How Collagen Can Help Protect You From Alzheimer’s

Yes it’s great for skin, hair and nails. But it’s even better for your brain.

Cast your mind back to a previous life, one that was lived before the age of the supermarket, before food was stripped down to its constituent parts and sold in tidy plastic containers. You bought meat from the local butcher, or perhaps reared your own animals. Nose-to-tail eating was the norm and nothing was wasted.

During that life you almost certainly consumed a lot of collagen, found in the parts of the animal that today are routinely discarded: cartilage, skin, bones and all the gristly bits that fail to make the grade and are instead incorporated into pet food and cosmetics.

Lucky pets and lucky cosmetics industry. This cheap by-product is crammed into as many creams, serums, potions and supplements as humanly possible. It is the secret elixir that makes skin glow with youthful radiance, and hair thick and lustrous.

For once, all the marketing claims are not as absurd as they appear. It’s just a shame that collagen’s main purpose in life — to make us strong and healthy — has been relegated to second place.

What is this wonder stuff?

Collagen is the most abundant protein in all mammals, including us. It constitutes 20%-30% of all proteins in the body and is present inside and outside of cells. It provides structure and support. It also encases the brain and spinal cord. Fascia, the thin layer of connective tissue that encompasses and holds together every organ, muscle, bone, blood vessel and nerve fibre in the body, is comprised almost entirely of collagen.

There are more than 20 different types of collagen. Connective tissue contains mainly types I, II and III. Hair and skin contain mainly type 1 collagen, and this is the type used in cosmetic products. Types IV and V are found in internal organs. Type VI is the one that plays a special role in the brain.

Collagen is already used medically in bone and cartilage reconstruction and wound dressing. Because it is involved in tissue repair, collagen has recently emerged as an excellent brain repair material, being biocompatible, biodegradable and non-toxic. Scientists have discovered that when injected, collagen type VI protects brain cells that are in a state of degeneration against amyloid-beta (Aβ) proteins. These are the proteins that are widely believed to cause Alzheimer’s disease.

“Overall, collagen is a promising natural biomaterial with various applications which has the potential to progress the development of therapeutic strategies in central nervous system injuries and degeneration.”

Collagen VI, it turns out, is a crucial part of the brain’s defence system. It is found abundantly in, and gives structure to, the blood-brain barrier. This barrier is the membrane that controls the substances that pass from general circulation into the brain, in the same way that the gut barrier controls what passes from gut to circulation. Collagen also has an antioxidant, protective effect against free radicals generated by oxidative stress. Free radicals are unstable molecules that can cause extensive damage to tissues if not kept in check by antioxidants.

“These findings were really surprising and exciting to us because nobody knew anything about collagen VI in the brain”

Collagen and autophagy

Lack of collagen VI in the brain contributes to neurodegeneration in other ways: it impairs the process of autophagy. Autophagy is the “clutter-clearing” process that takes place in cells and is crucial for protection from neurodegenerative diseases. Brain cells are highly dependent on this quality-control process, where old, worn-out components are destroyed and disposed of.

When autophagy is defective, rogue proteins can start clumping together to form aggregates, and these aggregates are an indication of neuron death. Tau protein tangles and Aβ plaques are examples of these proteins and are a feature of the brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease.

For more details about the role of autophagy in the brain, see:

You need collagen, and the good news is that you don’t have to inject it, or rub it into your scalp. This highly protective material is made by your own brain cells from three key amino acids that are found in high protein foods: glycine, proline and hydroxyproline.


This is the main one: around a third of collagen is made up of glycine.

Amino acids may be essential (you have to obtain them from diet), non-essential (your body can make them from other amino acids), or conditionally essential. Conditionally essential means that production may be poor, or non-existent in some people, especially newborns, the sick, the stressed, and the elderly. It can also mean that even in the healthy, fit individual, it is not possible to make enough to meet requirements.

Glycine falls into the latter category. Although it is considered non-essential, it “is not sufficiently synthesized” in humans and other animals. Therefore you should ideally get your supplies from diet.

Previous works of our group have shown that glycine is an essential amino acid, which must be present in the diet in large amounts to satisfy the demands for collagen synthesis.”

The top, most bioabsorbable dietary sources of glycine are:

  • Beef
  • Veal
  • Cuttlefish and octopus
  • Chicken
  • Scallops
  • Lamb
  • Turkey


This amino acid comprises about 10%-15% of collagen. It too is a conditionally essential amino acid.

The top, most bioabsorbable dietary sources of proline are:

  • Cheese
  • Chicken
  • Turkey
  • Beef
  • Veal
  • Lamb


Hydroxyproline comprises about 14% of collagen.

The top, most bioabsorbable dietary sources of proline are:

  • Chicken
  • Venison
  • Beef
  • Turkey
  • Bison

Vitamin C is also of paramount importance because it incorporates proline and hydroxyproline into collagen. Good levels of vitamin C are found in fruit (especially berries), potatoes, peppers, leafy green vegetables.

The problem with the central nervous system is that its capacity to regenerate itself is very limited. Therefore, you should make it as easy as possible to enable the process. As well as ensuring your diet contains the building blocks of collagen synthesis, i.e. the key amino acids, you can also increase your collagen intake by following another great trend du jour, bone broth.

Bone broth is the collagen-rich liquid that oozes from bones and connective tissue when cooked in water over a lengthy period of time. You can make your own, if you have the time (it takes all day) and inclination (recipes are widely available on the Internet). Otherwise, you can, thankfully, buy bone broth ready-made.

Like all the best things that our bodies are able to produce on their own, our ability to make collagen diminishes with age. So too does our ability to digest protein and absorb amino acids. But don’t let that stop you from staying one step ahead. Eat more collagen for both beauty and brains.

Copyright © 2023 Maria Cross All rights reserved.


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