What is Collagen? Think of it as the glue that holds these things together. And naturally, as we age, our production of collagen slows (hello, wrinkles and weak muscles!). You’ve probably seen a lot of advertising for collagen peptides or bone broth collagen scattered throughout your social feeds. And there’s a reason for the collagen spotlight right now:
Protein in abundance – Collagen
Collagen is the most abundant protein in our bodies. It’s what’s found in our skin, digestive system, bones, blood vessels, muscles, and tendons. Our bodies and dietary needs change as we age, especially as we reach our 40s. On top of that, people become less active. This slows metabolism and energy levels. It’s why you’ll notice many older adults consuming smaller meals and opting out of snacking. Your nutrition needs will also definitely change too. Consuming foods high in protein will provide your body with the amino acids needed to make more protein. Luckily, there are plenty of sources of collagen out there too, as well as antioxidant-rich foods to help boost your intake so your body stays in tip-top shape. Many people take collagen supplements to add more collagen to their diet.
Most collagen supplements go through the process of hydrolyzation. This means that the manufacturer has broken the collagen in the supplements down into peptides, making it easier for the body to absorb and use. Collagen supplements are available in the form of tablets, capsules, and powders. Many are available to buy online. Whether or not collagen supplements are effective depends on what a person uses collagen for.
There are several potential health benefits that collagen supplements offer. However, scientists have not fully studied all the alleged benefits. Also, as with any supplement, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not evaluate any claims that a company makes on how well their collagen product works.
Alternative for Animal-based Collagen
Instead of being sourced from animals, collagen can now be made by using genetically modified yeast and bacteria. Researchers have found that the bacteria P. pastoris, in particular, is the most effective and commonly used for genetically engineering high-quality collagen.
To produce collagen, four human genes that code for collagen are added to the genetic structure of the microbes. Once the genes are in place, the yeast or bacteria then start to produce building blocks of human collagen.
Pepsin, a digestive enzyme, is added to help structure the building blocks into collagen molecules with the exact structure of human collagen. The ability to make inexpensive, safe collagen sourced from microbes instead of animals has many promising applications for human health.
Using yeast or bacteria to produce collagen is cost-effective and highly scalable in a lab environment. While it hasn’t rolled out as a mass-produced product yet, this has the potential to lower the cost of collagen for all consumers and make it widely available for various uses from medical treatments to supplements.
While the biggest benefit is that no animals are harmed, there are other pros to vegan collagen, especially for folks who may have allergies.
For example, there’s some concern over the risk of transmission of illness through animal-sourced collagen. Collagen via microbes would eliminate this potential issue because it’s produced in a controlled environment where common allergens or other harmful substances can be removed.
The lab-controlled setting gives manufacturers the ability to improve the safety profile. If the source is easily traceable, it makes it a safer product for all consumers.
There are many potential medical benefits to this technology, as collagen is used for much more than just dietary supplements. The ability to genetically engineer collagen safely and effectively may be beneficial for many medical procedures. Collagen is commonly used:
It can also serve as a vehicle for drug delivery, or for certain tumour treatments.
The majority of collagen supplements on the market are animal-based, which means people who live an environmentally-friendly or vegan-friendly lifestyle can’t access these products. With vegan options available, they can now take collagen to potentially help reduce the appearance of wrinkles and stimulate their body to produce more collagen naturally as well as support joint and digestive health. But science is still building around these products and applications, so at this time, most of the promises around supplements can still be considered hype.
Currently, actual vegan collagen is hard to come by. Most companies sell “collagen boosters” as supplements. These boosters contain various vitamins and minerals, such as vitamin C and zinc that the body needs to make collagen. Some may also include plant extracts and herbs that are also found to help stimulate collagen production. You can add these vitamins and minerals through your diet, instead of a supplement, to help you meet your amino acids needs. The most abundant amino acids in collagen are glycine, lysine, and proline.
Plant-based foods high in all three amino acids include 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.
Another way to get the benefits of collagen as a vegan is to take individual amino acid supplements. These are what many vegan-friendly companies sell instead of pure collagen supplements. Taking collagen supplements as a healthcare professional directs is generally safe. A person should always talk to their doctor before starting any new supplements or increasing the use of any existing supplement. In general, the side effects of collagen supplements are mild and can include: diarrhoea, a general feeling of heaviness in the stomach and rashes. Otherwise, in most adults, taking collagen supplements should not pose any significant health risks.
Are they suitable for vegans and vegetarians?
Most collagen supplements are not vegan or vegetarian friendly. Manufacturers tend to produce them using the bones and protein of animals. However, some vegan and vegetarian collagen options are available. The vegan options may not be available everywhere, but many are available online. A person can also use collagen supplements while following a keto diet plan. Similar to vegan options, a person may want to look for a collagen supplement that specifically aims to support the keto diet. Many people know collagen for its role in supporting skin health and vitality. However, it might also help promote other areas of health, such as bone, joint, and heart health. People can consume collagen supplements they purchase from a number of online and local stores, and they can usually find a type that matches their specific dietary needs. For most people, taking collagen should not have any major effects or health consequences.