Collagen has become quite a popular supplement for those who want healthier hair and skin, and those who are worried about their joints or gut health. Its recent increase in popularity has seen it join the ranks of a wide variety of different proteins and amino acids that are bound to be crowding the shelves at your local supplement aisle.
Some of you may have known about collagen before it became a supplement superstar - it’s been used in the beauty industry for decades, and collagen injections were first approved by the FDA in 1981 - over 40 years ago!
Ever since then, collagen has been hailed as one of the keys to staying young - and today, research proves that’s true not only for your outside appearance but for your internal health as well.
News that collagen can be ingested in the form of supplements and still have desired effects on skin, bones, muscles, and joints took the health world by storm. Some people are still trying to decide whether it’s a passing fad or if it has enough scientific backing to make it persist as a part of many people’s supplementing regimen.
If you have been taking collagen supplements for a while, you might have noticed one side effect that very few people seem to talk about, and if they do, it’s in hushed voices. Maybe you noticed the same problem? Or is it just your imagination?
Is it because you aren’t eating enough roughage or drinking enough water, or is it actually your collagen supplements that are the culprits of these bouts of constipation? Or is it really the culprit behind your sudden bloating and frequent trips to the bathroom? Read on, as we explore a bit about vegan collagen, and how collagen indeed has an effect on your gut and your gut health.
What Is Collagen?
In short, collagen is a protein. In fact, it’s the most commonly found protein in your body. And there’s not just one type of collagen - there are 28 different types, and they all have slightly different functions.
These different types of collagen make up your joints, inner ears, lenses in your eyes, reticular fibers, intervertebral discs, connective tissue, and much, much more.
There are different products out on the market that contain different types of collagen - and the range of benefits you can expect from taking them all depends on which one you choose. Check the package for information about the types of collagen that are in the supplement - there can be as many as five types per product, but also as few as one!
What are Vegan Sources of Collagen?
There are many sources of collagen that you may or may not have heard of - non-vegan gummy bears for one! Gelatin is a huge source of this protein, and it can be found in products like gummies or jello. If you’re vegan, you should be wary of innocent products like marshmallows, candy corn, fruit snacks, some jelly beans, or peeps.
Gelatin in these kinds of products is generally made out of boiled bones, ligaments, animal hides, and other animal tissue that are a by-product of slaughterhouses.
So what are good sources of vegan collagen? This might seem tricky since animal collagen is such a specialized protein.
While vegan gelatin comes from seaweed that is processed to make agar, (yes, the same stuff you may remember from high school Petree dishes), vegan collagen is a bit harder to come by.
Unlike calcium or other vitamins and minerals, collagen is produced by living organisms. There are a few ways to go around this though:
Help stimulate your own collagen production
If you eat certain amino acids that are the building blocks of collagen, you will stimulate your very own collagen production. It’s easy to find vegan collagen boosters in the supplement aisle. They’ll often include vitamin C, vitamin A, Zinc, Copper, and other vitamins and minerals that have been found to boost the body’s collagen production.
Foods that stimulate natural collagen production:
- Tropical fruits
A lot of vegans are huge promoters of this ‘non-collagen ingesting’ method of supporting your natural collagen production, because after all, even if you ingest collagen, it gets pretty much broken down by your body into smaller amino acids. Some people argue that there are rare amino acids that are simply not found in plants. The jury is still out on who is right.
So what’s the other option? It’s a type of collagen that’s made from microbes - yes, those microscopic living creatures that you get rid of when you wash your hands. So is microbial collagen really vegan? Depends on your philosophy, really.
Microbial collagen isn’t widely available today - it’s obtained through largely experimental means, and not usually developed for mass production quite yet. It comes from microbes and other tiny life forms like yeast bacteria that are processed and made into “artificial” collagen.
Today, artificially created collagen is a gigantic potential market. Once the process becomes scalable, the resulting flood of collagen will take the supplement world by storm. Why is this type of supplement important - not only for vegans?
The technology of extracting collagen from microbes, or in some cases, bioengineering them in order to speed up collagen extraction, does not produce the same kind of sometimes harmful by-products that the industrial animal collagen extraction process does.
People with allergies can also ingest this type of microbial collagen, and not suffer side effects sometimes associated with animal collagen.
Collagen and gut health
Aside from beautiful skin and healthy joints, collagen also rebuilds and strengthens the digestive tract lining. This is because glycine and glutamine - two amino acids that you may have already heard of if you’re into reading the backs of supplement boxes - are necessary to make this happen.
Some studies suggest that collagen peptides can actually affect the microbiome in your gut. Supposedly they are good at fixing inflammation and damage in your digestive tract so that they may actually help you ward off the leaky gut syndrome. This, in turn, can positively affect nutrient absorption.
Collagen is made up of many different types of amino acids, and some of them are undoubtedly responsible for reducing inflammation.
Speaking of gut health… what about collagen and poo?
We have danced around the subject for quite a bit now - from the skin to ligaments to gut function, and we have finally settled in the bowels, where this question began. Do collagen supplements cause constipation?
If you’re just starting off with collagen, you should take it slow and see what effect it has on you. If you start off full throttle then yes - it can give you constipation. The key is to ease into it, as with any powerful supplement.
As we’ve stated before, collagen has an amazing effect on your digestive tract because of its complicated amino acid building blocks and their anti-inflammatory effects. This can be a shock to the system for some people, depending on their nutritional intake up to that point.
Any situation where you change your diet habits quickly can make your gut skittish - make you constipated, bloated, or have an effect that’s quite the opposite of constipation.
Can collagen cause constipation?
Note: it’s very important when starting to supplement with collagen, to up your water intake. Collagen peptides increase the movement of water to your gut, which naturally aids digestion. But if you don’t have enough water in your system this can lead to constipation and other problems.
Food can move easier through your gut with the help of collagen that attracts “lubrication” to this part of the body. Sometimes, if you have taken too much collagen at once or drank too little water, you can end up either constipated or bloated.
Also make sure to look at other ingredients in your collagen supplements, as there are more reported side effects like diarrhea, bloating or constipation reported from allergic reactions to fillers or other ingredients commonly found alongside collagen.
An added bonus of collagen is that the amino acids it contains tend to increase your feeling of “fullness”. This can lead to less snacking, and smaller meals altogether. It may also keep you feeling full for longer.
Final tips for collagen newbies
Before you start your collagen supplementation regimen, get that bottled water ready. Make sure you stay hydrated to ward off any constipation. Most importantly, start off slow during your first week.
It has been shown that taking collagen supplements actually slows down the breaking down of collagen by your own body. As people age, this becomes a problem, causing loss of that fresh plumpness and tightness around your face, arms, neck - and just about anywhere else.
When people talk about starting to supplement collagen, it's generally agreed that around 40 years old is a good time to start.
See how your body reacts, and then you can up your dose. Read all about the other ingredients in your supplements. Is there something in there other than collagen that can cause an allergic reaction, bloating, or constipation?
It’s important to note that even if you’ve been taking collagen supplements for a while and switched brands, these “fillers” might not be the same from one brand to another. One brand of collagen supplements might cause an adverse reaction in your body, while another will be just fine. This is caused by different additives, dyes, vitamins, or processing methods that different brands use.
Eat roughage - whole grains, nuts, leafy greens - everything that will sweep through your digestive tract and help clean it with the aid of collagen peptides. Eat other gut-healing foods in order to help the collagen do its job.
Foods that promote a healthy gut biome, prebiotics, probiotics, and unprocessed products will work together with collagen peptides to make your gut stronger and healthier.
If you have had digestive problems in the past, or are taking medication that may affect your gut, always talk to your doctor before beginning new supplements. Collagen supplements have no known major side effects, even when it comes to the digestive tract. Any cases outside of this norm are pretty rare.