, nuts, grains, kale, and eggs.


Manganese is a trace mineral or salt important for everyday skin health as it activates a number of enzymes that are needed for a variety of human functions including collagen synthesis. Manganese also assists in wound healing. Get manganese in food sources such as nuts, beans, legumes, whole grains, green leafy vegetable, pineapple, açai and dark chocolate.


Polyphenols are beneficial plant-based compounds: flavonoids, phenolic acid, polyphenolic amides, and other polyphenols. They are known to help improve digestion, brain function, and blood sugar levels. They also protect against blood clots, heart disease, and certain cancers.

Regarding collagen, polyphenols inhibit the activity of the enzymes collagenase and elastase which are in the skin and catalyze the hydrolysis or chemical breakdown of collagen and elastin fibers. Polyphenols also inhibit the enzyme hyaluronidase which degrades hyaluronic acid. Many polyphenols support the natural regeneration of the epidermis and protect against harmful external factors like ultraviolet radiation.

Superoxide Dismutase (SOD)

Similar to CoQ10, SOD protects your skin cells’ mitochondria.(7) SOD is one of the body’s most powerful natural antioxidant enzymes providing potent and primary antioxidant defenses. Its mitochondrial protection provides long-term anti-aging effects by maintaining the lifespan of healthy fibroblasts, the cells that create the collagen matrix.

Glycolic Acid

Glycolic acid naturally occurs in the alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) group. You can get glycolic acid in citrus fruits, kiwi, sugar cane, beets, pineapple and grapes. Glycolic acid stimulates collagen synthesis and thickens both dermis and epidermis thereby reducing the appearance of lines.

Oat Beta Glucan(8)

Studies have shown that cereal beta glucan extracted from oat is highly effective in stimulating collagen synthesis and can play a prominent role in skin restructuring and wound healing. A principle reason for the effectiveness of oat beta glucan is that it contains four critical minerals mentioned earlier in this article: selenium, zinc, copper, and iron.

You can find a high quality soluble oat bran fiber derived from wholegrain oats if you feel to supplement your diet with a natural source of beta glucan.

Plant Estrogen

There is an abundance of estrogen receptors on facial skin. Estrogens increase skin thickness by promoting collagen synthesis. They build the proteins supporting the dermal-epidermal junction and mitigate crepey, fragile skin.

Soy foods including tofu may help preserve skin firming collagen because 1) they are rich in plant estrogen which is quite similar to human estrogen, and 2) they abound in isoflavones which act as plant estrogens in mammals. Both estrogen and isoflavones help provide protection against ultraviolet damage which induces wrinkles.

Other Amino Acids

Some amino acids, including the ones that are not the main constituents of collagen, have a function in enhancing collagen synthesis. Arginine is one of them since it encourages fibroblast production which, in turn, helps create more collagen.

Ornithine and arginine have been observed to promote wound healing. And glutamine directly enhances collagen formation. Studies show that ornithine and glutamine promote proline and collagen synthesis.

Growth Factors

Growth factors are proteins that are naturally produced by skin cells to help keep skin vibrant and healthy. They also act as healing agents. Growth factors boost collagen synthesis, prompt cells to improve skin firmness and elasticity, strengthen the skin barrier and repair and rejuvenate skin.

A potential issue with growth factors is that they are genetically engineered in a laboratory or obtained from human stem cells—bone marrow stem cells, skin cells and fat stem cells. Growth factors are also extracted from platelet-rich plasma and sources such as snails and various plants. While it has been proven that these molecules promote collagen, elastin and glycosaminoglycan(GAG)(4) production that reconstruct and strengthen the skin’s extracellular matrix, the potential exists that they can also cause a growth of something that you may not want.


The purpose of this article is to share how we can safeguard our existing collagen and encourage our bodies to create more by getting the right nutrients. There may be a nutrient or two listed above that you will feel you want to add to your diet and that’s perfect. But it would be crazy to think you should tackle the whole list in order to get your body making more collagen. Don’t overload your liver that way.

The point is to make sure that you eat a diverse healthy diet. All the nutrients in this article are found in healthy foods. Don’t let processed foods take up space in your stomach when you could be filling it with life supporting, collagen encouraging, youth inviting natural foods.


1. Fibroblasts are cells in connective tissue which produce collagen and other fibers.

2. Carotenoids are any of a class of mainly yellow, orange, or red fat-soluble pigments, including carotene, which give color to plant parts such as ripe tomatoes and autumn leaves.

3. Non-provitamin A carotenoids are those that do not exhibit Vitamin A activity.

4. GAG: Glycosaminoglycans (GAGs) and proteoglycans (PGs) are abundant structural components of the extracellular matrix in addition to collagen fibers.

5. Peptides build collagen. collagen is made of three polypeptide chains, so adding peptides can stimulate your skin to make collagen.

6. Lutein is a yellow or brown carotenoid plant pigment which causes the autumn colors of leaves.

7. Mitochondria: an organelle found in large numbers in most cells, in which the biochemical processes of respiration and energy production occur

8. Beta glucans are polysaccharides, dietary soluble fibers that are broken down by the beta glucanase enzyme and help activate the body's healthy immune response, particularly focusing on supporting innate immune response.


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