The ‘it’ supplement for everything from bone and joint health to gut function and youthful skin, collagen is making its way into more and more wellness products. And it’s no longer just your standard collagen peptides. Recently, something fishy has popped up in the mix: marine collagen. We asked experts to dish on this trendy form of collagen—and whether you should give it a try.
“Collagen, the most abundant type of protein in the body, helps maintain the structure and elasticity of all of our connective tissues,” explains Jonathan Valdez, R.D.N., owner of Genki Nutrition and spokesperson for the New York State Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. (Connective tissues include everything from skin to joints.)
In a nutshell, collagen essentially ‘glues’ the body together.
Though we produce collagen naturally, our production slows as we age. Plus, “our diets used to include collagen naturally,” says Pamela Schoenfeld, M.S., R.D., L.D.N., author of The Collagen Diet: Rejuvenate Skin, Strengthen Joints, and Feel Younger by Boosting Collagen Intake and Production. “But when we stopped eating animal skin and bones, we basically removed it from our diet.”
The Wide World Of Collagen Supplements
Luckily, collagen supplements can help us fill the void in our diets and support production as we age. And the more we learn about collagen’s benefits, the more new and exciting collagen supplements (like collagen gummies and collagen-whey combo protein powders) hit shelves.
While a lot of the initial buzz—and products—highlighted collagen made from cows (known as ‘bovine collagen’), other sources have since become popular. The current all-star: marine collagen. Yep, that’s right—collagen from fish.
But does marine collagen offer more benefits than collagen from other sources? Glad you asked…
What Is Marine Collagen?
“Marine collagen is made out of the skin and scales of fish, typically cod or red snapper,” explains Brigitte Zeitlin, M.P.H., R.D., owner of BZ Nutrition.
If that weirds you out, just remember that bovine collagen comes from cow hide and hooves…
So, fear not: A tub of marine collagen powder won’t smell a thing like old sushi. In fact, like other collagen powders, it won’t smell like much of anything at all.
To make marine collagen supplements, the parts of fish typically disposed of—the scales, skin, and bones are purified. Then, the collagen protein is extracted and broken down through a process called hydrolysis.
“Hydrolysis involves using water to break the chemical the structure of the protein down into smaller fragments—called ‘collagen peptides’— which are only two or three amino acids long,” explains Schoenfeld.
Partially breaking down collagen like this makes it easier to absorb and transport throughout the body. Plus, it also helps the supplement dissolve easily into everything from shakes to oatmeal to water, says Zeitlin.
What Makes Marine Collagen Different?
Bovine collagen contains two different types of collagen protein (known as type I and type III collagen). “Marine collagen, meanwhile, is almost exclusively type I, which is the most abundant type in our body,” says Valdez.
Found in our bones, skin, hair, nails, gut lining, ligaments, tendons, and corneas, type I collagen is associated with skin, nail, gut, and hair health benefits.
Marine collagen’s benefits also stem from its unique amino acid profile.
You see, when we consume collagen, our body breaks it down into individual amino acids and then uses those aminos to build whatever specific type of collagen it needs.
“Marine collagen is high in the amino acids hydroxyproline, glycine, and proline,” says Schoenfeld. All of these aminos, which account for more than 50 percent of the aminos we need to produce collagen, are hard to find in other foods and supplements.
Another Benefit Of Marine Collagen: Digestibility
Though marine collagen is an obvious choice for pescatarians, meat-eaters may want try it, too. Why? It’s really easy to digest.
“Collagen peptides from marine sources are smaller and more easily absorbed and digested by the body than those from bovine sources,” says Valdez. This not only makes marine collagen easier on the stomach, but easier for the body to use, too.
Case in point: One study published in Food of Nutrition Sciences suggests marine collagen may be up to one-and-a-half times more bioavailable than bovine and chicken collagen.
Though more research will confirm, this suggests marine collagen is ultimately more beneficial, Valdez says.
Of course, it’s also the ideal collagen option for anyone with digestive issues.
Shopping For Marine Collagen
If you’re looking for a stomach- and pescatarian-friendly supplement, marine collagen can make a great addition to your routine.
When shopping, look for a supplement that contains only ‘marine collagen’ or ‘marine collagen peptides’ and no other added ingredients. (You don’t want to be sabotaged by added sugars!)
To ensure top-notch quality, pick a product that’s also organic, non-GMO, and tested by a third party, says Valdez.
Finally, if you’re concerned about over-fishing and sustainability, choose a brand that highlights environmentally-friendly practices. One great option: Vital Proteins Marine Collagen, which contains just collagen peptides from non-GMO, wild-caught snapper.
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