Collagen and hyaluronic acid are compounds in your skin and other connective tissues. Hyaluronic acid is needed to bind collagen with elastin, which are fibers that give your skin its stretch. Your body naturally breaks down and recycles collagen and hyaluronic acid on a continuous basis. However, excessive sun exposure, injury and nutritional deficiencies can create reduced availability of collagen and hyaluronic acid and result in connective tissue degradation, which manifests as wrinkles, thinning cartilage, brittle hair and other common signs of aging. Some supplements may slow the breakdown of collagen and hyaluronic acid, whereas others may help stimulate their production.
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Collagen is a protein found mostly in fibrous tissues such as skin, ligaments and tendons, but it’s also abundant in cartilage, bone and blood vessels. All connective tissue, but especially skin, is engaged in a constant cycle of repair and regeneration. The rate of collagen breakdown significantly increases after the age of 40 and is thought to be primarily related to natural aging factors, although nutritional and environmental factors are involved to varying degrees also . Taking measures to boost your collagen production and reduce its breakdown is important for maintaining healthy collagen balance in aging skin.
Hyaluronic acid is also found in all connective tissues because it’s needed to bind collagen with elastin. A lack of hyaluronic acid leads to less lubrication in your joints and less elasticity of your skin, which increases the likelihood of cartilage destruction and saggy, wrinkled skin. Your body also produces less hyaluronic acid as you age. The connective tissues of animals are the only natural source of hyaluronic acid, although certain nutrients mildly stimulate your body to produce more of it.
Supplements that Reduce Breakdown
The breakdown of collagen and hyaluronic acid are natural processes that cannot be stopped, but they can become imbalanced with aging. Perhaps the most effective way to reduce the breakdown of these compounds in your skin and joints is to reduce factors you can control, such as UV radiation from the sun, cigarette smoking, vitamin deficiencies, chlorinated water and high-impact exercise. However, some supplements are being developed to inhibit the function of certain matrix enzymes called MMPs, which act to decompose collagen and start the recycling process. These supplements are not approved yet, although alpha lipoic acid and retinoids are known to indirectly slow the synthesis of MMPs. This in theory should slow down the breakdown of collagen, according to the “Textbook of Functional Medicine.” Alpha lipoic acid, or ALA, is found in many foods, especially organ meats, spinach, broccoli and yeast extract. ALA is also widely available as a supplement. Retinoids are compounds chemically related to vitamin A and include retinol, retinoic acid, etretinate, tazarotene and others.
Supplements that Stimulate Production
Since collagen and hyaluronic acid breakdown is a natural process that cannot or should not be completely stopped, stimulating your body to make more of the compounds may be a better strategy. For example, in order for your body to make collagen, it needs vitamin C, lysine and proline. Supplementing with these nutrients allows your body to replenish damaged or old collagen. Egg whites and wheat germ are good sources of proline, whereas all lean meats, fish, dairy products and nuts are good sources of lysine. Soy products, magnesium-rich foods and seaweeds such as kelp stimulate hyaluronic acid production. Furthermore, collagen and hyaluronic acid supplements can be taken directly. Collagen cream is applied directly to skin, whereas hyaluronic acid can be taken orally or injected directly into joints.