Collagen supplements seem to be everywhere these days. There are collagen pills, and powders, and liquids – most claiming to restore youth and vitality to our skin and bodies. But is collagen vegan (or even vegetarian) friendly? And do they work? And if not, what can you do to boost your collagen? Find out in this post!
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Is Collagen Vegan?
To answer the question – is collagen vegan? – the answer is no. Unless labeled “vegan” or “plant-based”, collagen is not vegan. Collagen is made from the connective tissue, and sometimes skin (or hide) from cows, pigs, and sometimes from fish scales. Because of this, collagen is neither vegan nor vegetarian friendly.
What is collagen?
Collagen is the most abundant protein our bodies produce. Collagen is like “glue” to the tissues in our body. It helps to provide structural support and elasticity to hair, skin, tendons, cartilage, and muscle.
Starting as early as age 20 however, our body’s production of collagen begins to slow down. As the production of collagen slows down, the skin can begin to lose its elasticity, which can cause fine lines, wrinkles, and sagging skin.
So the thought is, if our bodies are producing less collagen, we can replace it with a collagen supplement?
Do collagen supplements work?
While some clinical trials seem to show that collagen supplementation can promote the health of hair and skin and muscle cells, the research on collagen is very limited. And unfortunately, most of the research that does exist is potentially biased, as these studies were funded by organizations with a financial interest in collagen.
Some studies do show that collagen supplements may improve elasticity and hydration in the skin. Their effectiveness, however, would likely vary by supplement type and the person taking it. In other words, a supplement that works for one person, might not work for another.
Are collagen supplements regulated?
In the United States, dietary supplements are not regulated by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration), and because collagen is considered a dietary supplement, it is not regulated. This means it is not tested for safety or efficacy. So while no studies so far have show collagen supplements to be unsafe, you could potentially take a supplement that contains unsafe ingredients. Or at the very least you could spends hundreds of dollars on a supplement that does nothing its label claims it would do.
There are concerns about collagen supplements containing heavy metals. In 2020, the Organic Consumers Association (OCA) and Clean Label Project (CLP) tested 28 of the top-selling brands of collagen supplements being sold on Amazon.com for heavy metal contamination. This is what they found:
• 64% tested positive for measurable levels of arsenic
• 37% tested positive for measurable levels of lead
• 34% tested positive for trace levels of mercury
• 17% tested positive for measurable levels of cadmium
“Heavy metals, even at low levels, are known to cause organ damage, and some are classified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the International Agency for Research on Cancer as known or probable carcinogens.” – Organic Consumers Association
Are there vegan collagen supplements?
Yes, there are quite a few vegan supplements on the market, and their popularity keeps growing. Like animal-based collagen, they all claim to improve skin, hair, and nails. Unlike animal-based collagen, however, they work by boosting your own collagen levels through plant-based nutrients.
Here are three of the most popular vegan collagen supplement brands currently being sold on Amazon.
This is currently the #1 vegan collagen on Amazon, and this is the only vegan collagen I have tried (so it’s the only one I will give an opinion on).
I took this supplement as recommended for 10 months. While I did not see a noticeable difference in my skin, my hair and nails grew very fast while taking this product. And actually….the only reason I stopped taking this supplement, was because my hair was growing TOO fast….and I didn’t want to have to go in for haircuts so frequently! (And that’s the truth!). I have recommended this product to friends, as well as on social media.
(Please note that this was my personal experience with this product, everybody is different, and results may vary.)
Sun Warrior makes a vegan collagen powder – which makes it easy to add to smoothies or juice. This one is vanilla flavored.
Do vegan collagen supplements work?
Vegan collagen supplements primarily consist of the nutrients that help support our bodies to produce more collagen. So vegan collagen can help you build your own natural collagen, versus eating collagen from an animal.
Nutrients and foods that support collagen production include the following:
- Zinc – found in legumes (beans and lentils), nuts, seeds, and whole grains
- Vitamin C – found in citrus fruits, berries, leafy greens, bell peppers, and tomatoes.
- Protein – found in legumes (beans and lentils) and soy
How can you protect and increase your body’s own natural collagen?
Rather than taking unproven collagen supplements, many doctors and scientists seem to agree that your skin will benefit more from lifestyle changes that can preserve and boost your own natural collagen. Here are some scientifically proven recommendations:
- Wear sunscreen daily. This is likely the most important thing you can do to preserve the collagen in your skin. Sun exposure destroys your collagen. So it is important to limit the amount of time spent in direct sunlight. No amount of collagen supplements will improve your skin if you are damaging it with sun exposure. One study found that regular sunscreen use protects against photoaging of the skin, and those who used sunscreen daily “showed no detectable increase in skin aging after 4.5 years”.
- Eat a healthy balanced diet By eating nutrient-rich foods – primarily fruits and vegetables rich in vitamin C – you can help increase your body’s production of collagen naturally. As recommended in this study, fruit and vegetable consumption “may represent the most healthy and safe method in order to maintain a balanced diet and youthful appearing skin”.
- Avoid foods that can hurt collagen production, including meat, dairy, butter, and processed sugary foods. These food impact the health of your skin and your body’s collagen production.
- Make sure to get enough sleep. Sleep is when your body repairs itself and collagen is rebuilt. (So getting enough “beauty sleep” is real!) Studies show that for adults, 7 – 9 hours of sleep per night is optimal.
- Do not smoke and avoid secondhand smoke. Chemicals in smoke destroy collagen and will prematurely age the skin.
- Control stress. Chronically high cortisol levels caused by chronic stress can decrease collagen production.
Since it is made from animals, collagen is not vegan. There are numerous vegan collagen supplements available however, that provide collagen-boosting nutrients versus collagen from animals.
Unfortunately, unbiased research on collagen supplements is limited. Making lifestyle changes that promote the preservation and production of your body’s natural collagen might be the best – and healthiest – path for most people.
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