From youthful skin to painless joints, people attribute many positive health outcomes to collagen. To be sure, collagen–a protein in animals, including humans–offers many potential benefits. It’s found in connective tissue like tendons, ligaments, and cartilage. It’s also a major component of our skin. The human body makes its own, but production slows with age. It also gets damaged by sun exposure, smoking, and a high-sugar diet. That’s why many people turn to supplements.
However, for those who live a vegan lifestyle, whether for environmental, health, or ethical reasons, collagen is off the menu. That’s because the supplements are generally made from the collagen of fish or cows.
Lately, news has emerged about so-called “vegan collagen.” You may also see advertisements for “vegan collagen boosters.” I thought it would be a good idea to explain the difference so that you don’t feel confused or fall for any misleading advertising.
How Vegan Collagen Boosters Work
The most common reason people take collagen is to boost the appearance of their skin. It is also injected into injured joints. It’s also been reported to improve digestion and speed up metabolism. People who do not consume animal products are seeking a way to reap these benefits with a plant-based solution.
You may recall that I said your body makes its own collagen. In fact, it’s the most abundant protein in the body. Therefore, your first line of defense is to provide your body with the nutrients it needs to produce collagen. This means getting a full range of necessary vitamins and minerals, including plenty of vitamin C.
In the last year or two, many products with “vegan collagen” on the label have emerged on the market. As with anything, read the labels closely. These are simply supplements designed to help your body produce more of its own collagen. If you already eat a nutritious, balanced diet, and taking supplements to fill any gaps, you can skip these. Others are complete bunk, so use the same discretion you use with any supplements.
You can also protect your own collagen by shielding your skin from excessive UV exposure and eating plenty of protein.
Is There Really Such a Thing as Vegan Collagen?
A few products, however, actually contain a genetically engineered substance that mimics collagen. Currently, only beauty products, like face cream, contain this “vegan collagen.” However, the science behind it is interesting, and we could expect to see supplements on the market in the near future. How does it work?
Collagen is a particular assembly of amino acids. You may recall from an earlier post that amino acids may come from plant or animal sources. Scientists can break down the proteins from plant sources and re-combine them into a structure that matches collagen.
Another method, described in the journal Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology, genetically alters yeast or bacteria. Scientists take human genes, the ones that tell your body to make collagen and introduce them into the yeast or bacteria. The bacteria then make the building blocks of human collagen. The study proposes that this method can make products that improve safety, traceability, reproducibility, and quality. Lab-made collagen could also cost less. Your willingness to try them may, however, depend on your comfort level with genetically modified products.
The pursuit of vegan collagen is a hot topic in the natural health world right now, and one I will continue to watch. In the meantime, take care of your overall health, and talk to your doctor about any specific health concerns.