I’m sure by now you’ve witnessed the super popular Collagen trend circulating the inter web or at the very least heard the word before. But what is Collagen? How do we boost it? Is it possible on a plant-based diet?
Let’s start with the basics.
What is Collagen?
Collagen is the primary structural protein found in the connective tissue of our bodies. It is formed by one-third of the protein in the body and is the fibrous matrix responsible for our tissues, organs and skin’s connectivity/elasticity. It’s made up of groups of amino acids that link together into chains called protein peptides and of these chains, three of them then twist together to form something called a “triple helix” known as – you guessed it, Collagen. Simply put, its kinda the glue that holds us together and stuff that keeps us looking young.
Though there are many types of Collagen in the body (28 identified thus far), they are generally grouped into three predominant types – I, II & III (they didn’t get super creative with the names here folks haha). Type I and III are similar in that they support healthy skin, bones, hair and nails where as Type II is focused on the function and fluid of our joints and cartilage. You can read more about the types here → Collagen Types but over all Type I is the most abundant in our body.
Though Collagen itself is pretty miraculous, it does need a little help from its friends. Every heard the phrase, “I don’t heal like I used to” from older adults who suffered an injury? This is quite literally true. When we’re younger Collagen is constantly being created and destroyed keeping the bones, joints and skin like new. The problem is, as we age the body continues to break it down but doesn’t reproduce it nearly as fast (hence joint sensitivity and wrinkly skin).
In addition to natural aging though, there are other factors that affect the decrease in our Collagen production such as: large amounts of sugar consumption, smoking, extensive exposure to uv rays, genetic changes and some auto immune diseases.
Needless to say our diet and lifestyle plays a major role in our body’s ability to produce this essential protein but how exactly do we help build it?
The most popular answer you’ll find with a quick google search is to quite literally, well -eat it. As far as food, readily available Collagen is only found in the odd parts of animals that we typically wouldn’t find ourselves eating like their bones, skin, tendons and tissues. As a herbivore myself I’m especially grossed out by this idea but I think we can all agree that even your average meat-eater wouldn’t find a dinner plate full of cartilage super appealing. The better news for you (should you eat meat) is that this isn’t the only way to consume it.
Collagen can be broken down in two ways – hydrolyzed form or the more commonly known way, gelatin. Though both ways involve cooking the collagen, the main difference between the two is the size in which the protein is broken down. In mainstream foods, the most popular way collagen (or gelatin) is extracted is from cows (bovine), pigs, chicken and fish bones/hides. It is the stuff that makes Jell-o jiggly and the responsible ingredient for the popular bone broth.
Although trends will suggest that by simply consuming it you are able to reap the benefits (healthy skin, nails, strong bones etc.), the truth is there’s a bit more required of you. When ingested, Collagen is broken down into two amino acids – proline and lysine that together then create procollagen. Procollagen is then used to create one of the several types of Collagen described earlier. The problem is, because the body is incapable of metabolizing the aminos into an active form of hydroxylase, it needs large amounts of Vitamin C to help with the job. Without adequate amounts of Vitamin C intake, Collagen production through this method is pretty much a long shot.
In addition to the issue of needing Vitamin C with the Collagen, studies then go back and forth about just how many milligrams per day one would even need to consume daily to really retain benefits. While consuming Collagen may potentially help build it, this then begs the question – can we help boost it in other ways?
Animals vs Plants
Since Collagen comes from animals, where then does that leave people who don’t consume meat? What’s the difference between consuming animal verses plant proteins?
According to Dr. Campbell, professor of Nutritional Biochemistry at Cornell University, ” …the primary difference between animal and plant proteins is their amino acid profiles and it is those profiles that direct the rates at which the absorbed amino acids are put to use within the body. Animal based proteins, of course, are much more similar to our proteins, thus are used more readily and rapidly than plant proteins.”
He then goes on to explain that, “Plant proteins are somewhat compromised by their limitation of one or more amino acids. When we restore the relatively deficient amino acid in a plant protein, we get a response rate equivalent to animal proteins.”
In short, while it is true that animal bones, tendons, tissue etc. contain Collagen proteins that plants alone are incapable of producing, by eating the right VARIETY of plants/nutrients we can instead create a chemical reaction that will allow our own bodies to produce the aminos needed it create it.
Plant Based Co-Nutrients For Building Collagen
There are actually tons of vitamins and minerals that stimulate Collagen production (for the skin and bones) but to keep it simplified I’ve created a chart narrowing it down to a list of 11. Included in the chart are also food and daily intake suggestions for each. Keep in mind that foods are always best eaten raw as they maintain more of their benefits this way as opposed to being cooked.
So what it boils down to it this – though it may take a little more work on a plant-based diet you can most certainly stimulate collagen production and reap the benefits without involving animals. The best part? In addition to Collagen production, eating healthy plant foods is also going to help in other areas too! Ideally fresh whole foods would be the main way to get in these nutrients but another great option should you find it difficult to incorporate a variety of foods daily is supplements. A great organic vegan option that rounds up all the goods in one shot is this collagen booster by Garden Of Life → Vegan Collagen Booster
I know this was a lengthy post but I wanted to be sure to include as much information on the topic as possible. I really hope you found it as helpful as I did and as always I’d love to hear from you with any questions 🙂
Til next time,
** Disclaimer** Please note I am not a physician and am merely sharing my findings. Please consult with your doctor to find what works best for you.
*image credit: Nutri Mania