Why Collagen Isn't Vegan: Can You Replace Collagen Supplements? - Amandean

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June 11, 2020 8 min read

In this article:

  • How our bodies produce collagen
  • Collagen Sources: Animal & Plant
  • Barriers to Vegan collagen supplements
  • Boosting natural collagen production with Vitamin C
  • Synthetic (lab-grown) collagen alternatives
  • Collagen Builders vs. Collagen Boosters

As a vegan, you might already be well accustomed to exercising a lot of effort when it comes to your nutrition. Finding alternatives isn’t always an easy task. However, when it comes to collagen, that’s where things become tricky. Essentially, collagen is a protein derived from animal sources only. Over the years, we have received countless emails asking about plant-based and vegan-friendly collagen alternatives. We can assure you that the absence of this product in our product line is not for lack of trying! Let’s find out more.

In this article, we’re demystifying questions around vegan collagen by looking at the process of collagen production and its structure. As getting enough collagen can be a challenge for vegans, we also examine ways to boost collagen production when following a plant-based diet.

Collagen Structure & Production

The ability to produce collagen is a luxury we’ve been blessed with as humans, but how exactly do our bodies do this? In the most simple terms, our bodies need to break down dietary protein into amino acids. According to astudy conducted by O. Shoseyov et al., collagen has always been extracted from animal sources. When it comes to collagen synthesis, a multitude of genes, associated proteins, and cofactorsare required for this process to take place. The essence of this phase lies in its complex, multifaceted post-translation processing, avers throughout history. The same study also states that even the slightest deviations in gene and post-translational modifications may jeopardize the entire collagen synthesis process.

without which the actual maturation of protein would not be achieved. So, what is it that precedes the actual collagen maturation as the focal point of collagen production?

According to theaforementioned study, modifications of procollagen (a precursor of collagen) represent the crucial steps in collagen manufacturing. What’s more, yet another predominant factor is the amount and activity of the multienzyme prolyl 4-hydroxylases (P4H) complex, which has been found to boost the protein’s viability and stability. Compromised P4H activity and levels may lead to a substantial decrease in collagen secretion, and could even contribute to inherited extracellular matrix (ECM) disorders.

Can Collagen Be Vegan?

As collagen’s presence in the structure of humans and mammals has been firmly established, you may be curious about the possibility of this protein being found in flora. A study titledHuman Recombinant Type I Collagen Produced in Plants confirms the presence of not only collagen, but also the enzymes necessary for its production, in certain plants. Namely, native collagen, as well as three modifying enzymes necessary for collagen maturationhave been detected in a specifically recruited tobacco plant expression platform.

Theoretically speaking, plant collagen alternatives, including silkworm, bacterial, and yeast expression systems do represent an intriguing alternative to the known sources. According to the hypothesis presented in the aforementionedstudy, in ideal conditions, these options would be cost-effective, easily manipulable, and safe.

However, when it comes to plant sources, ithas been found that these alternatives usually do not contain the necessary enzymes and co-factors crucial in the hydroxylation of the vital amino acids lysine and proline. Basically, we need more than a source of collagen in order for our bodies to utilize it. Due to the lack of disulfide bridge formation, plant-derived sources of collagen are mostly considered“unfit for expression of mature and functional collagen”. What’s more, plant-based sources of collagen don’t yet offer the cost-effectiveness of collagen from animal sources. The production of yeast expression systems, for instance, requires complex stainless steel fermentation systems and support facilities. The cost-effectiveness is low in terms of getting a container of vegan-friendly collagen onto your kitchen counter for everyday use.  

Therefore, even though a more sustainable, cost-efficient plant-based collagen is an attractive product in theory, in reality, it’s not yet viable to bring to the market. Namely, the plant-based expressionseems to lack the necessary enzymatic support needed for our bodies to use it efficiently, lowering the chances of collagen molecule durability and activity. To be more specific, plant sources of collagen contain P4H, but whatappears to be the issue is the lack of a stable substrate sequence specificity characteristic of mammalian P4H. Another remarkabledifference between the two sources is the absence of sialic acid units and galactose in non-mammal collagen. According to acollagen review, the abundance of setbacks when it comes to plant alternative sources still make animal-sourced collagen the favorable option.

Promote Collagen Production with Vitamin C & Powerful Nutrients

Yes,animal-derived collagen is certainly the most effective, straightforward way ofboosting your natural collagen production and gettingthe numerous health benefits of collagen. However, this doesn’t mean that as a vegan you don’t have any options. There are definite ways to improve collagen synthesis through nutrition.

Aside from the mentioned enzymes, genes, and cofactors necessary for optimal collagen production, there are other vital components of this machinery. We’ve already established that vegan collagen is not yet market viable, but vegan sources of necessary nutrients for collagen production can easily be implemented in a plant-based diet. According to anarticle focused on vegan collagen sources, withoutvitamin C, amino acids, silica, copper, and polysaccharides, the complex process of collagen synthesis would be seriously jeopardized.

Vegan Collagen Boosters

Amino acids, such as proline,can be found in vegetables like cabbage, asparagus, mushrooms, and bamboo shoots, as these are the leading plant protein sources. Sinceproline is one of the key factors in collagen synthesis, these veggies should certainly be incorporated into vegan dishes. What’s more, astudy conducted by E. Karna and colleagues suggests that proline is particularly important in metabolizing collagen, serving as a predominant substrate for collagen synthesis.

When it comes to amino acids, lysine, found in pea protein and quinoa, appears to boost the composition of self-assembled collagen fibrils, an in vitro study by X. Liu et al. confirms. These mentioned plant-based varietieshave been established as complete proteins offering varied amounts of the needed amino acids. Furthermore, aloe vera, rich in polysaccharides,has been found to contribute to the natural collagen manufacturing process by creating resilient, larger collagen assemblies. In addition, astudy conducted by M. Tanaka and colleagues associates aloe vera consumption with significantly improved production of both collagen and hyaluronic acid, as well as wound healing.

Silica is yet another praisedcollagen-boosting nutrient found in a number of plants, especially in bamboo. When it comes to its benefits, silicahas been found to promote the health of skin, hair, and nails by supporting the production of collagen and elastin. Moreover, copperhas been recognized as a highly efficientskin-boosting nutrient, improving the collagen and elastin fiber components in the skin. Copper alsoappears to bind with collagen-building peptides, promoting theanti-aging properties of collagen.

Vitamin C & Collagen

Most importantly, vitamin C (ascorbic acid)is considered the most valuable component of collagen synthesis, without which the body would not be able to produce or store collagen. One of the main roles ofascorbic acid in collagen synthesis focuses on theconversion of the amino acid proline into hydroxyproline - the main stabilizing factor of collagen structure. What’s more,vitamin C has also been shown to promote collagen gene expression, astudy conducted by N. Boyera et al. concludes. Vitamin C deficiency would not only compromise collagen production, but consequentlylead to skin issues, tender joints, and brittle hair.

Lab-Grown Collagen, An Alternative for Vegans?

Many vegans may be wondering if plant-based sources are the only hopeful option. However, it seems that lab-grown collagen (synthetic collagen) is indeed a viable alternative. the closest we’ll get to a vegan collagen alternative, astartup calledGeltor announces. According toGeltor, non-animal-sourced collagen proteinwill be manufactured in a process similar to beer production, where scientists will utilize oxygen, nitrogen, and carbon in microbial fermentation. Could lab-grown collagen powder become the Impossible burger of the supplement world? Maybe!

Judging by the enthusiasm surrounding theGeltor project, it won’t be long until vegans and vegetarians worldwide are able to purchase a collagen peptides powder and use it just like the carnivores and omnivores among us.

Lab-Grown Collagen

The Difference Between Collagen Building Blocks and Collagen Boosters

When talking about collagen building blocks, we’re referring to the component amino acids, including proline, lysine, and glycine. On the other hand, collagen boosters entail nutrientsacting as stimulants - the sole purpose of which is to boost collagen production, as the term itself implies. However, as opposed to collagen building blocks, collagen boosterscannot be found in the structure of the protein.

Therefore, plant-sourced nutrients belong to the group of collagen boosters responsible for supporting and increasing the process of collagen biosynthesis. What’s more, collagen boostersplay a remarkable role in the biofunctionality and stability ofcollagen protein. Both collagen builders and collagen boosters are associated with the promotion of collagen synthesis in the body, the only difference is that collagen building blocks are also the integral parts of the protein itself.

In conclusion, products you see that claim to be a vegan source of collagen are essentially collagen-production boosters only. They are NOT actual collagen supplements from a plant or vegan-friendly source. Therefore, if you’re following a plant-based diet, you should make sure your nutrition is as diverse as it can be, encompassing all the macronutrients you need to maintain optimal health and aid your body in producing the collagen you need to stay healthy and age gracefully. Looking for more all-natural, non-GMO supplementation from us? Head over to ouronline store.

Summary Points

  • Collagen productions slows as we age, which requires supplementation
  • Collagen supplements on the market are 100% from animal-based sources
  • Plant-based collagen sources are difficult to extract & for our bodies to use efficiently
  • Eating a diet rich in Vitamin C or adding a Vitamin C supplement to your nutrition helps to boost natural collagen production
  • A synthetic (lab-grown) collagen alternatives that is Vegan-friendly is on the way
  • Collagen building blocks are amino acids, while collagen boosters are stimulants that promote collagen production
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Article References:

  1. Oded Shoseyov, Yehudit Posen, and Frida Grynspan.Tissue Engineering Part A.Jul 2013.1527-1533.http://doi.org/10.1089/ten.tea.2012.0347
  2. Avila Rodríguez, M. I., Rodríguez Barroso, L. G., & Sánchez, M. L. (2017). Collagen: A review on its sources and potential cosmetic applications. Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology, 17(1), 20–26. https://doi.org/10.1111/jocd.12450
  3. Vegan Collagen Sources 101: How to Boost Collagen Naturally. (n.d.). Retrieved May 25, 2020, from Ora Organic website:https://shop.ora.organic/blogs/news/vegan-collagen-sources
  4. Karna, E., Miltyk, W., Wołczyński, S., & Pałka, J. A. (2001). The potential mechanism for glutamine-induced collagen biosynthesis in cultured human skin fibroblasts. Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology Part B: Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, 130(1), 23–32. https://doi.org/10.1016/s1096-4959(01)00400-6
  5. Liu, X., Dan, N., & Dan, W. (2017). Insight into the collagen assembly in the presence of lysine and glutamic acid: An in vitro study. Materials Science and Engineering: C, 70, 689–700. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.msec.2016.09.037
  6. Tanaka, M., Misawa, E., Yamauchi, K., Abe, F., & Ishizaki, C. (2015). Effects of plant sterols derived from Aloe vera gel on human dermal fibroblasts in vitro and on skin condition in Japanese women. Clinical, cosmetic and investigational dermatology, 8, 95–104.https://doi.org/10.2147/CCID.S75441
  7. Borkow G. (2014). Using Copper to Improve the Well-Being of the Skin. Current chemical biology, 8(2), 89–102.https://doi.org/10.2174/2212796809666150227223857
  8. Peterkofsky B. (1991). Ascorbate requirement for hydroxylation and secretion of procollagen: relationship to inhibition of collagen synthesis in scurvy. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 54(6 Suppl), 1135S–1140S. https://doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/54.6.1135s
  9. Colville, W. (2018, October 9). Lab-grown gelatin is the fake food of the future, one start-up believes. Retrieved May 26, 2020, from CNBC website: https://www.cnbc.com/2018/10/09/lab-grown-gelatin-is-the-fake-food-of-the-future-a-start-up-believes.html
  10. Boyera, N., Galey, I., & Bernard, B. A. (1998). Effect of vitamin C and its derivatives on collagen synthesis and cross-linking by normal human fibroblasts. International journal of cosmetic science, 20(3), 151–158.https://doi.org/10.1046/j.1467-2494.1998.171747.x
  11. Murakami, H., & Kobayashi, H. (n.d.). Amino acid composition promoting collagen synthesis. Retrieved May 26, 2020, from https://patents.google.com/patent/US7645796B2/en

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