Could a collagen deficiency be making you feel and look older than you are?
By the time you hit 25, your natural collagen production slows down. But when your body's natural stores of collagen are low, how does your body react?
There are several symptoms of collagen deficiency that you may experience. This article will detail how and why collagen deficiencies happen, common signs of a collagen deficiency, and what you can do to add more collagen to your diet.
What is collagen, and why is it important?
To understand how a lack of collagen can impact your body's functioning, you must first understand how collagen works.
Collagen is a protein found in animals – including humans. Where is collagen found? Everywhere! It is the most abundant protein in the human body, and is located in all of your connective tissues, muscles, ligaments, and your skin.
Collagen acts like building blocks that provide structure and support for your body. This important protein keeps your body flexible and strong.
The collagen molecules themselves are made of non-essential amino acids, meaning your body can produce them on its own.
But, as early as in your mid-20s, your natural collagen production starts to slow down. This can cause many changes in your body, and you may even develop a collagen deficiency.
What is a collagen deficiency?
Just because everyone's collagen production slows down with age doesn't mean that everyone will experience a deficiency in collagen. We also want to clarify that we are not discussing collagen vascular disease when talking about a deficiency.
In people without this disease, it’s possible to get enough collagen and collagen-boosting nutrients from their diet. However, some people may begin to experience a collagen deficiency if they are not integrating any collagen into their diets or if they are exposed to environments that damage their collagen.
A deficiency in collagen should be thought of as the side effect of your body no longer producing enough collagen to build, replace, and repair connective tissues. So what are the signs of such a deficiency? Let’s take a look.
12 common collagen deficiency symptoms
Some signs of collagen deficiency are natural parts of aging that we all will experience. However, a deficiency in collagen may mean that these symptoms occur earlier in your life or with more severity.
Remember: We are not attempting to diagnose any disorders. We want to raise awareness surrounding how collagen deficiency symptoms may present in your body. If you believe you have a deficiency in collagen, be sure to discuss it with your doctor.
If you have a collagen deficiency, you may experience:
- Wrinkles and loss of skin elasticity
- Brittle hair and nails
- Hollow cheeks
- Joint pain
- Osteoporosis and Osteoarthritis
- Muscle loss and aching
- Poor circulation
- High blood pressure
- Minor organ prolapse
- Gastrointestinal issues
- Slow recovery time after injury
To help you better understand the effects that a lack of collagen can have on your body, let’s explore some of these symptoms further.
Wrinkles and loss of skin elasticity
One of the earliest signs of a decrease in collagen production is a loss of skin elasticity. If you are in your 20s and are starting to get wrinkles already, then a collagen deficiency might need to be on your radar.
Now, a serious lack of collagen isn't the only reason for wrinkled or sagging skin, but it can be a contributing factor. 70-80% of your skin is made up of collagen, so if you have a deficiency, your body will struggle to produce extra collagen and repair your existing collagen.
The little collagen left in your body will likely be redirected to vital organs and areas of your body in dire need of repair – not to your skin. This means your skin will start to see signs of wear and tear more rapidly if you don’t have collagen to provide for it.
Joint pain is another all too common problem, especially as you get older. Although we often assume this is just a natural part of aging, it can often be due to a deficiency in collagen.
The cartilage in your joints needs collagen to rebuild and repair itself. As your body slows down collagen production or is even deficient in collagen, your cartilage may begin to suffer.
Collagen is the primary building block of many structural parts of your body, but it also helps add elasticity to connective tissues and cartilage. Without ample elasticity, cartilage could be more susceptible to damage, making it unable to function with normal joint movement.
Beyond the cartilage in your joints, collagen is essential for ligaments, tendons, and bone structures, too. If all of these components in your joints struggle to keep up with the demands of daily life because of a collagen deficiency, you may experience joint inflammation and pain.
Muscle loss and aching
Whether or not you are an active or athletic person, a deficiency in collagen may cause muscle aches. If you are an athlete or exercise regularly, you may contribute your muscle aches to your workouts. However, long recovery times after workouts may also point to collagen deficiency.
Collagen gives your muscles flexibility, and repairs your muscles after you use them. If you don’t have enough collagen, your muscles may not respond as quickly as they used to. They could even be losing mass, and they may take longer to recover after physical exercise.
Not all gastrointestinal issues are tied to a lack of collagen, but if you have leaky gut syndrome in particular, a collagen deficiency may be contributing. “Leaky gut” is a condition that causes gaps in the lining of your intestines, allowing toxins and bacteria to enter your bloodstream.
Everyone has openings in their intestines known as “tight junctions.” These junctions are tiny and should only allow your body to absorb nutrients. If you have a leaky gut, larger particles can slip out. This becomes an issue, because it changes the entire microbiome of your gut, causing inflammation and infection.
Collagen is essential for organ tissues. If you do not have enough collagen to help repair intestinal walls and tight junctions, then a leaky gut may worsen. Having enough collagen in your body helps it to produce new smooth cells to repair the stomach and intestinal walls.
Slow recovery time after injury
Recovering post-surgery, or recovering from any other type of injury or wound becomes more difficult when you don't have enough collagen to repair that area of the body.
Your body may be sending all available reserves of collagen to repair and rebuild the damaged tissue. Slow healing wounds causes can include a number of things, but an existing collagen deficiency will certainly cause your body to struggle more with healing the injury.
When any part of your body is injured, your body uses proteins to repair cells, synthesize healing enzymes, and multiply cells to apply and rebuild the damaged structures. Eating a high protein diet, in general, can help this process along, but the protein that is most significant in tissue structure is collagen.
FAQs about collagen deficiencies
Since your body naturally begins to lose collagen synthesis as you age, avoiding foods and environments that may damage your body’s supply of collagen is essential.
You may wonder, “At what age does healing slow down? When do I need to watch out for these things? And what can I do once I notice signs of a collagen deficiency?”
Let’s take a look at some of the most common questions about this deficiency:
What causes a collagen deficiency?
Some of the most common things that damage your collagen include refined sugars, smoking, and prolonged exposure to UV light.
Refined sugars are quickly turned into glucose and fructose, and your body produces insulin. During this process, collagen molecules are susceptible to cross-linking, which makes them incapable of repairing themselves.
The glucose and fructose in refined sugary foods link amino acids that make up a collagen molecule with elastin. This process may cause an acceleration of lost elasticity in body tissues when sugar is elevated, or your skin is exposed to UV light.
Smoking also directly impacts your natural collagen production. Smoking and exposure to secondhand smoke have been shown to not only damage collagen synthesis rates but destroy collagen altogether. The more you smoke, the more damage to your collagen production you are likely to experience.
Collagen deficiency, like any other vitamin deficiency, can also be caused by dietary issues. Poor diet and age can cause otherwise normal collagen production slowdown to be far more detrimental.
How do you fix a collagen deficiency?
So, you’ve noticed a wound not healing, wrinkles you weren’t prepared for, or other clues that you may have a serious lack of collagen. What should you do next?
The most important thing to do is contact your healthcare team. They can help you rule out any more serious issues that might be causing your symptoms. Then, you can work together to make a plan to deal with any of the symptoms you’re experiencing.
A collagen deficiency – like other problems due to age – isn’t something that can be entirely erased. The good news is that it’s something you can manage easily. Let’s take a look at a couple of ways to do this.
What foods are high in collagen?
It is possible to get enough collagen through your diet. It’s important to note that collagen is a protein derived from animals, so there is no vegan source of collagen protein.
If you are comfortable with consuming animal proteins, you may already be getting some collagen in your diet. Foods rich in existing collagen include:
- Tough cuts of meat, such as brisket, chuck steak, and pot roasts
- Bone broth (chicken or beef)
- Skin and bones of fish
However, most collagen that you eat in the natural form is too big for your body to digest fully. Since you can’t digest all of the collagen you consume, you still won’t get enough to replenish your collagen or address the collagen deficiency symptoms.
What is the best way to rebuild your body’s collagen levels?
Since diet alone won’t fully address your lack of collagen, you’ll need to find another way to help your body replenish collagen levels. Daily supplements can help you bring more collagen into your diet, as well as giving your body the vitamins it needs for collagen absorption.
Not all types of collagen supplements are created equal, though. When looking for an effective, high-quality collagen supplement, it is important to always look for hydrolyzed collagen.
Hydrolyzed collagen means that the raw collagen has gone through a natural chemical reaction that makes the molecules smaller and more easily digestible.
The U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) classifies ingestible collagen as Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS). ProT Gold’s liquid protein supplements are safe to take daily because they’re highly digestible and medical grade.
If you are experiencing collagen deficiency, adding a simple supplement like this in your daily routine could help you look and feel more youthful and energized.
What to do when you notice signs of a collagen deficiency
Signs of a lack of collagen are often overlooked or written off as “aging”. And while less collagen in the body is a natural part of aging, you don’t have to suffer with it. By taking a few steps to address what your body needs, you can feel more like yourself again.
First, make sure you talk with your doctor about any suspected vitamin deficiencies. They’ll be able to help you rule out anything dangerous, and can encourage you to take any extra steps needed to stay healthy.
Then, review your diet and lifestyle. Include more foods that are rich in collagen and vitamins, and make sure you get plenty of rest. Cut back on foods high in refined sugar or carbs and avoid tanning or smoking. They might be contributing to the problem!
Finally, add in a hydrolyzed collagen protein supplement to make sure that your body can access all the nutrients it needs. By taking these preventative and supportive steps, what you once dismissed as “aging” can have less of an impact on your life, letting you get back to what you love most.