There’s been a lot of hype around collagen supplements in the last few years. Whether it’s in skincare products, workout supplements, or a muscle and joint formula, collagen is touted as one of the best-kept secrets for achieving a youthful, strong, and long-lasting healthy body.

But for people who follow a plant-based diet that excludes collagen-rich foods, how do you reap the benefits? Or is it even worth the hype? 

If you’ve been curious about why everyone’s jumping on the collagen train, we’re giving you an overview of what it is, why people take it, and what you can do instead if you’re a vegan to reap the same rewards.

What is collagen?

Collagen is the most abundant protein in the human body and forms the basis of all connective tissues—skin, hair, nails, tendons, ligaments, blood vessels, and of course your muscles 1. It’s made up of three amino acids: glycine, proline and hydroxyproline, and arginine. In the simplest terms, it’s the “glue” that holds your body together.

While there are more than 16 different types of collagen in the body, the ones we hear about, which constitute about 80-90% of the collagen in your body, are types I, II, and III 1.

Type I is found primarily in the skin, tendon, bone, ligaments, dentin, and interstitial tissues; type II is found in cartilage and the vitreous humor of the eyes; and type III is found in skin, muscles, and blood vessels.

Of course, collagen occurs naturally in the body through its precursor amino acids, but it’s also widely found in animal-based food sources and supplemental form - the latter being the most popular method of consumption. 

The Benefits of Taking Collagen Supplements

Are you wondering why people are going crazy for collagen? One of the main reasons people choose supplementation is because as we age, endogenous collagen production starts to decline.

It’s one of the reasons why aging is associated with things like sagging skin, fine lines and wrinkles, poor muscle mass, easier bruising, and the like. So, when your body isn’t making enough to keep your hair shiny, your skin taut and radiating, and your muscles pumping, supplementing helps to ensure these processes stay strong.

Improves skin health

Collagen is needed to keep skin looking tight and glowing, and without sufficient amounts, the skin starts to sag and develop fine lines and wrinkles—I mean, who wants that?

Studies show that regular supplementation with collagen can significantly improve skin hydration, elasticity, roughness, and density 2, 3. In addition to that, collagen supplements may also boost the production of other proteins in the skin that help to reduce the appearance of aging and enhance the overall structure, specifically elastin and fibrillin 4.

May relieve joint pain

Collagen is the basis of your joints. Regular wear and tear on joints can deteriorate the strength and structure of cartilage, which can lead to pain and discomfort.

However, because of collagen's role in promoting cartilage regeneration, supplementing with it may boost joint health and relieve normal aches and pains associated with aging or strenuous activity.

Studies find that collagen supplementation in athletes with activity-related joint pain can help to reduce inflammation, decrease joint pain, and provide better support for joints 5, 6.

Could prevent bone loss

Just like collagen production declines with age, so does bone mass, which can lead to conditions like osteoporosis and an increased risk of bone fractures or injuries. Because collagen constitutes a large percentage of bone, keeping your levels up becomes critical to keeping bones strong and healthy 7.

Studies even suggest that supplementing with collagen may help to inhibit the breakdown of bone collagen more so than supplementing with calcium alone 8.

Benefits cardiovascular health

Because of collagen’s role in blood vessel health, it becomes critical to keeping your cardiovascular system functioning well as you get older.

Collagen provides structure for arteries, which are the blood vessels that carry blood to the rest of your body, and insufficient collagen may lead to weak and fragile arteries. One study found that after just six months of collagen supplementation, subjects experienced a significant reduction in arterial stiffness 9.

Where to Find Collagen

There are two types of collagen you’ll find on the shelves:

  1. Hydrolyzed collagen (collagen hydrolysate)
  2. Gelatin

The former is a form that has added enzymes to break it down, which makes the supplement easier to absorb than collagen consumed through food; collagen is a big protein, and the body has to work extra hard to break it down.

It’s a bit like trying to push a lot of weight at the gym and not being able to. When you have a spotter (i.e. the enzymes), it becomes a bit easier. As such, if you’re not getting the hydrolyzed form, it’s likely not doing you any favors. You’ll also hear hydrolyzed collagen called “collagen peptides.”

Gelatin, on the other hand, is the cooked form of collagen that provides the “jiggle” to things like Jello, bone broth, and gummy candies. It can be extracted from animal bones or consumed through a powdered supplement.

Do Vegans Need Collagen?

The simple answer to this is yes—everyone needs collagen, regardless of the diet you follow. Because the body makes it, it’s not a required supplement, but for people who are highly active and/or aging, supporting collagen production becomes essential to keeping the body limber and strong. 

But the thing with collagen is that you can’t really get it in a “vegan” form. Collagen is naturally derived from animal sources—either bovine or marine—and thus isn’t vegan-friendly.

But more recently, scientists have started lab-synthesizing collagen from modified yeast and bacteria to create what’s called “vegan collagen.” They’ve found that a type of bacteria called P. pastoris is the most effective and commonly used strain for genetically engineering high-quality collagen 10.

It sounds like there’s some potential on the science front, but rather than experimenting with artificially produced supplements, opting for the completely natural cousin is always better.

That’s where you get to the fork in the road (or, the other avenue): supplement with the required nutrients needed to boost collagen production naturally and protect existing collagen.

How to Boost Collagen Production Naturally

There are specific nutrients needed to increase collagen within the body naturally:

  1. Vitamin C: Vitamin C functions as a cofactor for two enzymes involved in the formation of procollagen residues, which promote proper folding of the stable collagen triple-helix conformation 11.
  2. Amino acids: Large amounts of proline, glycine, and lysine are needed for the formation of collagen used to regenerate cartilage 12. Without them, collagen cannot form.
  3. Copper: The role of copper in connective tissue is linked to the enzyme lysyl oxidase; copper acts as a cofactor for the enzyme and influences its activity 13.

Alternatively, if you want to make it easy on yourself, opt for a supplement that helps to protect collagen from erosion in the first place and supports the growth of new cartilage—it’s called Performance Lab Flex. A powerful combination of nutrients and herbs specifically curated for active joint demands.

Performance Lab Flex soothes and protects achy joints with easy-on-the-stomach botanicals AprèsFlex® Boswellia serrata and CurcuWIN® curcumin, along with lubricating and nourishing joints with Mythocondro® chondroitin, NutriGenesis® strontium, OptiMSM®, and corn glucosamine—all vegan-friendly upgrades from traditional collagen supplements derived from animal sources.

  • AprèsFlex® Boswellia Serrata helps to modulate immune responses to protect and soothe joints, maintain cartilage, and limit enzymes that weaken connective tissues
  • CurcuWIN® Curcumin is an ultramodern nutritional innovation that makes curcumin 46X more absorbable to reduce joint stiffness, improve comfort, and overall functional performance of joints
  • Glucosamine Sulfate 2KCI helps to form connective tissues, regenerate cartilage, and lubricate joints for comfortable range of motion through every activity
  • Mythocondro® Chondroitin Sulfate maintains hydration for lubricated, shock-absorbing cartilage performance, healthy collagen production, and promotes chondrocyte cells that regulate cartilage growth and repair
  • OptiMSM® Methylsulfonylmethane supports synthesis and maintenance of collagen, glucosamine, chondroitin, and other proteins needed for cartilage and connective tissues
  • NutriGenesis® Strontium helps to stimulate the production of osteoblasts and inhibit the activity of osteoclasts to preserve existing bone integrity

Performance Lab Flex is one of the best joint supplements available to keep you limber and comfortable in everything that you do, and unlike traditional collagen supplements, Flex is free of animal products or byproducts. 

Final Thoughts

Hopping on the collagen train may be the latest and greatest fad. And while collagen offers several benefits for the body, it can be hard for the body to digest or is derived from questionable sources making it rather useless to the body—and worst case harmful.

Instead of putting your time and resources towards something that may not do its job, why not opt for something guaranteed to - Performance Lab Flex. It nourishes your tissues and supports collagen production to keep your body on track and power you through everyday activities without pain or discomfort. 

References

  1. H Lodish, A Berk, SL Zipursky, et al. Molecular Cell Biology. 4th edition. New York: W. H. Freeman; 2000. Section 22.3, Collagen: The Fibrous Proteins of the Matrix. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK21582/
  2. L Bolke, G Schlippe, J Gerß, W Voss. A Collagen Supplement Improves Skin Hydration, Elasticity, Roughness, and Density: Results of a Randomized, Placebo-Controlled, Blind Study. Nutrients. 2019;11(10):2494.
  3. E Proksch, D Segger, J Degwert, M Schunck, V Zague, S Oesser. Oral supplementation of specific collagen peptides has beneficial effects on human skin physiology: a double-blind, placebo-controlled study. Skin Pharmacol Physiol. 2014;27(1):47-55. 
  4. R Ganceviciene, AI Liakou, A Theodoridis, E Makrantonaki, CC Zouboulis. Skin anti-aging strategies. Dermatoendocrinol. 2012;4(3):308-319.
  5. KL Clark, W Sebastianelli, KR Flechsenhar, et al. 24-Week study on the use of collagen hydrolysate as a dietary supplement in athletes with activity-related joint pain. Curr Med Res Opin. 2008;24(5):1485-1496.
  6. AE Bello, S Oesser. Collagen hydrolysate for the treatment of osteoarthritis and other joint disorders: a review of the literature. Curr Med Res Opin. 2006;22(11):2221-2232. 
  7. S Viguet-Carrin, P Garnero, PD Delmas. The role of collagen in bone strength. Osteoporos Int. 2006;17(3):319-336.
  8. RW Moskowitz. Role of collagen hydrolysate in bone and joint disease. Semin Arthritis Rheum. 2000;30(2):87-99.
  9. N Tomosugi, S Yamamoto, M Takeuchi, et al. Effect of Collagen Tripeptide on Atherosclerosis in Healthy Humans. J Atheroscler Thromb. 2017;24(5):530-538. 
  10. J Báez, D Olsen, JW Polarek. Recombinant microbial systems for the production of human collagen and gelatin. Appl Microbiol Biotechnol. 2005;69(3):245-252.
  11. NN DePhillipo, ZS Aman, MI Kennedy, JP Begley, G Moatshe, RF LaPrade. Efficacy of Vitamin C Supplementation on Collagen Synthesis and Oxidative Stress After Musculoskeletal Injuries: A Systematic Review. Orthop J Sports Med. 2018;6(10):2325967118804544. 
  12. P de Paz-Lugo, JA Lupiáñez, E Meléndez-Hevia. High glycine concentration increases collagen synthesis by articular chondrocytes in vitro: acute glycine deficiency could be an important cause of osteoarthritis. Amino Acids. 2018;50(10):1357-1365. 
  13. ED Harris, JK Rayton, JE Balthrop, RA DiSilvestro, M Garcia-de-Quevedo. Copper and the synthesis of elastin and collagen. Ciba Found Symp. 1980;79:163-182.