By Mark JS Miller


Why is VEGAN COLLAGEN like Buying a Can of STRIPED PAINT? The short answer is – that neither EXIST. Both are fantasies.

Well, the can of striped paint should be obvious as being a silly, whimsical trick, but then one may consider that also to be true for Vegan Collagen. Nevertheless, there is an active market for it. That alone foretells a disconnect between desire and execution. 

Collagen is an animal protein, and as such it does not exist in plants. It is what it is. Further collagen protein is not a component, per se, in dietary supplements. The reason being is that what is marketed as collagen proteins are actually peptides, the partly digested form of protein. Yes, that is a little picky on the vernacular but while we are being correct, we might as well be totally clear.

In terms of digestion, the gut breaks down proteins to peptides (by enzymes called proteases) and then on to amino acids, which are the building blocks. Think of it like a pearl necklace. Amino acids are the individual pearls, peptides are a broken string of a pearl necklace and the full, functioning necklace being the protein.

Collagens (there are 28 forms in humans) being a tough, gnarly protein it is very hard to include in most supplements. Think of the gristle in meat. Not flexible in terms of powders, capsules and drink mixes.

Getting back to “Vegan Collagen” it is neither a protein nor a peptide. What is marketed are amino acids, and usually just one - proline. Why proline? Well, it is an amino acid that is enriched in collagens, and it plays an important role in cross-linking collagen fibrils to improve the strength of the collagen protein. 

However, it is important to note that being an amino acid, proline is found in proteins in general. Not necessarily only found in collagens. Further, what is not always defined in proline-based Vegan Collagen products is what is the source of the proline? Certainly, it is not as enriched in plant proteins, so where is the proline coming from? Is it plant, fungal, microbial or animal? Some suppliers of amino acids, especially from China, use digested human hair as the source. A protein source that is normally disposed, and so costs are low. 

There is a clear desire to have vegan sources of dietary components is important for a distinctive section of the market. However, one may consider that any product labelled as “Vegan Collagen” as a violation of truth in advertising. One that takes advantage of people’s desire and lack of knowledge as to protein sources and gastrointestinal physiology. Marrying emotions with bad science should not be a recipe for public health.