Blog | What is "Vegan Collagen"? And, How Can I Boost Collagen Naturally?
What is "Vegan Collagen"? And, How Can I Boost Collagen Naturally?

What is "Vegan Collagen"? And, How Can I Boost Collagen Naturally?

Collagen is one of the most abundant proteins found in the human body, making up 90% of the organic bone matrix and 90% of connective tissue. Collagen is present in the tendons, fat, ligaments, joints, connective tissue, bones, intestinal barrier, among other places, and its presence basically ensures its all strong and healthy. Think of collagen as the glue that holds your body together, the more we nourish our own collagen receptors, the more collagen we can naturally produce. 

Studies show that there’s at least  28 different types of collagen, but types I, II and III in particular form the bulk within our body — between 80-90% .Types I and III are said to provide structure to the skin, muscles and ligaments, while type II is found in cartilage and the eyes.


HOW COLLAGEN IS PRODUCED 

First, your body uses primarily vitamin C and protein from your diet to produce tiny molecules called procollagen. As more procollagen molecules are produced, they begin to glue themselves to one another. These clumps of glued procollagen molecules are called fibrils. When looking under a microscope, fibrils look like tiny strings. As the fibrils connect to one another and anchor themselves, they start to look like a net. This fully formed net is what we call collagen. Three fundamental aspects to producing collagen are: vitamin C, minerals, and amino acids.

Most people eat more protein in an effort to increase their collagen levels. More often than not, we have enough protein in your diet, much of which comes from vegetables and fruits that many of us love to stock-up in our fridge. Studies show that vitamin C and antioxidants are absolutely essential for the synthesis of collagen. Based on several studies, such as this one, without the centralized aspect of vitamin C within collagen production, the body is unable to produce or metabolize collagen efficiently. 


Without Vitamin C There Is No Collagen

Without vitamin C, collagen production is disrupted and can result in a wide variety of problems throughout the body. Vitamin C deficiency, although uncommon in North America, results in your bones being unable to properly manufacture collagen and its connective tissues. The body literally falls apart as collagen is broken down and not replaced. This results in joints beginning to wear down as your tendons weaken.
Unfortunately, humans are unable to produce vitamin C on their own and must rely on food and supplements as a source. The best food sources of vitamin C have one thing in common: they are all plantbased. 


WHERE DOES  “VEGAN COLLAGEN” COME FROM?

“Vegan collagen” per-se does not exist. What does exist are plants that boost and protect our own body’s collagen production. Within nature’s pharmacopeia there’s a plethora of herbs, foods, flowers, roots, and algae that have been studied to greatly help with collagen synthesis and production. Many of the medicinal herbs that naturally fall under this category have been used for centuries for many other functions other than “collagen.” They have long historical use as “anti-aging” plants that have across-the-board strengthening, mineralizing, immune protecting properties, with the added beautifying elements such as skin clearing, hair strengthening, and more. 

For example, Horsetail (Equisetum arvense) and Nettle (Urtica dioica) with their powerful mineralizing capacity, are known to strengthen hair follicles, tendons, and support bone health. Mineralizing herbs like Horsetail and Nettle have been used for bone strengthening along for protein, blood mineralization and more. Other herbs such as powerful rejuvenatives like He Shou Wu (Fallopia multiflora), Shisandra (Schisandra chinensis), Gynostemma (Gynostemma pentaphyllum). Also, well known skin regeneratives like Calendula (Calendula officinalis), Comfrey (Symphytum officinale) and Nettle (Urtica dioica). 

As mentioned above, a crucial component to the proper assimilation of both animal-based collagen and vegan collagen boosters is Vitamin C. Vitamin C plays a central role in production and activation of collagen receptors. Particularly powerful vitamin c and high antioxidant sources are Acerola cherry (Malpighia emarginata), Amla fruit (Phyllanthus emblica), camu camu (Myrciaria dubia), Mangosteen peel (Garcinia mangostana), Hibiscus (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis), and more.

WHAT MAKES COLLAGEN LEVELS DROP?

According to scientific studies, we start producing less collagen at the young age of 25. Yet this is all variable and it depends on the lifestyle of each individual. Keeping a diet naturally high in vitamin c sources, antioxidants, clean protein, and mineralizers will naturally lead to graceful aging as it’s supplying the essential building blocks to staying healthy, inside and out. Another key factor to this is stress. One of the key components to oxidative and cellular damage is exposure to emotional, mental, and biological stressors that contribute to aging. 

Other factors that can contribute to collagen shortage is exposure to heavy metals, toxic chemicals, chronic illnesses, hormonal imbalances, smoking, drinking, drugs, not getting enough sleep, living a stressful life, little exercise, etc. 

FOODS + MEDICINAL HERBS  KNOWN TO BOOST COLLAGEN PRODUCTION

Below are just some of the highest vitamin C fruits, herbs and vegetables known to naturally boost and protect our collagen receptors:

  • Acerola cherries 
  • Rose hips
  • Guavas
  • Cantaloupe
  • Berries (especially wild berries!)
  • Black Currants
  • Thyme(!)
  • Broccoli
  • Kale 
  • Kiwi
  • Camu Camu (60x more per serving than an orange!)
  • Moringa 
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Bell peppers
  • Citrus (particularly the peel)

(A Note on Thyme! Gram for gram, fresh thyme has three times more vitamin C than oranges and one of the highest vitamin C concentration of all culinary herbs!)

How Do Herbs Support Collagen Production + Protection?

Another fascinating element that a lot of these herbs have in common is their energetic and chemical properties. The bone-strengthening type of herbs are naturally high in silica, calcium and minerals, which assists in bone strength and healing. Some of these herbs are astringent, yet contain what I like to call the “holy glue” — it’s an essential glue (a demulcent quality) in the plant that, once metabolized, becomes an incredibly powerful food for our bones, connective tissue, skin and more. Much like the “glue” that animal collagen is well known for! Some of the herbs that contain this mucilage that not only greatly assist our digestion, they may support repair and rejuvenation: Marshmallow, Horsetail, Cornsilk, Comfrey, Chlorella, Spirulina, Slippery Elm and more. 

Not many herbs contain these two oppositional natures — astringent and demulcent — and it is here that this nutrition must be widely used and understood in order to reap the incredible health benefits. Many of these herbs have been widely studied by the scientific community, backing up ancient folkloric uses among many cultures worldwide.

TOP 10 HERBS

1. ANTI-AGING ADAPTOGEN: HE SHOU WU | Polygonum multiflorum, aka Fo-Ti

The root of the fo-ti plant can restore fertility, help maintain hair color, boost energy, rejuvenate the nerves and brain cells, tone the kidneys and liver, fortify the bones and purify the blood. Athletes use it to improve performance and reduce recovery time.

This adaptogenic root has been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine for more than 3,000 years. According to legend, the man who first discovered fo-ti was delighted to find that with regular use, it revived his natural dark hair color and sexual virility. It is said he lived up to 160 years old. Since that time, fo-ti has been regarded as a sort of a fountain of youth and held as the elixir of life within Eastern traditions.

There are literally thousands of first-person reports and a handful of clinical studies of fo-ti (or preparations including the herb) demonstrating a remarkable ability to reverse hair loss and restore rich color to white or graying hair. Modern day use makes He Shou Wu a notable adaptogen for its harmonizing effect on the endocrine system (hormone-producing glands), and for its high zinc content, which is one of the key effects on hair growth and restoration. It’s also very well known for its jing preserving qualities — our primordial energy that fuels life, sexuality and vital essence, according to Traditional Chinese Medicine.

Due to its longevity promoting nature (including the superoxide dismutase, which is one of the most powerful antioxidants to the human body), it’s precisely the antioxidant that has been credited for reversing diseases, increasing immune protection and lifespan. Some of the more notable studies reflect its ability to protect bones from oxidative stress, chemo-protective qualities, increasing natural killer cells showing anti-cancerous support to several forms of cancer and being neuro-protective.

2. ANCIENT BONE HEALER: HORSETAIL | Equisteum arvense, spp.

Horsetail is one of the oldest plants on the planet. The hollow stems and shoots of horsetail are a rich source of naturally occurring calcium, magnesium, potassium and other valuable nutrients (including silica crystals). Many of the medicinal properties of horsetail can be attributed to its high silica content, which is easily absorbed by the human body.

Silica is an essential trace mineral that plays an important role in the development, strengthening and maintenance of healthy bones and teeth. Silica also restores weak connective tissues in blood vessels, cartilage, tendons and in collagen — the body glue that helps hold our skin and muscle tissues together. Silica speeds the healing of bone fractures, is said to help rheumatism and arthritis by improving the elasticity of the joints, and is recommended to athletes for sprains, pulled hamstrings and torn ligaments.

3. THE IMMORTAL: GYNOSTEMMA | Gynostemma pentaphyllum, aka Jiaogulan

Gynostemma contains over 80 different saponins (gypenosides) compared to the 28 found in ginseng. As well as these saponins, gynostemma is a natural antioxidant and a rich source of healthy vitamins and minerals. Many people suggest that gynostemma is one of the best adaptogens found in nature, also referred to as biological response modifiers.

Gynostemma is called the immortality herb for good reason. It was originally brought to scientific attention because population studies revealed that those who consumed it regularly were living longer and significantly healthier lives.

Researchers believe that the main reason for this general benefit is that it contains two very important antioxidants — glutathione and superoxide dismutase. One clinical study revealed that taking gynostemma each day for a two-month period reduced many of the signs of aging including fatigue, insomnia, memory loss, diarrhea and poor balance. The anti-aging benefits of gynostemma are due to its many rejuvenating properties, which all actually serve to protect the body from the damaging effects of stress.

Gynostemma has been used for thousands of years for its wide array healing abilities. It’s commonly used for its energizing effects, digestive help, cardiovascular health and hormone balancing qualities. Its demulcent qualities grant an extraordinary nourishing power to the gut, which is why it has been often used for weight loss, as it helps flush the intestinal walls while providing an anti-inflammatory effect.

4. ANCIENT MINERALIZER: NETTLES | Urtica dioica

Nettles contain a high amount of calcium, silica and sulfur, making it an excellent source to help boost collagen receptors. Nettles are often used in beauty products like shampoo and soap, as it restores, repairs and is known for its antiseptic qualities. Stinging nettle is a valuable tonic that can support the immune system, spleen, circulatory system, urinary tract, nervous system, respiratory tract, digestive system and endocrine system, including the adrenals, thyroid and the pancreas. In-vivo and in-vitro studies have also demonstrated its ability to protect from neurodamage, protect the immune system, strengthen bones and even support prostate health. A plant of many remedies.

Nettle is a multi-vitamin. Other nutrients found in nettles are calcium, carotene, magnesium, vitamin A, B + K, Potassium and protein. Nettle leaves are rich in silica and sulfur, making it an excellent candidate to strengthen hair follicle, shaft, strands and preventing easy breakage and damage. Increasing nutrient-rich blood flow circulation in the scalp helps to feed every hair follicle promoting healthy, long and lustrous hair.

Nettle has been used for hair care for centuries. Not only does nettle leaf help in controlling hair loss, but it may help in hair growth. Nettle leaves are rich in vitamins A, B1, B5, C, D and E. It also contains flavonoids, essential aids and proteins, nourishing the scalp and helping promote healthy and shiny hair.

DHT, an androgen hormone and sex steroid, is created as a byproduct of testosterone. Androgens like DHT bind to receptors on the sebaceous glands, which is a major stimulating effect and as a result causes increased output of oil on the skin. Nettle inhibits and lowers DHT supporting the reduction of sebum production nicely and even shrinking sebaceous glands. This also ties to its abilities to help prevent hair loss. Used internally and externally it can assist with the aforementioned qualities.

Nettles’ astringent properties may help with tightening the skin, assisting the skin and scalp, possibly preventing eczema and the healing of small cuts and bruises. Due to its high antioxidant makeup, it assists in combating the effects of multiple stressors, therefore protecting from our collagen receptors to our endocrine system.

5. THE RADIANT ONE: CALENDULA | Calendula officinalis

Calendula has been used since ancient times for its phenomenal abilities to restore skin, assist in wound healing and activate collagen receptors to increase the glow. Calendula flowers have long been employed in folk therapy, and more than 35 properties have been attributed to decoctions and tinctures from the flowers. The main uses are as remedies for burns (including sunburns), bruises and cutaneous and internal inflammatory diseases of several origins. Folk medicine in different parts of the world have used it for its beautifying chemistry, from preventing wrinkles, to oxygenating the blood, to increasing overall circulation. Modern research has proven many of its healing abilities, along with noting its extraordinary ability to protect the skin from cellular and oxidative damage.

The antibacterial and immuno-stimulant properties of the plant make it extremely useful in treating slow-healing cuts in people who have compromised immune systems. The University of Maryland Medical Center reports research indicating topical application of calendula cream helps to heal wounds and works as a local and internal antiseptic.

6. THE QUEEN: MANGOSTEEN | Garcinia mangostana

Collagen keeps our skin firm and resilient, and protects it from wrinkling. The role of vitamin C in the production of collagen is to interact with amino acids within collagen cells. It adds hydrogen and oxygen to those amino acids, so they may do their part in collagen production. Mangosteen peel has been touted for being not only one of the highest sources of vitamin C found in nature, but it also contains a mega-load of antioxidants.

Mangosteens contain a high amount of polyphenols known as xanthones, which are known for their myriad of healing abilities that it contains. According to scientific studies, xanthones from the pericarp, whole fruit, heartwood and leaf of mangosteen (Garcinia mangostana) are known to possess a wide spectrum of pharmacologic properties (including antioxidant, anti- tumor, anti-allergic, anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, anti-funga and anti-viral activities). It also contains promising chemo-preventive and anti-cancerous properties.

As far as beauty chemistry goes, the high amount of antioxidants has shown to be an excellent skin tonic.  Several studies have found that the pericarp was particularly successful at curbing the production of acne-causing inflammation, along with other skin breakouts (like cirrhosis, eczema and inflammation-based rashes). Besides using xanthones to defend the skin, the fruit also promotes microcirculation improving the appearance of skin vitality and radiance. Another study demonstrated that because of its phenolic-rich makeup, mangosteen pericarp extract was able to protect the skin from free radicals, showing serious potential as an anti-skin cancer agent.

7. VITAMIN C HAVEN | Hibiscus (Hibiscus sabdariffa)

This stunning flower is beautiful for so many reasons. For eons it’s been used as a  blood purifier, but it’s best known for it’s beautifying attributes like nourishing and hydrating the skin and hair, as a wound healer, and also assists with hemorrhages. Hibiscus is known to encourage an all round fresher, younger, smoother looking complexion. It’s been used both topically and internally for beautification for centuries.

Being high in Vitamin C, Hibiscus supports natural collagen production and supports collagen synthesis, strengthens bones, prevents elastin breakdown, may protect against wrinkles, helps reduce oxidative stress (with its high levels of antioxidants and beta-carotene). It’s also a high source of AHAs which slough away dead skin cells and encourage skin cell renewal. The natural acids present in Hibiscus help to purify your skin by breaking down dead skin and increasing cell turnover, they can even help to control acne breakouts. 

It’s being studied for its positive effects on heart health and cholesterol. One small study showed that hibiscus tea increased ‘HDL’ (good) cholesterol, decreased ‘LDL’ (bad) cholesterol and triglycerides. 

As if that wasn’t enough, Hibiscus is also said to support your immune system, help with digestion and stave off cravings, and may help with weight loss. 

8. NATURE’S BIOTIN | Avocado (Persea americana)

Like many millennials these days, we too are obsessed with avocados. Who doesn’t like a good avo toast or guac!? However, this trending food is nothing new. It’s been a key food staple amongst many indigenous peoples for millenia. Archaeologists have found evidence of avocado consumption going back almost 10,000 years in central Mexico!

And it’s not only the creamy green goodness that can be used from this plant. The leaves, for example, are used for bruising, sore muscles and skin breakouts. Even the pits can be used as an exfoliant for skin recovery and rejuvenation. (Tip: try the pits, grind them up, and put them in a homemade facial mask as an exfoliant).  

Avocados are a great source of biotin, which is part of the B complex vitamins. Biotin is known to help prevent dry skin when applied topically. It can also help prevent brittle hair and nails by eating it or using it as a face and hair mask for an added hydration boost.

9. THE SEED OF STRENGTH | Chia (Salvia hispanica)

According to Mayan language, the word ‘chia’ means strength. Aztec warriors used to consume these seeds for endurance as just one spoonful of them could sustain them for the whole day. The staple food is even used as currency by the Aztecs just to show how beneficial they are for vigor, endurance and energy. 

Chia seeds are a perfect superfood. They embody massive amounts of nutrients with very few calories. If you’ve ever put chia seeds into water, plant-milk or another other liquid, then you know what we’re talking about. Such a tiny seed absorbs so much liquid so eating it makes you feel full without the added calories. But this isn’t an empty food by any means. It’s chock full of essential fatty acids (especially omega-3s) which stimulate the hair follicles to induce hair growth and may help control hair loss.

Infused oils were made for the skin to increase glow, elasticity, vitality and reduce inflammation. So this seed is beneficial both topically and to take internally. They also don’t have much of a flavor so you can pair it with anything in the kitchen. In cooking you can use chia seeds as an egg replacement for baked goods like bread, muffins, breakfast bars and even as a pudding or oatmeal alternative. 

10. THE BONE MENDER COMFREY (Symphytum officinale)

Comfrey has been cultivated for healing since 400 BCE. All Materia Medica from the Middle Ages forward carried descriptions on the uses of comfrey. Comfrey is widely known as “one of nature’s greatest medicinal herbs”, and has appeared in the U.S. Pharmacopoeia, as well as in herbals compendiums around the world. Comfrey is a bone strengthening herb, that is very high in calcium, magnesium and vitamin C. In folk medicines it is referred to as “knit-bone” as there are countless of reports demonstrating its strong anti-inflammatory effects and speedy wound healing. Its natural concentration of allantoin is what makes it effective with internal and external repairs of broken bones or tissue. 

In the 80’s, reports showed how it can be potentially toxic, due to the pyrrolizidine alkaloids. PAs in extremely large doses may cause potentially fatal damage to the liver. Yet this study was based on lab rats that were overfed an extra-ordinary amount of isolates comfrey over long periods of time. If you study the debate, you will learn that an adult human would need to eat over 19,000 comfrey leaves to ingest an amount of comfrey comparable to the quantity given to baby rats in an experiment that resulted in liver damage.

It saddens me when government authorities ignore hundreds of years of traditional healing and fail to adequately question "research" before deeming a natural remedy unsuitable for widespread use. Because we are never likely to eat 19,000 comfrey leaves in our lifetimes, let alone in a short period of time, we happily eat comfrey as a food. It is one of the main foods we use for strengthening bones.

 A note on comfrey: *Although I've considered (and still do!) Comfrey a master plant for years, we no longer integrate it into our formula. Although this plant can be an excellent remedy for those that need assistance with their bones, ligaments and tissues, it has to be taken mindfully. When taken in the right dosage, and paired with the right herbs to harmonize it, it's an incredible medicine. Please do learn about it first before ingesting improperly.