Collagen is one of the supplements trending in the health and fitness world. It’s been recently praised for its inclusion in keto and paleo diets and is a main component of bone broth, a popular product with a long range of benefits and enthusiastic followers. Collagen is found in skin care products, even in snack bars; but it’s easy to confuse it as just another protein or get carried away by the hype surrounding it without understanding it. We’ll go through why collagen is important to our bodies and explain the benefits that it can have for you, and share our best picks for collagen from animal and non-animal derived sources.
What is Collagen?
Collagen is a protein primarily composed of amino acids proline, glycine, and hydroxyproline. Collagen makes up one-third of all the protein found in the body. There are several types of collagen (28 types in total), but the most common ones found are type I, II, III, IV, and V. They are present in different tissues. Type I makes up over 90% of human collagen that is found in the organ tissue, tendons, ligaments, teeth, bone, and skin. Type II is abundant in cartilage tissues, and Type III is found in blood vessels, muscle tissue, and the skin. Type IV is found in membranes and structures of the epithelium, and Type V is found in placenta and surfaces of most cells. (1)(2)(3)
Together, collagen and its amino acid components contribute to forming the connective tissue of mammals and fish. Some people like to think of collagen as the “glue” of the body, holding everything together. Muscle contains between 1-10% of collagen. (4)
Collagen decreases with age, with humans expecting to lose 1% of their total collagen each year after 40 years old. By eighty years old, collagen can decrease so drastically that there can be 75% less collagen in an elderly body compared to a younger body.
It isn’t all about appearance and reduction of wrinkles, however. Collagen performs a vital role in wound and tissue healing, organ health, bone and blood vessel repairs, gum tissue health, and scalp tissue health. It is very important to the health of the corneas, and it has a specific role within cell function from proliferation to cell differentiation. (1)
What are Collagen Peptides and Hydrolyzed Collagen?
You will often hear about collagen “peptides” and see products containing collagen peptides. The human body needs to ingest collagen through the digestive tract where it can be carried to the bloodstream and to the skin. This requires the collagen that we ingest orally to be in a hydrolyzed form where the process of hydrolysis (adding water molecules) breaks the collagen down into its amino acid peptides. Hydrolyzed collagen is also known as collagen hydrolysate. (1)
The remaining hydrolyzed product contains the amino acids hydroxyproline, glycine, proline, and smaller amounts of twenty other amino acids. The hydrolyzed form is the only form that is successfully absorbed through oral ingestion. (5)
Hydrolyzed collagen is different from the collagen already present in tissues. The collagen that naturally occurs in tissues (native collagen) contains different molecular weights and viscosities than its hydrolyzed counterpart. One of the more important functions of collagen is in its ability to form films, which also differs between native and hydrolyzed forms. Taking all of this into account, different industries will choose to use native or hydrolyzed collagen to achieve different results.
Hydrolyzed collagen is water soluble which makes it perfect for supplements and inclusion into food and beverages. It is generally more cost effective and more digestible than native collagen. The process to hydrolyze collagen is much simpler than the process required to extract native collagen. Perhaps the only place where hydrolyzed collagen falls short is in its film formation; it cannot form films without the addition of other biopolymers, whereas native collagen forms films on its own.
Due to the hydrolyzation process, hydrolyzed collagen can even become an electron donor to help stabilize cross-reactions between products and free radicals. (1)
How is Collagen Different than Gelatin?
Since many people are familiar with gelatin being a good source of collagen, it’s important to understand that bone broth is a good source of collagen because of the collagen in the gelatin. Gelatin is partially hydrolyzed collagen that forms the gel-like substance from the boiling of bones. If the gelatin were to be completely hydrolyzed, it would be reduced to collagen peptides and not have its characteristic gel texture. (6)
Is there Vegan Collagen?
Since collagen is a product found in animal tissues, the source of collagen can be a concern for eco-conscious individuals, vegans and vegetarians, or the ethically conscious individual. However, there is a solution for those people not comfortable ingesting animal products which we discuss below.
Some of the most popular traditional sources of collagen are extracted from cow, pig, or marine tissues (mostly fish but sometimes algae)(1). Due to high demand for other, non-animal derived collagen sources, there are some collagen supplements made from yeast or bacteria (though that still may not be an ethical choice for some individuals). However, these are in the process of being formulated and are not available to the general public. Studies have shown that the collagen sourced from yeast and bacteria are structurally similar to those which are animal-derived, but they aren’t mainstream quite yet. (7)
If collagen derived from yeast or bacteria is still not the right choice for you, the best solution is to take supplements known as collagen builders. These supplements are advertised as “collagen builders” and contain various ingredients from amino acids, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals which help your own body make more collagen on its own.
Try these Certified Vegan Collagen Builder Tablets by mykind Organics if you’re looking for a product which fits all these needs.
Do Collagen Supplements Work on the Skin?
Collagen supplements which are taken orally do make a difference in the skin. Recent studies have shown that collagen peptides are not only found in the blood, as previously understood, but are also transported and utilized by the skin. (5)
Hydrolyzed collagen supplements taken orally impact the skin in two important ways. Within the dermis, the free amino acid peptides are used in the synthesis of collagen and elastin fibers. The peptides also bind to fibroblast receptors and function as ligands. These ligands activate the synthesis of new collagen, hyaluronic acid, and elastin. In these ways, oral collagen supplements reach the deep layers of the skin where it improves elasticity, hydration, wrinkle reduction, and firmness. (1)
What are the Benefits of Collagen Supplements?
In the skin, collagen increases hydration, provides the building blocks to make other proteins necessary for skin health like fibrillin and elastin, generally strengthens skin, and reduces wrinkles. (8)(9)(10)
For muscles, collagen can help build muscle by helping provide the building blocks to produce creatine. Collagen also helps muscle growth after exercise (11). In one study, collagen increased muscle strength and mass in men affected by frailty.
In the bones, collagen was found to be more effective than calcium supplements in a clinical trial. By reducing the proteins in the bloodstream which causes degradation of bones, collagen helped mitigate the damage which causes the breakdown of bone tissue (12). Collagen supplements also increased bone mineral density in this clinical trial, and helped keep bones from developing osteoarthritis in these studies (here & here).
For the heart, collagen is necessary to provide artery health through providing structure to the artery. In a clinical trial, collagen supplements increased levels of good cholesterol while also decreasing artery stiffness. (18)
For hair and nails, collagen can help the body grow stronger hair and nails. (19)
Are there any side effects to collagen supplements?
Most notably, if you have an allergy to shellfish, fish, or eggs, you’ll want to make sure you know the exact source of your collagen. Since many are derived from fish sources or from eggshells, it can be harmful to those who have allergies to these products.
Collagen supplements may cause heartburn or a bad taste in the mouth. (15)
Be sure to buy the highest quality bone broth you can to avoid heavy metal contamination, pesticides, or antibiotics. Many of the cuts of beef and bone that are used to make bone broth are lesser-quality and often what’s leftover as a by-product of processing. Try to buy organic bone broth and grass-fed bone broth if you can.
Is Collagen Worth it?
Overall, collagen supplements taken orally work better than collagen which is applied topically. Remember that collagen isn’t all about the skin, but also repair and maintenance of internal organs. Topical collagen won’t be able to provide benefits for the inside of your body. Collagen supplements and a good diet rich in protein, minerals, and antioxidants can help your skin from the inside out.
Many choose to supplement collagen, but it is possible to get more collagen by eating a diet rich in collagen builders, which are mainly protein sources. You can find nutrients which help your body make collagen in animal proteins (beef, fish, chicken), as well as eggs, dairy products, and beans.
Your body also needs some cofactors in order to help it produce collagen naturally. These are copper, Vitamin C, and zinc. (20)
Our Best Picks
Below are some of our best picks for capsules and powders for both animal-derived collagen and plant-derived collagen, as well as more vegan collagen builders.
- Organic, Grass-fed Collagen Capsules (from Beef Bone Broth): https://amzn.to/2G68JQ8
- Grass-fed Cartilage (from Beef) Capsules: https://amzn.to/2ZYAtgj
- Grass-fed Collagen Peptides (from Beef) Powder: https://amzn.to/3kHawtF
- Multi-source Collagen Powder (from grass-fed Beef, Wild Caught Marine, Free Roaming Chicken, and Eggshell): https://amzn.to/33W7JpV
Vegan Collagen Builders:
- Plant-Based (Marine sourced) Vegetarian Collagen Peptides: https://amzn.to/33WPj8k
- Vegan Collagen Support (Builder) in Plant-Based Protein Powder: https://amzn.to/2ZZKo5i
1. León-López, Arely et al. “Hydrolyzed Collagen-Sources and Applications.” Molecules (Basel, Switzerland) vol. 24,22 4031. 7 Nov. 2019, doi:10.3390/molecules24224031
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5. Yazaki M;Ito Y;Yamada M;Goulas S;Teramoto S;Nakaya MA;Ohno S;Yamaguchi K; “Oral Ingestion of Collagen Hydrolysate Leads to the Transportation of Highly Concentrated Gly-Pro-Hyp and Its Hydrolyzed Form of Pro-Hyp into the Bloodstream and Skin.” Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, U.S. National Library of Medicine, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28244315/.
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9. Borumand, Maryam, and Sara Sibilla. “Daily consumption of the collagen supplement Pure Gold Collagen® reduces visible signs of aging.” Clinical interventions in aging vol. 9 1747-58. 13 Oct. 2014, doi:10.2147/CIA.S65939
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11. Zdzieblik, Denise et al. “Collagen peptide supplementation in combination with resistance training improves body composition and increases muscle strength in elderly sarcopenic men: a randomised controlled trial.” The British journal of nutrition vol. 114,8 (2015): 1237-45. doi:10.1017/S0007114515002810
12. Elam ML, Johnson SA, Hooshmand S, et al. A calcium-collagen chelate dietary supplement attenuates bone loss in postmenopausal women with osteopenia: a randomized controlled trial. J Med Food. 2015;18(3):324-331. doi:10.1089/jmf.2014.0100
13. König, Daniel et al. “Specific Collagen Peptides Improve Bone Mineral Density and Bone Markers in Postmenopausal Women-A Randomized Controlled Study.” Nutrients vol. 10,1 97. 16 Jan. 2018, doi:10.3390/nu10010097
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17. Clark KL, Sebastianelli W, Flechsenhar KR, et al. 24-Week study on the use of collagen hydrolysate as a dietary supplement in athletes with activity-related joint pain. Curr Med Res Opin. 2008;24(5):1485-1496. doi:10.1185/030079908×291967
18. Tomosugi, Naohisa et al. “Effect of Collagen Tripeptide on Atherosclerosis in Healthy Humans.” Journal of atherosclerosis and thrombosis vol. 24,5 (2017): 530-538. doi:10.5551/jat.36293
19. Hexsel D, Zague V, Schunck M, Siega C, Camozzato FO, Oesser S. Oral supplementation with specific bioactive collagen peptides improves nail growth and reduces symptoms of brittle nails. J Cosmet Dermatol. 2017;16(4):520-526. doi:10.1111/jocd.12393
20. Team, Wellness. “The Best Way You Can Get More Collagen.” Health Essentials from Cleveland Clinic, Health Essentials from Cleveland Clinic, 19 Aug. 2020, health.clevelandclinic.org/the-best-way-you-can-get-more-collagen/.