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Fact: Plant-Based Collagen is Not "Real" Collagen

Collagen supplements have become hugely popular in recent years, with the collagen market expected to reach over $7 billion by 2028. Much of this demand has been fueled by claims that collagen can improve skin, hair, nails, joints, and more.

Marine Collagen on Blue Packaging image by Correxiko Collagen
Source: Pexels

However, there is a debate about whether plant-based collagen alternatives provide the same benefits as animal-derived collagen. There are also a lot of people (especially influencers) who are providing misinformation about plant-based and "vegan" collagen. Then again, maybe they don't know the facts.

Here's the thing: Plant-based collagen is not the same as "real" collagen derived from animals. Let's dive deeper!

What is Collagen?

Collagen is the most abundant protein in the human body, making up around 30% of total protein. It's the main structural protein, providing strength and elasticity to connective tissues like skin, bones, tendons, and ligaments. Collagen is comprised of three amino acids—glycine, proline, and hydroxyproline. It forms strong triple-helix structures that give collagen its unique characteristics.

Collagen triple-helical structure
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Collagen levels naturally decline with age, leading to common signs of aging like wrinkles, sagging skin, and joint problems. This has prompted interest in collagen supplements to counteract this age-related collagen loss.

The Issue with Plant-Based Collagen

Plant-based collagen supplements are derived from sources like peas, rice, potatoes, and algae. The idea is that these plant extracts contain the necessary amino acids—glycine, proline, and hydroxyproline—needed to form collagen structures.

However, simply having these amino acids does not mean plant-based collagen acts the same as animal collagen within the human body. True collagen found in animals like cows, fish, and chickens contains the amino acids in peptide chains that form the unique triple-helix structure of natural collagen.

Plant-based collagen supplements only contain free-form amino acids or very short peptide chains. These are digested into individual amino acids in the gut. While they provide building blocks, they aren't the same as the complete collagen protein with its helical structure found in animal sources.

Building blocks image by Zee_Shutterz
Source: Pixabay

This structural difference is the key reason why most studies show superior results with animal collagen versus plant collagen in improving factors like skin elasticity and joint pain. Plant collagen simply does not provide the matrix-building, structural benefits of genuine collagen supplements.

Other Drawbacks of Plant-Based Collagen

Aside from the lack of triple-helix structure, plant-based collagen has other downsides compared to animal sources:

  • Lower bioavailability: Animal collagen is more bioavailable, meaning the body can more readily absorb and use it compared to plant proteins.

  • Less supporting nutrients: Collagen foods like bone broth and fish provide additional nutrients like hyaluronic acid, glucosamine, and chondroitin that support collagen. Plants only provide the collagen precursors.

  • Higher potential for allergies: Common food allergens like soy are often used in plant collagen products, increasing the chance of allergic reactions.

  • Higher cost: Getting adequate glycine, proline, and hydroxyproline means needing large amounts of plant extracts, making most products more expensive than animal collagen.

  • No independent testing: Most plant collagen supplements lack independent testing proving their efficacy compared to extensive research on popular animal collagen products.
Bone broth image by jules
Source: Flickr

The Verdict

Plant-based collagen supplements do not provide the complete, bioavailable collagen protein with its essential structural benefits for connective tissues. While they supply collagen-related amino acids, true collagen formation requires the unique helical structures only found in animal sources. 

For those seeking collagen's anti-aging, joint, or gut benefits, animal-derived collagen is the smarter option based on research. Of course, vegans and vegetarians may prefer plant proteins to animal sources due to dietary preferences or restrictions. For others without these limitations, animal collagen provides superior results over incomplete plant-based alternatives.

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