As women, we know the importance of all of our hormones. And we know the effects they can have when they’re out of balance or levels are diminished. They all have a profound influence on how we feel, as well as our overall health. They can control everything from how stressed we feel to how cold (or how hot) we feel. They influence energy levels, sex drive, and have a huge influence on how we age.
Perhaps the hormone that gets most of our attention—estrogen—rightly does so because of all of the systems that it affects. Besides being a main reproductive hormone, it also has an influence on anxiety, on mood, how well we sleep, and so much more.
Now, as we age, estrogen naturally drops—and it does so in great amounts after menopause. The effect? Our body changes. And our body’s functions change. Significantly.
We will notice this decrease in many parts of our day-to-day lives, and one of the more overt ones is how it affects the health of our skin. As estrogen decreases, so do other compounds that support our skin—which means we need to pay extra attention to what we can do to counteract this effect of aging. One of our allies in the fight against declining estrogen levels comes in the form of a supportive protein in our bodies called collagen.
A Decrease in Estrogen
After menopause (which occurs, on average, at age 52),[*] your ovaries make very little estrogen.[*][*] As your estrogen level drops that raise the risk of a variety of health problems. At the same time, you also lose active ovarian follicles (these are the structures that produce and release eggs).[*] This decline in your estrogen is important because the hormone has an effect on all of your major organ systems.[*]
Estrogen and Skin Connection
The health of your skin is influenced by many factors; one of the main ones is estrogen deficiency.[*] That’s because hormones help support skin thickness (your skin is thinnest at the beginning of the menstrual cycle when estrogen levels are the lowest).[*] After menopause, skin loses some of its elasticity and moisture—and is more vulnerable to wrinkling.[*][*] In fact, skin thickness decreases by more than 1% a year after menopause (and collagen content is thought to drop by 30% in the first five years after menopause).[*][*]
Why Collagen Matters
Collagen—the most abundant protein in our body (about one-third of our body’s protein)—is a fibrous, insoluble protein.[*][*] It’s found in our connective tissue in what’s called the extracellular matrix; the molecules pack together to form a structure to your skin and other tissue. There are 16 types of collagen in your body, but most of it comes in the form of three main types that are found in your skin, bones, cartilage, ligaments, and tendons.[*][*] The main purpose is to help your tissue withstand stretching. So when collagen decreases with age, you’re more likely to develop things that are associated with, well, less stretchiness, such as wrinkles, saggy skin, joint pain, weakened muscles, and gastrointestinal problems (which stems from the thinning of the lining of your GI tract).[*]
A lot of things can have a damaging effect on collagen, including sugar and refined carbs, as well as smoking. But naturally, our collagen content declines, meaning you’re losing 1% a year.[*][*][*][*]
Without the structural support of collagen, blood vessels, tendons, and skin are compromised. All of these, of course, are important to your overall health, but for now, we’ll look at the effect on skin. After all, it’s the largest organ of the body—and is a proxy for your overall health.[*][*][*][*]
How to Get More Collagen
In Your Diet
I like to get it through bone broth—a nutritious stock made by simmering animal bones, marrow, and connective tissue (this is where collagen is found). While traditional cultures consumed the whole animal (skin, bones, and cartilage), today’s de-boned, skin-less, lean-meat-laden diets deprive us of that essential fibrous protein, which supports bone and joint health as well as bouncy, plump, youthful skin. That’s why I prefer to eat bone broth, which contains the gelatin that is cooked collagen (gelatin is a protein substance). Some tips for making bone broth:
- Be sure to select wild or organic, pasture-raised, free-range, antibiotic and hormone-free meat and bones whenever you can.
- If you want to increase the nutrition of your bone broth, go to the butcher’s department at your grocery store, or local farm and ask for chicken feet (make sure to ask that they are already cleaned, unless you don’t mind doing that!). By adding chicken feet, you’ll give your bone broth the added bonus of even more gelatin.
- If you don’t want to make it, you can purchase it in powder form.
As a Supplement
Taking collagen supplements may promote the production of other proteins that help structure your skin, including elastin and fibrillin. Many supplement purists favor collagen capsules as their preferred delivery system for a variety of reasons, most often because it eliminates an additional step in the food prep process and offers a simple way to balance the collagen-to-protein ratio as part of a keto practice. Search on the nutrition label for terms like “collagen peptides,” “collagen hydrolysate” or “hydrolyzed collagen” on the ingredients label of your supplement to ensure you’re getting the real thing.
Choose a collagen supplement that is clean and pure—following the same principles as with food ingredients. In my experience, collagen supplement formulas that include proprietary ingredients, offer traceable ingredients derived from high-quality sources and are stable, clinically tested, and thoroughly studied for efficacy and safety are hands down your best bet. For optimal benefits, choose one formulated with collagen peptides, which are broken down into microscopic compounds that the body can utilize more quickly to support collagen production as well as the vibrancy of connective tissue.
Based on studies, taking a 2.5g to 5g collagen supplement is most ideal to get optimal results.
Regardless of whether you choose a delicious bone broth or quick supplement, you’ll be adding a boost to your skin’s appearance and overall health. And that’s something worth smiling about.