Collagen and elastin are two important protein-based compounds in your skin and other connective tissues. Collagen gives strength, support and form to connective tissues, whereas elastin provides stretch and flexibility. When you eat the skin and connective tissues of animal products, you consume collagen and elastin, which your body metabolizes into amino acids to build new proteins. As such, foods rich in certain amino acids provide your body with the building blocks needed to synthesize its own collagen and elastin fibers.
Collagen is made of protein and is the main component of connective tissues, such as skin, tendons, ligaments, cartilage, blood vessels and bone. There are five types of collagen fibers, with the type 1 variety the most common in your body. According to the book “Functional Biochemistry in Health and Disease,” collagen is the most abundant protein in your body, accounting for about 75 percent of skin and 30 percent of its overall protein content. Collagen fibers are rich in two processed amino acids, hydroxylysine and hydroxyproline. For your body to make these amino acids, it needs dietary sources of vitamin C, lysine and proline.
Elastin is also a protein found in connective tissue that allows for stretching and elastic properties. Its elastic properties are especially useful in your skin, large arteries, ligaments, bladder and lungs. Elastin is usually combined with collagen fibers to form collagen bundles. To make elastin, your body needs the same amino acids as for collagen, namely lysine and proline, as well as a few other basic amino acids found in a variety of foods. Hyaluronic acid and copper are needed to bind the collagen and elastin fibers together to form collagen bundles and for repairing and replacing collagen fibers.
Foods Rich in Lysine and Proline
Supplying your body with the building blocks to make collagen and elastin is a logical way to stimulate their production. According to “Nutrition and Wound Healing” by Joseph Molnar, egg whites are an especially good source of proline, as is wheat germ. Essentially, all lean meats, fish and dairy products are good sources of lysine, as are peanuts and other nuts and seeds.
Foods Rich in Vitamin C
Vitamin C is found in many vegetables and fruits, especially citrus types such as lemons and grapefruits. According to the “American Dietetic Association Complete Food and Nutrition Guide,” other foods high in vitamin C include rose hips, oranges, strawberries, kiwis, guavas, broccoli, bell peppers and Brussels spouts.
Foods Rich in Hyaluronic Acid and Copper
Excellent sources of hyaluronic acid include seaweeds, especially kelp, although soy products, sweet potato, avocado and mango are other good sources. Hyaluronic acid can also be metabolized from animal cartilage, so chicken wings and homemade chicken and beef soups are also good sources. Copper is found in organ meats, especially liver, and seafood such as crab meat, clams and oysters. Other good sources include hazelnuts, sunflower seeds, peanuts, lentils and shredded wheat cereal.
Foods that contain nutrients that have protective effects on collagen fibers and bundles include garlic, catechins found in green tea and the anthocyanidins found in deep-colored, red and blue berries and fruits, such as cherries, blueberries, blackberries and raspberries, as cited in the book “Nutritional Sciences.”