The substance known as collagen is produced in the body by animals and has been used for thousands of years as a health aid. Because humans are animals, the human body produces collagen, although this process slows down as we get older. This breakdown is the reason skin starts sagging and joints start hurting.
One potential way to stave off the effects of collagen breakdown is through the use of collagen supplements. Many consider collagen to be an essential component offering numerous other health benefits. So let’s take a look at what collagen is, what it does, how it’s used, and the impact of new methods of making plant-based, vegan collagen.
What is Collagen?
Collagen is a family of proteins that make up the connective tissues in animals. There are five different types (named type 1 through type 5) of collagen made up of 28 different varieties. It’s a very common substance, comprising about a third of the proteins in the human body. As much as 90% of the collagen in the body is type 1 and can be found in the skin, certain internal organs, tendons, and parts of bone.
What is Collagen Used For?
Collagen has many medical uses, including as a treatment for osteoarthritis. As people get older, the collagen in their joints starts to break down faster than their bodies can produce it. Collagen supplements offer relief from joint pain and a means to help bolster a body’s collagen production. Sometimes a person will undergo surgery to introduce collagen to their arthritic joints.
A more common use for collagen is as a topical application to treat wounds or severe burns. Used in this way, it can promote healing and prevent infection. This application takes the form of a gel substrate or sponge. Placed over a wound, this helps to keep the injury moist and the collagen introduces a cellular structure to help regenerate cells and produce new collagen.
But one of the most common uses of collagen is as a dietary supplement that helps to promote healthy skin, hair, and nails; prevent bone loss; and stimulate both brain and gut health. Collagen supplements can also provide better sleep and help recover from strenuous workouts.
Where Does Collagen Come From?
Most supplements produced today are made from bovine collagen, primarily sourced from cowhide and hooves, or marine collagen, which comes from fish in the form of skin, scales, and bones. Marine collagen and bovine collagen are structurally identical — they’re both made from the same amino acids.
Marine collagen has been championed by individuals who opt for a meat-free lifestyle. So while those who follow a pescatarian diet have a resource for using collagen as a dietary supplement, there hasn’t been a source of vegan collagen. Until now.
What is Vegan Collagen?
If collagen is derived from animal protein, then what is vegan collagen?
Collagen does not occur naturally outside of an animal source. No plants synthesize collagen. But with today’s technology, it’s possible to make collagen through the use of genetically modified yeast and bacteria.
Through research, scientists have discovered that a certain bacteria, most commonly P. pastoris, has proven to be an effective agent creating high-quality, genetically engineered collagen.
Why Make Vegan Collagen?
Individuals following a strict vegan lifestyle stick to a plant-based diet and avoid eating any source of animal protein. But as a lifestyle choice, this decision can extend much further. Many vegans eschew the use of animal products altogether, including leather shoes, belts, coats, and even brushes made from animal hair. This can even extend to cosmetics, many of which are traditionally made using animal products or produced with animal testing.
How is Vegan Collagen Created?
The manufacture of vegan collagen begins with four human genes that generate the specific code for collagen. These are added to the genetic code of the target microbes. From there, the bacteria or yeast will use the inserted code to begin manufacturing the amino acids that build human collagen.
Once this production is underway, pepsin is introduced to the process. Pepsin is the digestive enzyme in the stomach. Its job is to break down proteins, and it moves this process along by helping the organism’s genetic structure turn the amino acids into a substance that has the same molecular structure as human collagen.
When the process is complete, the end result is collagen that hasn’t been derived from any animal source. In short, it’s 100% vegan collagen.
Benefits of Vegan Collagen
The advent of a plant-based, inexpensive, and totally safe type of collagen offers many benefits to human health.
- Lower cost to consumers. The use of bacteria or yeast to make manufactured collagen can be very cost-effective. Although it hasn’t been mass-produced by a lab yet, the process is eminently scalable. This offers the potential of widely available, lower-cost collagen that can be used for all applications, including supplements as well as health and medical applications.
- Lower cost for medical procedures. In addition to consumers, collagen is often used in a medical setting. Whether it’s used for sutures, stimulating skin or tissue growth, to promote healing, or as a matrix to deliver medicines, the ability to manufacture low-cost collagen will be of great benefit to the medical community.
- Higher safety standards. Not all collagen supplements are created equally. Some collagen sources can be highly processed, wiping out any health benefits they would otherwise impart. But creating collagen in a controlled laboratory setting allows for accurate sourcing and makes the final product traceable. Being able to know where any given batch of collagen comes from makes it safer for all consumers to use.
- Lower allergic and disease transmission risk. Since collagen is sourced from animals, some experts warn that using it comes with a risk of transmitting diseases and other illnesses. But collagen sourced from microbes manufactured in a controlled environment would eliminate this risk. Allergens and disease-causing elements would be removed during the manufacturing process.
- Vegan health and beauty use. If you choose to live an animal-friendly lifestyle, you likely avoid using collagen supplements or treatments. But with plant-based solutions now possible, vegans can access the health benefits of collagen, whether it’s used to reduce wrinkles, support joints, or promote a body’s natural production of collagen.
Finding Vegan Collagen
Right now, true vegan collagen is rather rare. There aren’t many companies who are manufacturing it currently. But the technology that creates vegan collagen is in its early days. As the demand continues to rise, more companies will begin to produce it and in greater quantities. It’s very likely to be quite common in a short time.
But if you can’t find a reputable source of vegan collagen, you still have a few options.
Many companies offer “collagen boosters” that contain a selection of vitamins and minerals, most commonly vitamin C and zinc, that are used by the body to naturally produce collagen. Some of these products also include various herbs and vegetable extracts that are thought to help collagen production.
Vegans can also gain the benefits of collagen by taking amino acid supplements. The three amino acids most responsible for collagen production are glycine, lysine, and proline. This is the solution offered by the majority of vegan-friendly companies as an alternative to animal-based collagen supplements.
Instead of taking a supplement, you can introduce the different vitamins and minerals that help with collagen production to your diet. This will help with your amino acid needs. Plant-based foods high in all three amino acids key in collagen production include:
- soy products like soy protein, tempeh, and tofu
- kidney beans and black beans
- numerous other legumes like chickpeas and peanuts
- many seeds like sunflower, pumpkin, and chia
- nuts such as cashews, walnuts, and pistachios
- vegetables like red bell peppers, tomatoes, and dark leafy greens
- fruits including citrus and berries
Frequently Asked Questions About Vegan Collagen
What is collagen?
Collagen is a naturally occurring organic substance produced by animals. It’s often thought of as the framework that holds the body together.
What is vegan collagen?
Vegan collagen is a variant of collagen that is entirely plant-based.
How is vegan collagen made?
Vegan collagen is manufactured through the use of microbes such as yeast and bacteria. It’s created in a controlled laboratory setting.
Is vegan collagen safe?
Yes. Because vegan collagen is grown in a lab following strict health regulations, vegan collagen is 100% safe to use.
Where can I find vegan collagen?
The technology used to produce vegan collagen is new, so it can be a hard item to find. But many health stores, including online shops, sell some form of vegan collagen or a vegan collagen booster.
What’s a vegan collagen booster?
A vegan collagen booster is a supplement or substance that helps stimulate collagen production in the user’s body.
How much does vegan collagen cost?
Right now vegan collagen will cost you, on average, between $20 and $30 for a 20-day supply. As with any product, it’s wise to shop around and compare different brands.
A Final Word From Wellness Nova
Although vegan collagen isn’t widely available now, the demand for a plant-based alternative to traditional collagen sources is markedly on the rise. So don’t be surprised to see it appearing on store shelves in the very near future.