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Collagen is a type of protein that is used as connective and support tissue throughout the body. According to “Human Biochemistry and Disease,” collagen makes up 75 percent of our skin composition and 30 percent of our bodies overall. There are four types of collagen, although Type I receives more attention from the cosmetic industry because it is present in our skin, ligaments and bones. Type I collagen helps provide firmness and elasticity to our skin, as sagging and wrinkling occur without it. Essential nutrients are needed for collagen production and can be obtained from natural sources.

Requirements of Collagen Production

Collagen fibers are made from protein that has a high proportion of two amino acids, called hydroxylysine and hydroxyproline. These amino acids are important for formation of all types of collagen and provide the tensile strength and flexibility properties. For the body to form these amino acids and produce collagen, dietary sources of lysine and proline are required. In addition, vitamin C is needed by the body to convert proline into hydroxyproline, and lysine into hydroxylysine. Vitamin C is also a powerful antioxidant that scavenges free radicals, which are known to damage collagen and contribute to aging and tissue destruction. Hyaluronic acid promotes collagen function, as it is needed to bind the collagen and elastin fibers together to form collagen bundles. Hyaluronic acid is also required to repair and replace damaged and dead collagen fibers.

Natural Sources of Lysine and Proline

Animal foods rich in protein, such as meat, chicken and fish, are the primary source of both lysine and proline. Egg whites are also an especially good source of proline, and some claim that brushing egg whites onto wrinkled skin can promote collagen production externally and help smooth out wrinkles, at least in the short term. According to “Nutritional Sciences,” a source of plant protein rich in proline is wheat germ, which contains much more than would normally be expected from a plant food.

Lean meats, such as chicken and some fish, and low-fat dairy products are healthy and concentrated sources of lysine. From plant foods, legumes are significant sources of lysine, especially peanuts. Fresh fish, especially their heart tissues, are also rich in coenzyme Q-10, which promotes collagen regeneration inside the body.

Natural Sources of Vitamin C

As noted, vitamin C helps the body produce and repair collagen. Vitamin C is found in many vegetables and fruits, with citrus varieties being a particularly rich source of collagen. Oranges, lemons, strawberries, kiwis and guavas are obvious choices, but rose hips are one of the richest sources of vitamin C by weight and rose hip extract contains fully formed collagen protein, according to “Vitamins: Fundamental Aspects in Nutrition and Health.”

Vegetable sources rich in vitamin C include broccoli, red and green peppers, and Brussels spouts. Wheatgrass juice is an excellent source of many nutrients, especially vitamin C.

Natural Sources of Hyaluronic Acid

The best source of hyaluronic acid is seaweeds, in particular kelp, although soy products, sweet potato, avocado and mango are other good sources. Hyaluronic acid is commonly found in animal cartilage, so chicken wings and fish soup would be good animal sources.