Everyone from beauty junkies to biohackers is blending scoops of collagen powder into their coffee, smoothies, and even soups. It’s the wellness trend that never stops giving! But what’s this important protein really all about? Glad you asked. Here’s everything you need to know about what collagen does in the body, how we can boost our intake, the different types of collagen supplements out there, and how to maximize its many benefits.
- ABOUT OUR EXPERTS: Jonny Bowden, Ph.D., C.N.S., is a holistic nutritionist and healthy living expert. Jerry Bailey, D.C., LA.c., is a certified nutritionist, acupuncturist, chiropractor, and functional medicine physician with Lakeside Holistic Health. Andrea Kirkland, M.S., R.D., is a registered dietitian and the owner and founder of Culinary Med Ed. Dr. Joshua Axe, D.C., D.N.M., C.N.S., is a doctor of natural medicine and the co-founder of Ancient Nutrition. Emily Tills, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.N., is. a registered dietitian.
What is collagen?
First, a few basic facts about collagen. “The most abundant protein in our body, collagen is found in our skin, nails, hair, joints, muscles, bones, and more,” says Jonny Bowden, Ph.D., C.N.S. It’s even a vital component of the digestive system. “It gives our connective tissues their structure, and works with the protein elastin to keep them firm.” In fact, there are so many different types of collagen—more than 28—and each type is used throughout the body in a variety of ways.
In addition to giving structure to skin, organs, and more, collagen also helps our blood clot and contributes to joint and bone health,” explains Jerry Bailey, D.C., LA.c., a certified nutritionist, acupuncturist, chiropractor, and functional medicine physician with Lakeside Holistic Health.
While our bodies produce collagen on their own, the ability to do so declines as we age. “We don’t know why collagen production declines with age, but it does—and dramatically,” says Bowden. “After age 20, we produce one percent less collagen in our skin per year. By the time we hit our 40s, production drops drastically.”
The results are many (and not so pleasant): wrinkles, thinning skin, brittle hair and nails, and joint, bone, and muscle issues (like stiffness and aching). Since the protein isn’t part of the average modern American diet (more on that in a second), supplements made of the protein have taken off.
“By supporting collagen production through nutrition and supplements, we can help maintain youthful, healthy-looking skin as well as the health and integrity of our joints, bones, and more,” Bailey notes.
Collagen In The Human Diet
Before we get into all things collagen supplements, let’s break down where humans have traditionally gotten collagen from in their diets.
“Raw collagen comes from animals—particularly parts of the animal that we usually don’t eat, like gristle, cartilage, tendons, and bones,” says Bowden. “When we cook those animal parts—as we do when we simmer bones for an extended period to make bone broth—that collagen heats up and turns into gelatin.” Yep, that waxy yellow substance floating around in your bone broth is what we’re talking about here.
However, bone broth isn’t the most efficient way to get collagen into your body. At least not if you want that collagen to do what it’s known for (like improving joints and skin). “Gelatin, the form of collagen found in bone broth, is made up of strings of amino acids called peptides,” Bowden explains. “These big molecules need to be broken down further for you to make the most of them. Though your body will absorb collagen protein in this form, it may not effectively break it down into small enough particles for it to be of maximum use.”
That’s where hydrolyzation comes in. “Hydrolyzation breaks collagen down into tiny, microscopic particles that the body can just suck up and put right to use where it needs them,” says Bowden. It’s this form of collagen that’s used in collagen supplements designed to support skin, hair, nails, and joints.
“Bone broth is a terrific food that supplies a rich array of vitamins, micronutrients, and some collagen in the form of gelatin, but if you want collagen for more specific purposes, hydrolyzed collagen supplements are the way to go,” Bowden says.
Which type of collagen is right for you?
In addition to the many types of collagen found within the human body, other animal species have their own unique forms. This increases the variety of collagen in our environment and the types on the market in terms of supplements and products. That being said, there are a handful you’re most likely to come across.
Here’s a look at what the most common types of collagen offer and how to know which one is right for you.
Type I Collagen
The most abundant form of collagen in our body, type I is what you’re most likely to find in collagen supplements out there. According to Bowden, it’s the type primarily found in our skin.
Given that, “replenishing the body with this type of collagen peptide may be particularly beneficial for those looking to improve the look of their skin, hair, and nails,” explains dietitian Andrea Kirkland, M.S., R.D., owner and founder of Culinary Med Ed. “And, because type I collagen also promotes the health of your muscles, bones, ligaments, and tendons, it may benefit those who live active lifestyles, too.”
Typically, the type I collagen found in supplements is derived from both bovine and marine sources, according to Kirkland. You’ll find it in many general and beauty-centric powders, gummies, and capsules. Research suggests that anywhere between 2.5 and 15 grams of this particular type per day can be beneficial.
Type II Collagen
Typically sourced from chickens, this type of collagen is found predominantly in cartilage and is key for joint health, according to Bailey. “Type II collagen supplements are often used to support joint health, so they are ideal for individuals with joint issues or those who lead an active lifestyle that puts extra strain on their joints,” he says. “Dosing recommendations are typically around one gram per day, but it’s always best to follow the advice of a healthcare professional.”
Type III Collagen
Like type I, type III collagen is found in the skin. It is primarily responsible for fibroblast function, thus helping the body produce collagen as well as elastin, explains Kirkland. “Since it declines faster than type I as you age, it’s thought to play a major role in aging skin,” she says.
If you’re looking to help slow down signs of aging to maintain a more youthful appearance, Kirkland recommends opting for this type of collagen or even combining types I and III. In addition to supporting healthy skin, these types also offer some muscle and bone-strengthening benefits.
Read More: 5 Possible Reasons Why Your Skin Is So Dry
Serving recommendations can vary when combining types of collagen, though Bailey suggests combining at least one serving of each type if you’re DIYing your combo. Again, aim for a total collagen intake between 2.5 and 15 grams.
Fun fact: These first three types of collagen make up about 90 percent of all of the collagen in the human body, according to Bowden.
Types V and X Collagen
Although these types of collagen are less common, they still serve an important role. “Type V collagen is found in hair, the placenta, eyes, and the surfaces of cells,” says Bailey. “Type X is found in chicken eggshell membranes, and plays a role in bone formation and healing.”
While you won’t likely find standalone type V and type X collagen supplements, you will often find these types included in multi-collagen supplements, which doctor of natural medicine Dr. Joshua Axe, D.C., D.N.M., C.N.S., co-founder of Ancient Nutrition, typically recommends for anyone looking for well-rounded collagen benefits. It’s best to follow the serving instructions on multi-collagen supplements, as amounts can vary and, as mentioned, there’s no set standard for collagen dosing, Bailey notes.
A Note On The Different Animal Sources
As you can see, different types of collagen found in supplements are sourced from different types of animals.
Bovine (or beef) collagen is one of the most popular options out there. “Hydrolyzed bovine collagen is found in the skin, bones, and muscles of cows, and provides type I and type III collagen,” says Axe. Of course, quality matters here: “If you go for beef collagen, make sure the product you choose comes from healthy, sustainably-raised cows,” Bowden adds.
Another (newer) source of type I collagen is fish (a.k.a. marine). Though fish collagen hasn’t been around as long as beef collagen, it does boast a few definite selling points. “Most notably, fish collagen peptides are smaller than beef collagen peptides, and studies have shown that they are very well absorbed and digested,” says Bowden. “Since they are so easy on the gut, many naturopathic doctors recommend fish collagen supplements for patients with any gut issues or sensitivity.” Another perk: Fish collagen is also high in the amino acid hydroxyproline, which seems to play a particularly important role in stimulating collagen synthesis. In fact, research shows that people who supplemented with antioxidants and fish collagen experienced improved measures of skin elasticity and moisture. When created from responsibly sourced, wild-caught whitefish like pollock, cod, and haddock, this particular kind of collagen can be a really environmentally sustainable option, Axe adds.
Again, type II collagen is often sourced from chickens—specifically their cartilage, bones, and other tissues. According to dietitian Emily Tills, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.N., pasture-raised chickens will have more healthy collagen in their bodies to offer.
Though types V and X collagen can be sourced from fermented eggshell membranes, it’s worth noting that you’ll only find this source (in a patented and clinically studied form) in Ancient Nutrition’s Multi Collagen as of right now, according to Axe.
Should You Opt For Capsules Or Powder?
“While collagen capsule supplements have long been a great way to support skin and bones, the recent collagen protein powder trend has one major advantage: A high-quality collagen protein powder offers a much greater dose of collagen than your average capsule,” says Bowden. In fact, while a capsule option may provide one gram of collagen per serving, a powder may offer anywhere from about seven grams to a whopping 20 grams per serving.
“Clinical studies suggest that 10 grams per day of pharmaceutical-grade collagen supports chronic joint health,” highlights Bowden. “ What’s more, one large review concluded that collagen hydrolysate is of interest as a way to address joint and bone-related issues associated with aging.”
There’s no definitive upper limit for collagen, however, the usual recommendation is to stick to about 10 to 15 grams per day max, according to Tills. “We would not want to replace our regular protein intake with collagen protein, as it’s not a complete protein and is missing some of the essential amino acids,” she says.
Is There A Vegan-Friendly Collagen Supplement?
In case you’re confused by all the so-called “vegan collagen” supplements out there right now, know that there’s no such thing as vegan collagen, according to Bowden.
However, plant-based eaters who want to ramp up their own natural collagen production may consider supplementing with specific helpful nutrients, also known as “collagen boosters,” such as vitamin C and zinc. Combo supplements geared towards vegans and vegetarians, such as The Vitamin Shoppe brand Vegan Collagen Support, offer a slew of important players for healthy collagen production in the body. Check out more vegan-friendly collagen options here.
Excerpts from this article were originally published in Amazing Wellness magazine.