You may have been told that you have to take a collagen supplement with added vitamin C for maximum health benefits.
Or that collagen powder can’t be absorbed without vitamin C.
But is this actually true? Not necessarily.
In this article, we’ll explain why and discuss everything you need to know about the collagen-vitamin C relationship to help you separate facts from fiction.
- Your body needs various nutrients, including vitamin C, for collagen production.
- Vitamin C does not improve your body’s ability to absorb collagen.
- If you consume a well-balanced diet, you are unlikely to be deficient in vitamin C. Therefore, most people do not need to consume a collagen supplement with vitamin C.
So what is collagen and why is it important?
WHAT IT IS…
Collagen is the most abundant protein in the human body, accounting for around 30% of its total protein. It is the primary building block of your body’s connective tissues, including the skin, bones, muscles, ligaments, and tendons.
Collagen is also present in your blood vessels, organs, and the lining of your intestines
Collagen consists of amino acids — primarily proline, hydroxyproline, and glycine — bound together to form protein fibrils in a triple helix structure.
In order to create the triple helix structure, your body needs adequate nutrients, including vitamin C, zinc, copper, and manganese.
WHY YOU NEED IT…
Because the knees are always the first to go...
Collagen makes up cartilage. Cartilage protects your joints by preventing the bone from rubbing against the bone (aka - osteoarthrisits).
It also supports joint functions and gut health, repairs and rebuilds connective tissues, and strengthens hair, skin, and nails.
Studies show that collagen loss in the body starts at around age 20.
1. You lose ~10% of your skin's collagen content every decade.
2. The density of your skin collagen decreases by ~8% every decade.
After the age of 40, we lose about 1% per year. This can cause signs of aging like wrinkles and sagging skin.
But that’s not all.
When collagen in your body drops, you may also experience the following:
- Weakening muscles and muscle aches
- Joint pain
- Problems with blood flow
- Stiff tendons or ligaments
- Loss of mobility
- Gut health issues
NATURAL FOOD SOURCES...
Collagen-rich foods come from animals. Only a few foods are naturally high in collagen. These include:
Bone Broth: A great source of gelatin and collagen, the two richest sources of glycine.
Organ Meats: Liver, tongue, heart, kidneys, and brain gave 1.5-3x the more collagen than muscle meat.
Meat on the Bone: Fish, chicken wings, chicken thighs, whole roasted chicken, bone-in cuts, pork ribs, venison ribs, etc.
Eggs: The shell membrane is where the collagens at and how egg shell collagen supplements are made.
HOW COLLAGEN SUPPLEMENTS ARE MADE...
Collagen peptide supplements are made by extracting collagen from animals such as cattle, chickens, fish, and eggshell membranes.
The extracted collagen goes through hydrolysis, which heats and breaks down the collagen into a form your body can absorb called collagen peptides.
VITAMIN C 101
Now that we are familiar with collagen, let's talk vitamin c.
WHAT IT IS…
Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) is an important vitamin that is necessary for healthy growth and development. It is a water-soluble vitamin, which means it dissolves in water.
Water-soluble vitamins are carried to the body's tissues but are not stored in the body. The amounts that are leftover are excreted through the urine. This means they must be consumed daily in your diet to prevent a deficiency.
WHY YOU NEED IT…
Vitamin C is critical in the growth and repair of tissues throughout your body. It is necessary to build collagen, which is used to make skin, tendons, ligaments, and blood vessels.
Vitamin C is also essential for a healthy immune system and healthy skin. It is used by the human body to heal wounds, maintain and repair teeth, bones, and cartilage, and aid in iron absorption.
As a potent antioxidant, vitamin C can strengthen your body’s natural defenses and block the damage caused by free radicals.
A buildup of free radicals can lead to oxidative stress, which often leads to chronic disease and premature skin aging.
The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) of vitamin C for adults is 90 milligrams daily for men and 75 milligrams for women.
Most people consume enough vitamin C in their diet, and deficiency is rare in developed countries such as the United States.
Smokers, people with limited food variety, and those with severe intestinal malabsorption are at a greater risk for deficiency.
A deficiency in vitamin C can cause scurvy, which causes symptoms like weakness, fatigue, anemia, skin problems, poor wound healing, and gum disease. Scurvy is caused by vitamin C’s role in collagen synthesis
The best dietary sources of vitamin C include:
- Raw red and green peppers
- Citrus fruits (oranges and grapefruit)
- Kiwi fruit
- Spinach, turnip greens, cabbage, and other leafy greens
- Sweet and white potatoes
HOW VITAMIN C SUPPLEMENTS ARE MADE...
Vitamin C supplements generally contain synthetic (artificial) ascorbic acid from China. Synthetic ascorbic acid is often made from corn sugar, corn starch, or rice starch and is chemically dependent on volatile acids.
Food-derived and synthetic forms of vitamin C are chemically identical and appear to be equally bioavailable in humans.
However, whole fruits and vegetables are preferred over vitamin C supplements because they are rich in other vitamins and minerals, fiber, antioxidants, and beneficial plant chemicals. These additional nutrients help your body get the most out of the food.
VITAMIN C AND COLLAGEN SYNTHESIS
In addition to amino acids and other nutrients, Vitamin C is important for collagen synthesis in the body. Without enough vitamin C in your diet, your body can’t form collagen.
Vitamin C is an essential cofactor for the enzymes prolyl hydroxylase and lysyl hydroxylase, which are responsible for turning proline and lysine into hydroxyproline and hydroxylysine, two amino acids unique to collagen.
Studies also show that vitamin C can also stimulate collagen production by fibroblasts.
If you do not have adequate vitamin C, fibroblasts produce unstable collagen which provides a weak framework for tissue repair and regeneration.
COLLAGEN AND VITAMIN C SUPPLEMENTS MYTHS AND FACTS
Understandably, it can be overwhelming and confusing to sort facts from fiction regarding collagen and vitamin C.
Here, we’ll be answering frequently asked questions about the relationship between collagen and vitamin C.
1) DO YOU NEED VITAMIN C TO ABSORB COLLAGEN?
No. While your body needs vitamin C to produce collagen, there is no solid scientific evidence to suggest that vitamin C influences collagen absorption.
2) DO YOU NEED TO TAKE A COLLAGEN SUPPLEMENT WITH VITAMIN C?
No. Taking collagen and vitamin C at the same is not necessary because Vitamin C is not needed for collagen absorption.
3) WHY DO SUPPLEMENT BRANDS ADD VITAMIN C TO THEIR COLLAGEN?
Spoiler alert: It’s mostly for marketing purposes.
SHOCKER. But not really!
Many supplement brands add vitamin C and other ingredients to their collagen products to make them appear superior to the competition. We now know that vitamin C is mandatory for collagen production but unnecessary for collagen absorption.
4) SHOULD YOU BUY A COLLAGEN SUPPLEMENT WITH VITAMIN C?
Most of us are getting more than enough vitamin C from our diet. So, as long as you’re consuming a balanced diet that includes fruits and vegetables, there’s really no reason to buy a collagen supplement with vitamin C.
There’s also not much evidence to suggest that supplementing above the RDA can help your body produce more collagen.
In fact, adding more ingredients to a product can cause chemical reactions to take place during storage, which can actually have an adverse effect and cause your collagen to lose its effectiveness.
In particular, high amounts of synthetic vitamin C may switch roles and act as a pro-oxidant and oxidize the amino acids during storage, which can subsequently lead to protein damage.
It’s also a good idea to monitor how much vitamin C you consume daily before purchasing a collagen supplement with added vitamin C. Excess vitamin C consumption can lead to digestive symptoms like heartburn, nausea, stomach cramps, and diarrhea.
5) WHEN SHOULD I TAKE VITAMIN C?
It’s best to consume vitamin C throughout the day as part of a well-balanced diet. However, if you decide to take a vitamin C supplement, you can take it any time during the day. It does not have to be consumed alongside your collagen powder.
6) WHEN SHOULD I TAKE COLLAGEN?
Collagen protein supplements can be taken at any time of the day. What matters the most is that you are taking collagen consistently. Find a time that works best for you and your schedule, and stick with it!
7) IS IT SAFE TO TAKE COLLAGEN WITH OTHER VITAMINS?
Collagen is generally considered safe and can be taken alongside other vitamin and mineral supplements.
In fact, it has the potential to provide you with too much vitamin C or even react with other ingredients in the product while sitting on the shelf, which can make it less effective.