You’ve heard your whole life that your skin contains collagen. You’ve probably heard it’s in your joints, too.
So obviously as you get older, you should be taking collagen supplements to restore these naturally declining levels.
Sorry, it doesn’t quite work that way.
Unlike vitamins, minerals, proteins, and pretty much every other micro and macro nutrient, collagen is not a singular unit that can be absorbed through digestion.
Or at least, not intact.
Think of collagen as long strings. That’s what it looks like – a complex matrix of fibers, combined with elastin and hyaluronic acid.
You can’t absorb these. No matter how tiny you chop them up!
Hydrolyzed collagen supplements are those which claim to have broken the molecular bonds between the fibers.
Whether it’s hydrolyzed or not, it doesn’t change the fact that you can digest collagen fibers. Your body still has to break them down into their constituent amino acids.
Those are what get digested.
What your body is doing is breaking the collagen down into its individual amino acids and then absorbing those.
Why they may help anyway
Since you can’t absorb collagen directly, the best thing you can do is ensure you are consuming adequate amounts of protein. Since those are the building blocks, being deficient may reduce your natural collagen production in your skin and elsewhere.
As humans, there are only 9 essential amino acids:
When you eat protein, whether it be from meat or vegan burgers, your body breaks it down into these constituents (and other non-essential aminos) before they are absorbed.
That’s why the whole notion that vegans eat incomplete proteins is non-sense. Because you’re absorbing the individual amino acids anyway, regardless of source.
For example, beans tend to be low in methionine. Rice is low in lysine. When you eat both together – rice and beans – you get plenty of both, and hence, together they are a complete protein source.
As long as you get all of your essential aminos, you’re golden. They can be from different sources, they don’t have to be all in the same food source.
Dietary supplements with collagen may help, even though they are not being absorbed intact. This is because they contain rich amounts of proline and glycine. These are non-essential amino acids.
If you’re not consuming them in diet, your body will manufacture them using the essential aminos.
That said, consuming proline and glycine directly can save a step. As such, it’s possible that collagen pills and capsules can support your body’s production of type 1, 2, and type 3 collagen.
Type 2 collagen is found primarily in joint cartilage. It’s what cartilage is made of. Those with osteoarthritis of the knee are likely to benefit from a boost in type 2 production.
Whether it’s type 1 and 3 in youthful skin that’s plump, or type 2 in joint cartilage, the non-essential amino acids proline and glycine are used to make them.
Something else important is silica.
There’s around 7 grams of silica in your body, with most of it being in your skin, hair, bones, blood vessels, and tendons.
While it’s not directly a part of collagen, research suggests that silica is important for your body’s collagen synthesis. That includes the activation of the hydroxylating enzymes, which play a role in production. (3)
Is there vegan collagen?
No. Since only animals make collagen, any supplement which contains it will be non-vegan. Supplements typically derive it from cows (bovine), shark (marine), or chicken sternal cartilage.
Plant-based collagen pills, capsules, and gummies will not contain actual collagen. They offer the building blocks of collagen, such as the amino acids proline and glycine, as well as silica.
As we’ve discussed, there may very well be legit benefits to consuming these – it’s possible (but not conclusively proven) they act as collagen boosters. However, any supplement company that is trying to infer their product contains actual collagen that’s vegan is being misleading… because it doesn’t.
Don’t fall for scams which insinuate they’re selling actual collagen sourced from plants. It doesn’t exist!
Vegan collagen foods
The best vegan and vegetarian foods to support the building of collagen will be those highest in proline and glycine. Good sources include grains like wheat and barley, spirulina, fenugreek, peanuts, and legumes such as soy and navy beans. Per 100g (3.5 oz) serving, all of these foods each contain over 1,000 mg of proline.
While all of the above also contain glycine, the richest sources will be amaranth, wheat germ, spirulina, almonds, pumpkin seeds, flax seeds, and peanuts.
The number one best plant-based food for collagen will be spirulina, as it has very high amounts of both proline and glycine; 2,382 mg and 3,099 mg, respectively.
All food data based on entries in the USDA National Nutrient Database. (4)
Best vegan collagen supplements
In addition to spirulina powder, there are a number of supplements on the market which contain beneficial ingredients to aide production. The highest-rated include Garden of Life MyKind Organics Plant Collagen Builder and Sunwarrior Plant-Based Collagen Building Protein Peptides.
Mykind Organic Plant Collagen Builder
This one has probably been on the market the longest. Coming from a larger company, they also have more resources for product R&D.
Mykind’s main claim to fame is that it’s a silica supplement. Each 2 tablet serving contains 10 mg of silica. What’s interesting is that it’s sourced from bamboo shoots, which are also one of the richest vegan food sources of proline.
There’s vitamins A, C, E, B1, B2, niacin, B6, folate, biotin, and pantothenic acid. These aren’t synthetic, as they’re from the organic food blend it’s made with.
Many of those foods are also rich in proline and glycine, which makes it an ideal collagen for vegan (as in, collagen building blocks).
The marketing is clearly geared towards women, based on all models they show. However there’s no reason men can’t use it, too.
The reviews on Amazon are quite favorable. You can see them here.
Sunwarrior Plant-Based Collagen Building Protein Peptides
Admittedly, this product is a little gimmicky. They claim it’s “anti-aging beauty” and features hyaluronic acid. As with collagen, hyaluronic acid supplements can’t be directly absorbed!
Marketing aside, each scoop of this Sunwarrior powder contains 14g of protein for 100 calories. In addition to the usual suspects of pea and brown rice protein, there’s sea buckthorn, Tremella mushroom, kale, spinach, amla, spirulina, and bamboo extract.
So yes, there really is collage building proteins inside. The hyaluronic acid though probably isn’t benefiting you.
While we don’t use this product ourselves, we eat Sunwarrior protein literally every single day. The brown rice (Sunwarrior Classic) we mix with quinoa and berries for breakfast. It’s great stuff.
Check out their collagen builder on Amazon and if you use it, please share your review with us!