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Tropical Fruits, Sulfur, Silica, and Other Secrets for Collagen Production

Have you heard about the benefits of taking collagen, but don't want to take an animal-based supplement? Well, here is the good news: we can boost our own collagen production! While this is not exactly news, there are some severely neglected and overlooked secrets to boosting your collagen the vegan way!

We produce collagen ourselves – more or less effective. But how can we boost collagen naturally without animal products? The key lies in the biologically-appropriate diet of humans, which is very high in tropical fruits (read more here)! Additionally, we can address common deficiencies and other nutrients that don’t get too much attention, but are no less important for health and collagen production!

Organic sulfur: the secret collagen booster

Despite the well-studied and documented success of MSM (organic sulfur), it still is a true secret and treasure in health – even though it has been around a long time!

MSM is a natural molecule that serves as a sulfur donor for the body and is a major nutrient for the build-up of collagen. MSM is typically used in cartilage supplements (however in relatively low dosage) for skin issues and nail and hair growth. It is also known as a natural pain killer.

MSM stands short for methylsulfonylmethane, and while the chemical nomenclature might sound “scarily unnatural”, it is a natural compound found in plant foods and the human body itself.

Why do we need to supplement MSM if we can produce it ourselves? Because sulfur is falling short in the modern food supply, as our food plants themselves grow on sulfur-depleted soils. Thus, we see a widespread but silent deficiency of sulfur in humans. This condition is hardly ever mentioned in health topics, but we see the symptoms everywhere around us. 

MSM is non-toxic, generally recognized as safe by the FDA, and recommendations are around 5 g per day (see here). In fact, MSM has even been successfully administered intravenously, as reported by the discovering university researcher Dr. Herschler:

“In U.S. Pat. No. 4,296,130, I teach that methylsulfonylmethane is so inert and non-toxic that aqueous solutions thereof can be used as a blood diluent. In healthy humans or other animals having adequately high methylsulfonylmethane blood levels, methylsulfonylmethane is in fact “inert” in the sense the term is used in that patent. However, in acutely ill patients, dramatic beneficial benefits are often obtained by the intravenous administration of large doses of methylsulfonylmethane.”

Robert J Herschler, 1989

Besides collagen boost, MSM has multiple stunning documented benefits (see here) and is gaining momentum in serious health research! Why? Because it helps the body to function integratively by providing an often neglected nutrient:

  • MSM supplements the essential nutrient sulfur (mineral)
  • Sulfur is part of important co-factors for enzymatic activity
  • MSM aids the building of the sulfur-containing amino acids methionine and cysteine, and thus proper protein-folding
  • Sulfur supports phase II detoxification in the liver, which is easily overburdened (see here)
  • MSM has effective anti-parasitic effects
  • MSM boosts collagen, hair, and nail production

Read more on the effects of MSM and how to use it here.

Silica: the neglected collagen booster

Silica is known to be the “skin mineral” and, not surprisingly, is important for collagen production. This is why we hear about the effects of celery a lot: celery juice is one of the best plant-based sources of silica! It is not uncommon for animals to eat mineral-rich earth to supplement their diet. Diatomaceous earth and many clays are high in silica and have been used for health and beauty for thousands of years.

Iodine and selenium: the hidden collagen boosters

Thyroid activity is important for collagen production. Iodine is a key nutrient for the thyroid. Underactive thyroids are often caused by iodine deficiency. Selenium is needed for iodine utilization in the body. It is just a few dots that we need to connect to find that iodine and selenium are essential for collagen production!

In our usual food supply and environment, the two trace nutrients are not abundantly available, which is why supplementation is crucial for health and collagen production.

The good news is that iodine and selenium can be supplemented naturally: iodine-rich seaweed (i.e., kelp) and selenium-rich Brazil nuts.

Zinc and copper: the collagen builder and repairer

A very important enzyme for the extracellular matrix (the space around cells, where collagen happens to be placed) is lysyl oxidase: this enzyme transforms the collagen precursors (lysine residue) into collagen and elastin (Kumari et al., 2016) and depends on the mineral copper as its co-factor. Copper, however, is found in abundance in many types of foods, and even in organic and non-organic pesticide use. Copper overload is more likely than deficiency and causes zinc depletion! Zinc deficiency is more widespread:

Enough zinc is essential for skin health and wound healing: the mineral is needed for collagen-repairing enzymes as a co-factor. To see if you benefit from taking zinc, you can take supplements and see if your wound healing improves. In addition, you can up your zinc nutritionally by eating nuts, especially cashews. 

If you do think you suffer from zinc deficiency, also be aware of pyroluria, a metabolic condition whereby zinc is excreted and lost in higher concentrations than normal via urine.

Iron: keeping collagen “in shape”

Similarly to zinc deficiency, iron deficiency is widespread, especially among women. When running low on iron, collagen proteins are not processed properly after their production, because iron is a cofactor of the enzyme prolyl 4-hydroxylase which is needed for “stable” collagen protein structure (Vasta & Raines, 2006).

I personally have felt greatly improved skin texture and firmness after addressing my iron deficiency. A high vitamin C intake (see below) can greatly improve iron uptake from plant sources.

Vitamin C: tropical fruits are the key

Vitamin C is the usual recommendation for natural collagen enhancement. But did you know that there is more to this? The right amount and source of vitamin C matters: As frugivores, we need much more than we thought, around 2000-3000 mg daily! Read more in our in-depth article on vitamin C requirements.

It is hardly ever discussed that our natural diet contains much more fruit (and vitamin C) than we are aware of today! This is the reason we benefit so intensely from supplementing the micronutrients in high dosages! A high-fruit diet is also why humans have lost their functional vitamin C genes – unlike mammals that do not have a high-fruit diet (they synthesize vitamin C internally). Further, the importance of tropical fruits for health is vastly neglected: Our original, natural diet in evolutionary history was mostly tropical fruits (see below)!

Therefore, the number one thing you can do for collagen is to eat a lot of tropical fruits! Let’s say ten pieces a day if you will! Bananas, mangoes, açai bowls, lychees, durian, jackfruit, passion fruit, etc. If you cannot reach this amount, consider supplementing with camu camu fruit extract.

But let’s start from the beginning to really understand why we can benefit so much from a high tropical fruit intake, including better skin through collagen: A very high vitamin C diet is actually our normal, natural diet! Because our biology is that of a tropical frugivore. Frugivores are species that naturally have a diet high in fruit.

Tropical fruits are the number one suitable food for humans – according to our evolutionary background, as well as anatomical and physiological adaptations to fruit diets! Like other apes, humans biologically are a tropical, highly frugivorous species!

Frugivorous primates – like chimpanzees – eat around 70% of tropical fruits in the wild. Depending on the availability of fruits, they eat a fruit-only diet for an extended period! Other than fruits, chimpanzees forage for nuts, flowers, greens, tubers, and a small amount of animal-based food (mostly insects).

While there is an enormous wealth and diversity of tropical fruits (size, taste, chemical composition, acidity, sweetness, colors, seed size, etc.), it is intriguing that most wild tropical fruits are edible for humans. In contrast, most wild-type fruits of temperate climates were not edible for humans before they were hybridized and selectively bred. This pattern only makes sense in light of humans being tropical frugivores: humans have evolved in the tropics with fruits as our primary food source.

Diets that do not contain high vitamin C levels can cause other (common) nutrient deficiencies like iron, folic acid, or amino acids because vitamin C is involved in their absorption or metabolism. Sadly, most diets do not reach an optimal fruit intake for our naturally frugivorous species!

Boron: the forgotten collagen-booster

Boron is important in collagen production. And once more, the solution to address common boron deficiency lies in knowing about our frugivorous diet, which is high in tropical fruits and nuts! Both foods are naturally high in boron.

Neglecting our true natural diet can make us miss out on the boron that is delivered with the fruits and nuts: sub-optimal fruit and nut intake also leads to sub-optimal boron levels – which we all know is essential for skin quality!

“…boric-acid solution improved wound healing through action on the extracellular matrix.. these beneficial effects of boron were due to direct actions on specific enzymes found in fibroblasts: elastase, trypsin-like enzymes, collagenase, and alkaline phosphatase.”

L. Pizzorno, Review Article; Integrative Medicine Vol. 14 (2015)

What can we generally do to boost collagen production?

As health-conscious people, we know that it is equally important what we leave out as what we take in. Cutting out junk food, food additives, toxic and harsh chemicals, alcohol, and smoking for better skin is a no-brainer, but what can we avoid that sabotages our collagen production, that is not as obvious?

  • Avoid coffee and chocolate: the two most common addictive stimulants, unfortunately, are also effective mineral-uptake inhibitors. Moreover, they interfere with healthy thyroid function.
  • Decrease cooked foods and increase raw foods
  • Strive towards our species-appropriate diet, by avoiding foods that are not suitable for humans

Leave a comment or question below and let me know if you were able to get younger skin the kind way 🙂

Go to Supplementation on a natural diet

Go To What foods are naturally suitable for humans here


  1. Methylsulfonylmethane (MSM): Overview, uses, side effects, precautions, interactions, dosing and reviews. WebMD (available at https://www.webmd.com/vitamins/ai/ingredientmono-522/methylsulfonylmethane-msm). (link)
  2. M. Castori, Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, hypermobility type: An underdiagnosed hereditary connective tissue disorder with mucocutaneous, articular, and systemic manifestations. ISRN Dermatology2012, 1–22 (2012), doi:10.5402/2012/751768. (link)
  3. E.-L. S. Hinckley, C. T. Driscoll, Sulfur fertiliser use in the midwestern US increases as atmospheric sulfur deposition declines with improved air quality. Communications Earth & Environment3 (2022), doi:10.1038/s43247-022-00662-9. (link)
  4. M. Butawan, R. Benjamin, R. Bloomer, Methylsulfonylmethane: Applications and safety of a novel dietary supplement. Nutrients9, 290 (2017). (link)
  5. MSM (methylsulfonylmethane): Uses and risks. WebMD (available at https://www.webmd.com/vitamins-and-supplements/msm-methylsulfonylmethane-uses-and-risks). (link)
  6. US4914135A – use of methylsulfonylmethane to treat parasitic infections. Google Patents (available at https://patents.google.com/patent/US4914135A/en). (link)
  7. M. Butawan, R. Benjamin, R. Bloomer, Methylsulfonylmethane: Applications and safety of a novel dietary supplement. Nutrients9, 290 (2017). (link)
  8. N. Muizzuddin, Beneficial effects of a sulfur-containing supplement on hair and nail condition. Natural Medicine Journal (2022) (available at https://www.naturalmedicinejournal.com/journal/beneficial-effects-sulfur-containing-supplement-hair-and-nail-condition). (link)
  9. L. A. Araújo, F. Addor, P. M. Campos, Use of silicon for skin and hair care: An approach of chemical forms available and efficacy. Anais Brasileiros de Dermatologia91, 331–335 (2016), doi:10.1590/abd1806-4841.20163986. (link)
  10. S. Sayago-Ayerdi, D. L. García-Martínez, A. C. Ramírez-Castillo, H. R. Ramírez-Concepción, M. Viuda-Martos, Tropical fruits and their co-products as bioactive compounds and their health effects: A Review. Foods10, 1952 (2021). (link)
  11. L. Pizzorno, Nothing Boring About Boron. Integrative Medicine Encinitas. 14(4) 35.48 (2015) (link)
  12. A. C. Berardi, Thyroid hormones increase collagen I and cartilage oligomeric matrix protein (COMP) expression in vitrohuman tenocytes. Muscles, Ligaments and Tendons Journal (2014), doi:10.11138/mltj/2014.4.3.285. (link)
  13. Iodine deficiency. American Thyroid Association (available at https://www.thyroid.org/iodine-deficiency/). (link)
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  15. B. Warren, J. Sarris, R. T. Mulder, J. J. Rucklidge, Pyroluria: Fact or fiction? The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine27, 407–415 (2021), doi:10.1089/acm.2020.0151.
  16. Harris, E.D. et al. (2008) ‘Copper and the synthesis of elastin and collagen’, Novartis Foundation Symposia, pp. 163–182. doi:10.1002/9780470720622.ch9.
  17. Kumari, S., Panda, T.K. and Pradhan, T. (2016) ‘Lysyl oxidase: Its diversity in health and diseases’, Indian Journal of Clinical Biochemistry, 32(2), pp. 134–141. doi:10.1007/s12291-016-0576-7.
  18. Vasta, J.D. and Raines, R.T. (2016) ‘Human collagen prolyl 4-hydroxylase is activated by ligands for its Iron Center’, Biochemistry, 55(23), pp. 3224–3233. doi:10.1021/acs.biochem.6b00251. 

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Martina Spaeni Lima, MSc

"We are frugivores - specialized fruit-eaters!" It was passion at first sight when I came across the intriguing concept that humans are adapted to a high-fruit diet, similar to chimpanzees...

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