Vegan Collagen: Do they exist?

Well, for all of our beauty-conscious friends out there, you probably already have an answer to this question! But, no, don’t scroll away just yet, as today’s article will tell you why the answer is a little more complex than a simple “No”.

What is collagen?

Before diving deep into vegan collagen, let’s do a quick summary of what collagen is and why everyone is so crazy about it.

Collagen is a protein produced naturally by our body to make our skin more elastic and our bones stronger. It is in our skin, nails, hair, bones, ligaments and intestines. You may be more familiar with it when it dissolves in warm water — It becomes gelatin, a common ingredient used to make jellies, gummy candies and cheesecakes.

However, our body gradually decreases the level of collagen production after we hit our mid-20s and will fall drastically for women after their menopause. Reduction in collagen causes the wrinkles you see on your face and the joint aches you feel when you walk.

For those who have no idea what collagen is, now you know why people spend a good amount of fortune on products that claim to replenish collagen in our body — everyone wants to stay young and pain-free!

Where do we get them?

Most of the edible collagen supplementation available on the market are animal derivatives, such as collagens products made from fish skins, chicken ligaments and cow bones.

Plenty of scientific studies showed that when we ingest animal-based collagen supplements, skin elasticity improves, pain on joints lessened, hair and nails grow faster and healthier.

However, simply applying collagen to our skin will not have the same effect as ingesting it. It is because the collagen molecules are too big to penetrate our skin layer for absorption and will most probably only do the job of hydrating your skin. So, the next time you see skincare products claiming to have collagen in them, you know that it is nothing more than just an expensive hydrating lotion!

Does that mean vegans will never get to enjoy the benefit of edible collagen products?

Undeniably, these animal-based collagens have a unique set of protein building blocks (amino acids) that do not occur in plant-based sources. However, it does not mean that vegans will never get the chance to enjoy the benefits of collagen products. The future of edible, fully vegan collagen products may be just around the corner.

According to groundbreaking research, we are now able to use genetically modified microbes to make vegan collagen!

Now, let us nerd out a little on how this works.

Firstly, researchers will extract out a total of four human genes that are responsible for coding collagen.

The researchers will then fuse the human genes into a genetically engineered microbe, Bacteria P. Pastoris.

Then, the microbe starts to produce amino acids that do not have the proper structure to be human collagen yet.

Lastly, researchers will add pepsin (a digestive enzyme) to help structure these amino acids into a protein form identical to human collagen.

And there you go, vegan collagen created by genetically modified bacteria that cater to a wide range of consumers’ dietary, religious, and ethical needs!

This is exciting! But, where is it available on the market?

Truth be told, edible vegan collagens are still unavailable in the market. I know, this is disappointing! However, in early June this year (2021), a biodesign company based in California named Geltor announced the upcoming product launch of their very first edible vegan collagen — PrimaColl.

Geltor claimed that PrimaColl acts similarly to the human’s body Type 21 collagen, a type of rare collagen that signals cells to increase collagen production in our body. Clinical trials are in progress to test out the benefits of ingesting PrimaColl before launching it to the public.

While waiting for the first ingestible vegan collagen to roll out, is there anything we can do to replenish our body’s collagen?

Absolutely, yes! Consuming products that contain collagen is not the only way to replenish our body’s collagen.

1. You could get it from your plant-based diet

Below is a list of foods high in protein, vitamin C, zinc and copper that you can consume to promote your body’s collagen production naturally.

  • Beans (Eg. kidney beans, black beans) or soy products (Eg. tempeh, tofu)
  • Nuts (Eg. cashews, peanuts)
  • Seeds (Eg. pumpkin seed, chia seeds)
  • Food high in antioxidants (Eg. berries, mushrooms, broccoli, carrots, potatoes)
  • Food that reduces inflammation (Eg. olive oils, tomatoes, avocados)

2. Avoid these!

  • Drinking alcohol
  • Eating deep-fried food
  • Smoking
  • Having an irregular sleep schedule
  • Going out without sunscreen – UV from the sunlight speed up the breakdown of collagen, thus speeding up skin ageing as well

Doing all of the above will produce many “free radicals” (aka. unstable atoms) in our body that attack healthy cells by stealing their electrons. It will cause these cells to lose their ability to carry out vital functions, thus leading to cellular death after accumulating many damages. When too many cells in our body die, we will suffer from neurological diseases and age faster.

pssst…Did you know that exercise can do wonders to our skin? Read here.

If you think of adding some collagen-boosting dishes into your current meal plans, you should try out our Beet Quinoa Salad!

Due to its high level of vitamin C and other anti-inflammatory properties, beetroot can help to boost our collagen production. Quinoa does not directly increase our collagen level. However, it can limit the degradation of existing collagen by reducing matrix metalloproteinase activity (the enzymes that tear down our precious collagens!)

Hope you enjoy today’s content, until next time!

Written by: Yong Chy

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