Can Collagen Be Vegan? Let’s Find Out!
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Collagen supplements have exploded on the anti-aging, health and wellness scenes recently and there are good reasons why! However, collagen supplements are currently and primarily sourced from unused parts of animals and fish. So if you don't eat meat and/or fish, can collagen be vegan?
In this article, we're going to explore that and more, so let's get started!
Exactly what is collagen?
Well-known New York Dermatologist Whitney Bowe explains that collagen is the most abundant protein in the human body.
Collagen protein is large, long, strong and flexible.
Interestingly, in Greek, collagen translates to 'glue'.
It holds together and supports the skin, connective tissue, arteries, cartilage, muscles and bones in your body. It even appears in your eye!
Also, collagen is a very important part of the wound healing process. Without the rush of collagen in the process, our skin would remain open and vulnerable to toxins.
As you get older, your body starts to gradually break down collagen faster than you can replace it, leading to a collagen deficiency.
What does collagen deficiency look like?
You will recognize collagen deficiency through the typical signs of aging like wrinkles, fine lines, 'crepey' skin, joint pain, cranky gut and smaller muscles--just to name a few.
What are collagen fibers made of?
Although we talked about what collagen protein is, you may be wondering what collagen is made of.
All proteins, including collagen, start with the building blocks of essential and non-essential amino acids.
Most notably, the type of protein we're talking about in this article has a high concentration of non-essential amino acids of proline, glycine and hydroxyproline.
Don't be confused--'non-essential' amino acids are just as important to your overall health as essential amino acids. In fact, non-essential amino acids support tissue growth and repair, immune function, red blood cell formation and hormone synthesis.
Another cool fact is that the amino acid sequence of collagen is unique in the world. There is nowhere else, including plants, where this specific sequence can be found.
Once the body assembles these required amino acids, vitamin C, zinc and copper complete the collagen synthesis.
What is collagen powder made of?
Collagen powder is usually made from the unused skin and connective tissue from animals like cows/cattle, as well as the skin and scales from fish.
Manufacturers of collagen supplements start with the unused parts of animals and fish (better than throwing them away!) and boil them for hours to extract the protein.
Because raw collagen protein is so large that it can't be absorbed by the body, manufacturers use water (hydrolyzation) to break the protein down into much smaller pieces. These tiny pieces are called peptides.
As a result of the hydrolyzation, peptides are better able to be absorbed by the body.
Are collagen peptides vegan?
Generally, collagen peptides are not vegan. This is because they are derived from animals, typically from bovine (cow/cattle) and marine (fish) sources.
However, modern science is experimenting with creating collagen protein in a lab.
Alternative vegan sources of collagen?
Although traditionally collagen supplements are sourced from animals--usually bovine and marine sources.
However, with the recent production of 'manufactured, plant-based foods', researchers are pursuing the possibility of creating the collagen protein in a lab.
- Researchers have taken the amino acids from non-animal sources like hemp, soy, and pea protein and re-created the same protein structure.
- Scientists have discovered they can combine genetically-modified yeast and bacteria to produce a collagen-like alternative.
Although these new advances of lab-based collagen creation, there still need more testing before it becomes widely available in the marketplace.
Benefits of vegan collagen
Once true vegan collagen does become more widely and commercially available, you can expect these important benefits:
Making collagen protein in a lab environment can create the scale needed to reduce the cost for consumers.
Less risk of allergies
One of the side effects of animal-sourced collagen protein is allergies. Vegan collagen can help reduce the risk of those allergies.
With lab-created collagen, the risk of illnesses transmitted from animals goes away.
Availability for medical procedures
Another benefit of lab-produced (vs. animal-derived) collagen is that it can be used during medical procedure. For example, it can be used for:
- encouraging skin and tissue growth
- supporting faster and more complete wound healing
Beauty and body enhancer
Just like animal-sourced protein, vegan protein also holds the promise that it can provide anti-aging beauty benefits like less wrinkles and fine lines, improved scar and acne healing, lightening of age spots and more.
Not only that, but it might also be able to help support joint, heart, muscle, bone and gut health.
How do vegans get collagen?
As we mentioned, researchers have been working hard to create non-animal-sourced collagen protein.
Despite those efforts, these lab-created products aren't widely available for consumers.
Are there other options to help your body create new collagen and protect what your body already has?
Yes, here are a list of options for you to incorporate into your daily routine:
Today, you can buy supplements that use a different approach to increase collagen in the user's body.
For example, there are produces that are made with a a blend of nutrients that are designed to boost your body's natural collagen production.
Eat foods high in amino acids and vitamin C
Eating plant-based foods high in all three amino acids in collagen and foods that are a source of vitamin C can help your body produce new collagen naturally.
Here are some foods that are we suggest eating often:
- soy products: tempeh, tofu, and soy protein
- black beans
- kidney beans
- many other legumes
- seeds: especially pumpkin, squash, sunflower, and chia
- nuts: pistachio, peanut, and cashew
- Broccoli, papaya, kiwi fruit, citrus fruits, kale and red peppers
Amino acid supplements
You can take the same amino acids in collagen (and vitamin C) in the form of supplements to help create new protein.
Biotin, a B vitamin, is another alternative to taking collagen supplements and it can support healthy skin, hair and nails.
To get more biotin, you can take it as a supplement or through eating foods like nuts, seeds, and avocados.
Collagen is the most abundant protein in the human body. It appears almost everywhere and is especially abundant in the skin, cartilage, tendons, gut, arteries and nails.
Currently, collagen peptides supplements are derived from animals and fish. Because of that, it leaves vegetarians and vegans without a way to supplement their body with this important protein.
Recently, researchers have experimented with different ways to re-create this important protein in a lab, but we're just not there yet for wide distribution.
Alternatively, if you prefer not to use animal-derived collagen, there are nutrient-based supplements that are easily available. They work to boost collagen production rather than adding collagen to the user's body.
As you've learned in this article, you can take collagen-boosting, vegan supplements to help your body promote collagen creation.