Animal Collagen vs. Vegan Collagen: Do They Work Equally Well?
Collagen has been a buzzword in anti-aging and wellness for nearly a decade now. It’s the main structural protein in our body’s connective tissue, and as we age, the production of collagen declines. Supplementing collagen with powdered, liquid, or pill versions of it has been proven to improve everything from joint pain and arthritis to the texture of our skin. It’s available from sources including fish, cows, and pigs.
While animal collagen products continue to be top sellers for their excellent health benefits, most recent years have seen a rise in vegan collagen products. If you’ve noticed any of these products, you’ve probably wondered how exactly vegan collagen is possible, considering collagen is an animal protein. Is vegan collagen a real thing, and does it work as well as animal collagen?
Wait, does vegan collagen actually exist?
Short answer: unfortunately, no, it doesn’t.
“There are products on the market that are called ‘vegan collagen,’ however they do not contain actual collagen,” says Amrie DeFrates, RD of Amrie’s Homegrown. “Instead, they contain ingredients that they claim help consumers boost their own collagen production.”
“Collagen comes from animal byproducts, therefore it’s impossible to have a true vegan source,” adds Morgyn Clair, MS, RDN of Fit Healthy Momma.
Knowing now for sure that there’s no such thing as vegan collagen, let’s take a closer look at what exactly vegan collagen products are about, and if they work as well as animal collagen does.
What vegan collagen products are made of
Science has made headway in developing collagen out of plant-based bacteria, yeast, and amino acids, but it isn’t currently on the consumer market. Therefore, everything you see that says it’s “vegan collagen,” if you look more closely at the label, will instead be a vegan collagen booster.
“The body is constantly making its own collagen so long as the diet is sufficient in amino acids (protein), Vitamin C, zinc, copper, and other nutrients,” says DeFrates.
The premise behind vegan collagen is that by ingesting more of the nutrients that enable our bodies to make collagen, it will then make more of it. Generally, the first ingredient in vegan collagen products is vitamin C.
“Vitamin C is necessary for the maintenance and growth of natural body collagen,” Clair tells us. “It naturally works in the body for the synthesis of collagen; it works as the glue that holds the fibers together. It is one of the essential components in the body for being able to adequately build and maintain collagen,” she adds. Amino acids, minerals such as zinc and silica, and other nutrients may also be included in vegan collagen boosters.
Do vegan collagen boosters work?
As with any supplement you take, their ability to be useful is dependent on your body’s ability to process it. For those who are taking vegan collagen boosters, the premise is that your body just needs more of the precursors in order to make more collagen. However, that isn’t necessarily the case.
“It is plausible that the ingredients in vegan collagen supplements could be effective at promoting collagen in the body,” says DeFrates. “However, the products themselves have not been studied for quality or efficacy.”
Given that the main ingredient in vegan collagen boosters is vitamin C, and it’s a nutrient that most of us easily reach the recommended daily allowance of daily, more of it won’t necessarily equate to more collagen produced by your body. There’s likely no harm in consuming vegan collagen products, but considering that they haven’t been studied well and that they’re made mostly of easy-to-find ingredients that already exist in our diets, experts are hesitant to claim that they can accomplish much.
“It is possible that consuming a vegan collagen product may increase the body’s ability to make collagen,” says DeFrates. “However, a food-first approach can achieve the same outcome because the nutrients in vegan collagen products are also widely found in foods.”
Why animal collagen reigns supreme
One of the biggest benefits of animal collagen is simply how little work is needed by your body in order for it to be effective. It doesn’t matter how well, or not well, your body is creating collagen out of its precursors. By taking collagen straight, studies have shown that it can have tangible results.
In addition to its positive effect on skin elasticity and joint pain, collagen peptides have been proven to increase the bone density of postmenopausal women. It’s also been shown to increase the body composition and muscle strength of elderly men. And all those fans of collagen, claiming it made their hair more lustrous and their nails less brittle? Those facets of collagen supplementation have been studied and proven to be true.
How to consume collagen (and collagen boosters) to get the most out of them
If you prefer to focus on plant-based foods and have been using vegan collagen boosters to increase your collagen production, you may have found yourself disappointed. Chances are, you can reap the same level of benefits through food alone. Bell peppers are a chief source of vitamin c; legumes, nuts, oats, seeds, and tofu for zinc; leafy greens, bananas, and brown rice for silica.
To find more animal collagen in your diet naturally, that too can be found in food.
“I always suggest real foods before supplements because foods have additional benefits such as vitamins, minerals, and other proteins,” says Clair. Fish, chicken, beef, and lamb cooked with bones provide a rich source of collagen, as do soups and stews made with bones.
“It is important to consume a diet rich in protein, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains so the body can properly put collagen, in any form, to use,” DeFrates tells us.
However, DeFrates notes that collagen supplements do offer more than food alone can. “While a food-first approach is preferred, supplementation might be necessary to achieve a therapeutic dose of collagen,” she says. “In scientific studies, the amount of collagen given varies from 2.5 grams to 20 grams. More research is needed on which of the 28 types of collagen and therapeutic dosing before a solid recommendation can be made. She notes that bone broth hasn’t been shown to have nearly the same quantity of collagen as a supplement does.
If you’re going to opt for a collagen supplement, Clair suggests one made of collagen peptides, which are the easiest for our bodies to use.
The bottom line
In the future, plant-based sources of collagen that are lab-made may be available, and they could be useful. However, they don’t exist yet in the consumer world. The vegan collagen food products available to us are actually collagen-promoting foods, which may or may not help your body boost its own production of collagen. For a reliable source of collagen that has been scientifically shown to have a positive effect on your hair, skin, nails, joints, bones, and muscles, you need the animal version. It’s available in many formats, and as a tasteless, odorless product, is easy to add to your diet.
Read next: 5 Things To Know Before You Buy A Supplement