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What to look for in a collagen supplement

4 min read

Collagen is without doubt a trendy ingredient in the wellness world at the moment - some of us take it for it's touted beauty benefits while others swear by it's gut health boosting properties.The fact that it's good for our bodies is not up for debate but we can ask the questions: are there different types of collagen and is one superior over the others?

Collagen is the most abundant protein in your body. Proteins are made up of amino acids so when you are buying a collagen supplement it's the amino acids you're ingesting and using. The body uses amino acids to build muscle, bone, cartilage, skin, hair, connective tissue, amongst many other things. There are many different types of amino acids, but the type found in collagen are the most abundant in your body due to the role they play in forming your connective tissues and skin.

The body’s collagen production declines as you age, in fact after the age of 25, collagen synthesis reduces at a rate of 1.5% a year and after the age of 45, your collagen levels may have fallen by as much as 30%. Depleted collagen levels mean that we're more prone to things such as wrinkles and dry skin as well as ailments affecting our bones and joints.

Is there a superior form of collagen?

It makes sense that providing the body with a nutritional source of bioavailable collagen will allow replenishment of collagen stores in the body, however the next question you may ask is; is there a superior form of collagen?

Picking a collagen source can feel like you're deciding from a menu, do I go for fish, beef, chicken or pork?! The answer is that it doesn't really matter. Structurally speaking collagen is collagen whether it comes from a chicken, a cow or a fish.

However if you're choosing a collagen supplement then marine collagen is the purest and safest form. It is more costly as it is extracted from cold water fish in comparison to bovine and porcine sourced from the byproducts of slaughterhouses. 

Bioavailability largely determines the efficacy of any nutrient you ingest

Collagen is a large molecule therefore if you've started to research collagen supplements you may have noticed the term 'hydrolysed' being used as a descriptor. If collagen is hydrolysed it means that the amino acid chains have been broken down into smaller units making it easier for the body to digest. In other words, it is a more bioavailable form of collagen - so if you are considering using collagen for specific health reasons look out for supplements containing the hydrolysed form. 

Another advantage of marine collagen is it's enhanced bioavailability compared to bovine and porcine collagen.

Collagen supplements do vary a lot in quality, so its important to note where in the world's its coming from - those coming from China for example tend to be cheap and of poor quality due to loose manufacturing controls and standards. 

There are 4 main types of collagen

While there are 28 different types of collagen in total (differentiated by where in the body it's sourced and it's amino acid structure) you'll probably see 4 main types referred to on a product label. Do not worry too much about this terminology, whatever the type specified on the label, they are all still the same protein so when you consume collagen you're rebuilding all of it in your body not just those specific types. 

Just in case you're interested, here is a closer look at the four main types of collagen and the role within the body:

  • Type I: This type accounts for 90% of your body's collagen and is made of densely packed fibers. It provides structure to skin, bones, tendons, fibrous cartilage, connective tissue and teeth.
  • Type II: This type is made of more loosely packed fibers and is found in elastic cartilage, which cushions joints.
  • Type III: This type supports the structure of muscles, organs and arteries.
  • Type IV: This type helps with filtration and is found in layers of your skin.

What's the alternative for vegans and vegetarians?

Currently there is no vegan collagen source albeit research being done to find a plant that's structurally similar. Interesting, their is talk surrounding tobacco leaves being a possible answer!

If you're a fish eating vegetarian (pescatarian) you could opt for a marine collagen which is made from fish skin.

One thing that everyone can do is drink green tea as it has been shown to stimulate the production of collagen and prevent it's breakdown. There is already collagen doing it's amazing work inside your body, the key is to keep it stimulated so that it can carry!

Food sources of collagen

Collagen is found in the connective tissues of animals therefore chicken skin, pork skin, beef and fish are all good sources of collagen.

Collagen is also found in foods that contain gelatin, such as bone broth. Gelatin is a protein substance derived from collagen after it has been cooked.

It remains unclear as to whether eating collagen-rich foods actually helps increase collagen in your body. There have not been any human studies on whether collagen-rich foods have the same benefits as supplements - this is because collagen in food is broken down into individual amino acids and peptides by digestive enzymes whereas the collagen in supplements has already been broken down, or hydrolyzed as we mentioned above. This in turn means it is more efficiently absorbed by the body than the collagen in foods.

Side effects?

Currently, there are not many known risks to taking collagen supplements, however, some supplements are made from common food allergens, such as fish, shellfish and eggs. It is important therefore that people with allergies to these foods avoid collagen supplements made with these ingredients to prevent allergic reactions.

Related Supplements

A healthy balanced diet is the best way to consume all the nutrients we need. Sometimes however this isn't possible and then supplements can help. This article isn't intended to replace medical advice. Please consult your healthcare professional before trying any supplements or herbal medicines.