Collagen, an animal-based supplement known best for its skin and joints benefits, has been a huge wellness trend for years—and now herbivores want in on the action.
Enter plant-based collagen. Or maybe we should say plant-ish-based collagen? Allow us to explain.
Back Up: What Exactly Is Collagen Again?
Collagen is a type of protein found in bones, joints, and connective tissues. It essentially acts as the glue that holds our body structures together.
Given that, collagen is crucial for healthy skin, strong bones, and mobile joints.
The body contains four different types of collagen, each of which has a slightly different role. The most common:
- Type I collagen: the most abundant and makes up the dense structure of bones, skin, tendons, ligaments, and organs
- Type II collagen: more loosely-packed and makes up the cartilage in our joints
- Type III collagen: often coupled with type I and provides structure and elasticity to the skin and blood vessels
Related: Should You Try Marine Collagen?
We produce collagen naturally, however, “as we age, collagen production declines,” says The Vitamin Shoppe nutritionist Rebekah Blakely, RDN. “This leads to symptoms like wrinkles, sagging skin, and stiff joints.”
That’s one of the reasons collagen supplements have become so popular, Blakely says.
Since collagen comes from the physical structures of human and animal bodies, collagen supplements are made of animal products, explains dietitian Ginger Hultin, RD, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. (Most are made from bovine—a.k.a. cow—or fish sources.)
Where Does Plant-Based Collagen Come In?
There is technically no such thing as plant-based collagen, since collagen is only found in animal sources. However, in response to the demands of plant-eaters everywhere, a number of plant-based products identified as ‘collagen builders’ or ‘collagen precursors’ have started popping up.
“Any plant-based collagen product doesn’t actually contain any collagen itself, but rather contains various nutrients needed for collagen production,” says Blakely.
Some of these nutrients include:
- Specific amino acids (especially proline, glycine, lysine, and arginine)
- vitamin C
The goal of these supplements: to support your body’s own natural collagen production by providing the ‘ingredients’ necessary to build the protein, says Hultin.
Is Plant-Based Collagen Equivalent To Animal Collagen?
Though plant-based collagen supplements aren’t truly collagen at all, they provide consumers who cannot take animal-based collagen a potential next best thing.
Since these supplements don’t actually contain collagen, consumers shouldn’t expect them to have the exact same effect as a true collagen supplement, says Hultin. Still, many animal-free eaters want to do what they can to support their collagen production (and the skin, joint, and bone benefits that come along with it). Because of this, plant-based collagen supplements continue to pick up steam.
Either way, Blakely recommends anyone looking to reap the benefits of collagen prioritize gut health by taking probiotics and eating a low-inflammatory diet. “With either animal collagen or plant-based collagen builders, you need to have a healthy digestive tract in order to absorb and utilize the nutrients efficiently,” she says.
Plant-Based Collagen Builders To Try
Want to give plant-based collagen a go? Check out one of these solid options.
“This collagen-building protein powder contains ingredients that support our body’s own natural collagen production,” says Blakely. That includes plant foods like bamboo and spirulina, which provide the amino acids necessary for collagen production.
It also contains vitamins A and C, as well as 45 milligrams of silica, which supports healthy hair, skin, and nails, and strong bones, joints, ligaments, and tendons, Blakely says.
Additionally, it’s got other natural boosters like hyaluronic acid, tremella mushroom, and biotin to support cell regeneration, skin elasticity, and overall skin health.
American Biosciences’ Plant Fusion Collagen Builder is non-GMO and totally vegan, gluten-free, and sugar-free. In addition to 18 grams of plant-based protein, it also provides a number of amino acids. These include proline and glycine, plus vitamins and minerals that support collagen production.
“This plant-based protein provides the nutritional building blocks needed to create, hydrate, and maintain healthy collagen in the body,” says Blakely. “It also includes hyaluronic acid, tea antioxidants, and ceramides to help protect and hydrate new and existing collagen for healthy ageing and overall health.”