Collagen and the Conscious Diet: A Collision Between Two Fast Growing Trends

Collagen

Collagen is a booming business. In supplements, drinks, creams and other consumables, Americans are jumping on the collagen bandwagon. In 2020, in the United States alone, consumers were expected to spend $293 million on collagen supplements, up from just $50 million in 2014. That’s almost a six-fold increase!

At the same time, Americans are also becoming more plant-based, socially- and environmentally-conscious consumers. The vegan food market, for example, was valued at $14.2 billion in 2018 and is expected to climb more than twofold, to $31.4 billion, by 2026.

As many consumers may not be aware that collagen supplements are made with materials derived from animal parts; and many have fillers and other additives, it begs the question: how are these two trends squared?

As many consumers may not be aware that collagen supplements are made with materials derived from animal parts; and many have fillers and other additives, it begs the question: how are these two trends squared?

What Is Collagen?
Collagen makes up approximately 30% of the proteins within the body. It’s one of the major building blocks of bones, skin, muscles, tendons, and ligaments. Collagen is also found in many other body parts, including blood vessels, corneas, and teeth. You can think of it as the “glue” that holds all these things together.

Collagen is a protein made up of 18 amino-acids – predominantly Alanine, Arginine, Glutamic Acid, Glycine, Proline and Hydroxyproline. And, unlike amino acid supplements that can be sourced from either plants or animals, “real” collagen is only available from animal sources.

How is it Made?
Collagen is manufactured from the inedible parts of slaughtered animals – including fish silage, hooves, hair, skin, feathers and teeth from cows, pigs, chickens and the like. Many products, if not all, are hydrolyzed – they go through a chemical process that breaks down the collagen protein into peptides, which are short chains of amino acids that are more readily absorbed into the body. The chemicals can be harsh agents such as hydrochloric acid.

While these animal sources and chemicals may sound a bit unappetizing to most people, it’s even more so to those who support animal welfare and/or practice plant-based lifestyles.

Labels are not always helpful.
Labels on some popular collagen supplements will often create messaging around features that are true for every product in the category, using terms like gluten-free, dairy-free. In fact, the animal-derived amino acids found in collagen do not contain any of these types of ingredients. Some brands also claim to be keto- and paleo-friendly, and yet, except for the rare product that uses maltodextrin to prevent clumping, all collagen is carb-free. Additionally, “preservative-free” is just a marketing ploy – collagen is processed and packaged in a way that does not require preservatives.

Importantly, very few collagen products disclose how they treat the animals from whom the products are sourced. Practices can range from the cruel, to common, to anywhere along the Whole Foods “step scale,” where “Step 1” is the lowest rating for suppliers who want to be certified: “no cages, no crates, no crowding,” and “Step 5+” is the highest: “animal centered, entire life on same farm” with extensive outdoor access. Learning about which countries collagen brands source their animal parts from can be an indicator of their level of conformance to both emerging and established U.S. standards.

According to AminoFacts Board member, David Madsen, Ph.D., the supplement market is a bit behind the food industry in terms of providing consumers with specific and consistent information about what they’re putting into their bodies. In the case of Collagen or any other supplement, he feels that it is important for consumers to know what questions to ask, and how to decipher labels to find answers.

A plant-based alternative to boost your body’s own collagen
There are many products on the market that are plant sourced and truly vegan that are formulated to help your body produce its own collagen. As plants do not contain collagen, these products can be described “collagen enhancers” or “boosters” that blend a combination of some of the amino acids (such as glycine, proline, hydroxyproline, and arginine) found in animal collagen along with other ingredients, such as vitamins and minerals, that can be used to help the body generate collagen.

These products can also contain various vitamins and minerals along with specific amino acids, such as glycine, proline, hydroxyproline, and arginine.

Most plant-based products use a relatively natural method, fermentation, to create the amino acids. This plant-based process is usually less harsh than animal hydrolysis, as it uses natural microorganisms in a broth that creates the amino acids from plant materials.

We’ve investigated some of the brands offering plant-based alternatives, based upon the information on their labels and supplemental information supplied by the manufacturers.

AminoFacts.org is here to help!

Many of you don’t have the time for extensive research into your collagen supplement brand. AminoFacts.org can help! Check out Decoding the Label or ask us to evaluate a particular brand.