Type I? Type II? Marine? Bovine? Powder? Capsule? Are you deciding which type of collagen to take or playing a round of go-fish? With the multitude of collagen products on the market, it’s easy to get bogged down in the semantics not knowing which collagen is best for you or what collagen even is. Fear not! We’re breaking down the basics of the different types and sources of collagen to help you understand the science.
What is collagen?
Collagen is a type of protein that acts as the main structural component of connective tissue within the human body. Normal growth and development are dependent on the proper formation of collagen.1
Characterization of Collagen
Collagen is characterized by a specific sequence of amino acids. Every type of collagen has glycine, proline, and hydroxyproline in the sequence, however, the rest of the sequence can contain an array of additional amino acids. To date, 29 different types of collagens have been identified.1 The most popular forms of collagen are Type I, Type II, Type III, and Type IV. Type I, II, and III are fibril-forming collagens, they allow the shape and form of tissues to be defined and maintained.1 Type I collagen is the most abundant and major collagen of bone, tendons, skin, and ligaments. Type II collagen accounts for 80% of cartilage, cartilage is the bendable material found in joints, bone, spine, ears, lungs, and nose.1 Type III collagen occurs with Type I mainly in the elastic tissues, which is the connective tissue of the dermis of the skin or the middle portion of the skin, lung and blood vessels.1 Type IV collagen is a network forming collagen, this collagen forms a network within the basement membrane of the skin or the thin layer between the dermis (middle portion of the skin) and epidermis (the outer portion of the skin).1
Since collagen is a structural component of connective tissue, it is only found in animals. Collagen is mainly sourced from bovine (Type I and III), chicken cartilage (Type II), or from marine sources such as fish scales or skin (Type I). Marine collagen is often touted as being the superior collagen due to its enhanced bioavailability.
Due to the different functions of the types of collagen within the body, it is plausible to believe supplementing with one type or form of collagen may produce greater health benefits. However, the research is unclear regarding whether one type of collagen is better than another.
The body’s collagen naturally declines with age. As the formation of collagen is diminished the skin loses its strength and elasticity resulting in the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles and the skin may become drier and thinner.2 Other factors contributing to the loss of collagen include exposure to sunlight, smoking, pollution, alcohol abuse and nutrient deficiencies.2 Supplementing with collagen may help to combat the natural aging and degradation process of collagen. Several clinical studies have been completed showing improved skin elasticity, reduced signs of aging, and overall skin health with collagen supplementation.3
Another potential benefit of collagen supplementation is joint health. It is hypothesized collagen supplements may protect against the onset of joint pain via T cell regulation to the area of inflammation or damage.4 T cells regulate or suppress other cells within the immune system.4 The proposed mechanism is that T regulatory cells produce anti-inflammatory signaling proteins that stimulate bone-building cells to produce cartilage.4 You can think of this mechanism like dominos, one action stimulates the action of another action.
If you are looking for a little extra support in the skin or joint department, collagen may a good option for you to try. However, more research is needed to determine the specific mechanism of action collagen supplementation has within the human body. Additionally, it’s difficult to determine where exactly the collagen you supplement with will be used within the body. While it would be fantastic to take collagen specifically for skin health, the body has a way of prioritizing its needs. Once ingested and absorbed collagen may become a part of the body’s amino acid pool and be used at the body’s discretion.