If you’re toying with the idea of taking a collagen supplement for a spin, it’s important to know your facts. Should you take fish collagen or bovine collagen? Is it better in pill or powder form?
Read on to find out which type of collagen is the best for you.
What is Collagen?
Collagen represents a large family of fibrous proteins that are found all over your body — including in your skin, cartilage, and even in your bones. There are more than 15 different types of collagen, which like all other proteins, are made up of amino acid building blocks.
Collagen is derived from the hides and connective tissue of animals; it can be sourced from cows (in which case it’s called bovine collagen), fish (also known as marine collagen), or even chicken (no nickname here, just chicken collagen). The good news is that these parts of the animals are often discarded, so it’s actually a sustainable choice to turn them into a collagen supplement.
Because it’s made from animals, there are no vegetarian or vegan sources of collagen. Vegans can, however, supplement with nutrients, like vitamin E, that support the body’s natural production of collagen.
The Body's Scaffolding
Collagen is often called the body’s scaffolding.
“It’s the glue that holds the body together,” says New York dermatologist Whitney Bowe, author of The Beauty of Dirty Skin: The Surprising Science of Looking and Feeling Radiant from the Inside Out.
She says collagen makes up about 75% of the dry weight of your skin, providing volume that keeps skin looking plump and keeps lines at bay. It’s also rich in in the amino acids proline and glycine, which you need to maintain and repair your tendons, bones, and joints.
“As we get older, we break it down faster than we can replace it,” she says, noting that we begin to lose about 1% of our collagen per year in our mid-20s and lose as much as 30% during the first 5 years of menopause.
Injecting collagen has fallen out of favor in many medical skin care practices, since it doesn’t last as long as other fillers and tends to prompt allergic reactions. And when it's put on the skin, it doesn’t absorb well, Bowe says.
When she learned a few years ago that people were eating it instead, she was skeptical. But she has since changed her mind.
“Just in the last few years, there have been some impressive studies showing that ingestible collagen can indeed impact the appearance of skin,” says Bowe.
One 2014 study of 69 women ages 35 to 55 found that those who took 2.5 or 5 grams of collagen daily for 8 weeks showed a lot of improvement in skin elasticity, compared with those who didn’t take it.
Another found that women who took 1 gram per day of a chicken-derived collagen supplement for 12 weeks had 76% less dryness, 12% fewer visible wrinkles, better blood flow in the skin, and a 6% higher collagen content.
And a 2019 review of eight studies including 805 patients concluded that “preliminary results are promising for the short and long-term use of oral collagen supplements for wound healing and skin aging.”
Moyad, author of The Supplement Handbook: A Trusted Expert's Guide to What Works and What’s Worthless for More Than 100 Conditions, cautions that many of the studies done so far on collagen are small and at least partially funded by industry.
“The science is truly in its infancy,” he says. “There’s a lot of conflict of interest, and not enough quality control.”
But he, too, believes collagen holds promise.
As a protein source alone, collagen is an excellent one, packing in more protein per calorie than other sources while containing less sodium and sugar. And Moyad finds the evidence suggesting it may improve body composition, joint health, and healing rates intriguing.
One recent study of 53 elderly men with sarcopenia, a loss of muscle caused by aging, found that those who took 15 grams of collagen daily, in addition to lifting weights three times per week for 3 months, gained significantly more muscle and lost more fat than those who only lifted weights.
Collagen has also been shown to act as a powerful wound healer, able to stop bleeding, recruit immune and skin cells, and stimulate new blood vessel formation. One study of 89 long-term care residents with pressure ulcers found that those who took collagen supplements three times daily for 8 weeks saw their wounds heal twice as fast.
Andrea Wong, senior vice president for scientific and regulatory affairs for the industry trade group the Council for Responsible Nutrition, says that as ingredients go, collagen has an excellent track record.
“It has been around for ages, and there is a large body of evidence supporting its safe use,” she says. She notes that studies that see how well it works also look at side effects. In general, collagen has been shown to be safe, Wong said.
She notes that supplement companies are required to comply with federal “good manufacturing practices,” which prohibit unsafe levels of contaminants like heavy metals.
With that said, let's take explore the ingestible collagen options below.
Types of Collagen Sources
Collagen can come from a number of sources, for example fish, pigs, cows and chickens. Of course, you will find that most of the supplements in the market are either fish- or pig-based. Let’s look at both types before we start comparing them.
Fish (Marine) Collagen
Fish collagen (sometimes known as marine collagen) can be extracted from either the scales or the bones of fishes. However, the collagen extracted from the bones are less damaged than from the scales, which means that it is more effective for us when it is extracted from the bones.
Pig (porcine) Collagen
Well, what is pig collagen? It is collagen that is extracted mainly from the skins of pigs. Though it is said that the secret of the longevity of the Okinawan people comes from eating pigs, when in actual fact it is the composition of animo acid from pigs that is highly similar to humans, and is what eases the absorption of the collagen. Pig collagen also contains about 2 times more hydroxyproline (an amino acid essential for collage synthesis) than in fish collagen, making pig collagen more potent than marine collagen.
Beef collagen used to be very popular too, but due to the Mad Cow disease in early 2000s, demand shifted towards the pig counterparts. However, since there is not enough pigs, this lead to using fish as the other source. Collagen coming from pigs are considered very valuable.
Things to consider
Collagen consumed is usually not absorbed until the digestive enzymes in the stomach breaks it down into amino acids, from which the intestine can then absorb. Fish collagen is seven times easier to break down compared to pig collagen, making it much easier to absorb.
Along comes low molecular weight collagen to solve this. The low molecular weight collagen has already been broken down beforehand, which means that it can even skip being broken down by digestive enzymes, and be readily absorbed by the body at the stage of absorption.
Other than how effective our bodies absorb the two types of collagen, the amount of hydroxyproline is also different in both. Hydroxyproline is a characteristic amino acid, which studies in recent years have shown that hydroxyproline plays an important role in the creation of collagen. Pig collagen contains about 2 times more hydroxyproline than in fish collagen, making pig collagen more potent in the nutrients required for collagen synthesis.
Some fish collagen in the market do have a fishy smell to it so formulas often contain flavourings to mask the fishiness which can lead to artificial ingredients in sweeteners, flavours or colours. To avoid taste altogether it is best to look for supplements that have the form of collagen encapsulated.
For products that use fish collagen, sometimes you will see comments from users like “Collagen originating from fish is safe, while from pig it is not.”. However, how safe a product is has nothing to do with whether it’s from fish or pig. Stringent checks are conducted to ensure safety and quality, even when collagen is extracted from pigs.
Another misconception is that one collagen dissolves better than the other. Experiments has been done before by users, and there is no sign of how difficult collagen powders dissolves, or if one dissolves better than the other.
Main Types of Collagen in the Human Body
Collagen is the most abundant protein you have. In fact, your body produces 28 types of collagen. The majority of supplements available on the market focus on these collagen types:
- Type I Collagen: Makes up roughly 90% of the collagen in your body and is found in skin, tendons, ligaments, and bones.
- Type II Collagen: Promotes healthy joints by building up cartilage.
- Type III Collagen: Supports muscles, organs, and arteries, and also found in the skin and bones in smaller amounts.
- Type IV Collagen: A key component of the basement membrane, which is located between the epidermis (outermost layer of skin) and dermis (middle layer of skin).
Different Types of Collagen Supplements
Knowing which type of collagen supplement you need to help your skin is half of the process. You can consume collagen in one of the following ways:
Collagen powder: broken down into amino acids (collagen peptides) for easier absorption by the body. You can add collagen powder to your drinks or recipes.
- Collagen pills: Hydrolyzed collagen that is encapsulated in a tablet or gel capsule, supplements will often contain a more potent targeted formula is to be taken as a tablet or gel capsule that contains collagen powder.
- Gummy collagen: These chewable supplements are almost like candy and unfortunately often contain copious amounts of artificial flavourings, colours and sweeteners that may do more harm than good.
- Liquid collagen: This is a pre-mixed drink that already contains hydrolyzed collagen but similar to that of the gummies, these can often contain several artificial ingredients that dampen the benefits of the collagen.
Pros and Cons of Collagen Supplements
Taking a regular collagen supplement may benefit your skin, as well as other areas of your body. However, you should also be aware of potential side effects, drawbacks, and limitations.
Pros of Collagen Supplements
1. Ease of Use
Hydrolyzed collagen makes it possible for your body to take in what is otherwise known as a supermolecule. A standard collagen molecule is so large that it can't penetrate the skin or be easily broken down and absorbed into the bloodstream.
Collagen supplements, overall, are quite easy to ingest due to the various forms in which they come. For instance, you can take your supplement the old-fashioned way by swallowing a pill, or you can mix collagen peptides within your smoothie or juice.
2. Effectiveness Over Time
A 2019 review of 11 different studies shows that oral collagen supplementation can limit skin ageing and promote wound healing. But don't count on these supplements to give you immediate results. Individual timelines will vary greatly, but you may notice a gradual change in your complexion after at least three months of daily use.
3. Can Be Blended With Other Vital Ingredients
Many collagen supplements — whether they're in pill, powder, or gummy form — also contain vitamin C, which promotes collagen production in the body. This will allow you to replenish lost collagen while also kickstarting your body's natural collagen synthesis. Other blends include collagen with hyaluronic acid, which aids in skin hydration.
Cons of Collagen Supplements
1. Collagen May Not Go Where You Want It
When you take a collagen supplement, your body ultimately decides where and how to put those amino acids back together, regardless of collagen type. Remember that type I collagen is found not only in your skin but also your bones and connective tissue. Your body could decide to send those building blocks to help strengthen your tendons instead of softening those fine lines around your eyes.
2. Potentially Restrictive Due to Diet or Allergies
Many collagen supplements on the market are sourced from animals, which doesn't make them suitable for a vegan to take. Meanwhile, anyone who is allergic to fish or shellfish will need to make sure they're not consuming marine collagen.
To counter these issues, plant-based collagen-building supplements are becoming more commonplace. These usually contain elastin and biotin, which are ideal for maintaining healthy hair and skin.
Remember to speak with a healthcare professional or dermatologist before starting any new supplements, diet plans, or skincare regimens.
Our Pick For Collagen Boosting
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