If you are at all involved in the wellness sphere or fitness, you have likely heard of collagen and all of its purported benefits. Most collagen on the market--and especially when collagen first became available--is derived from bovine or porcine sources, as these are prolific sources of collagen. What, then, is marine collagen, and how does it differ from its four-legged counterparts? To fully understand the nature of marine collagen and its potential benefits over other types of collagen, we will tackle the history of the supplement and the many potential reasons to add it to your daily supplement regimen.
Definition of Marine Collagen
Marine collagen is sourced from marine life. While it can come from a variety of different places within the greater grouping of "marine life," this particular type of collagen is usually taken from fish scales or fish skin. Marine collagen is often favored because it may not possess the same religious restrictions as other forms of collagen, it is highly biocompatible, and it does not come with the same contamination risks that concern some regarding land animals (think mad cow disease, antibiotic exposure, etc).
Although marine collagen has only recently become popular in the Western world, it has been used in Japan for centuries.
What is Collagen?
Collagen is the most abundant protein in the body, and is most commonly found in the connective tissues of animals, including humans. Although collagen is naturally occurring in the body, there are numerous mechanisms that can inhibit the synthesis of collagen, the most common being age. Collagen can be found all over the body, from extracellular matrices, to hair and skin, and is therefore a common type of supplementation to support hair and skin health, joint health, and even bone strength.
Types of Collagen
Although collagen is found all throughout the body, not all types of collagen are the same. There are 3 main types (though there are more altogether) that can be found in the body and in supplements of collagen peptides. These include:
- Type I
- Type II
- Type III
Sources of Collagen
Finding a sustainable source of collagen can be tricky, as can finding collagen peptides that support specific dietary and religious needs. To that end, there are different source animals and creatures for collagen supplementation. These include:
- Bovine. Bovine sources are the most common in the Western world, with a diverse array of available options. Bovine collagen is typically taken from the cartilage, bones, and hides of cows.
- Porcine. Porcine collagen is perhaps less common than bovine, but isn't entirely unheard of. Porcine collagen is derived from the bones and skin of pigs, and due to the bioavailability of the material, can be a useful source of collagen, even more than bovine collagen. Porcine collagen may also run into the issue of religious incompatibility, however.
- Marine. Aquatic-based collagens have been growing in popularity in the west, particularly as people become more hesitant to consume bovine and porcine meat sources. Marine collagen peptides are taken from the scales and skin of fish, most commonly cod, though there are other fish that can be used.
Types of Marine Collagen
Marine collagen is, itself, a type of collagen, but there are types of collagen within the peptides derived from fish. Marine collagen peptides have three different types, which we will discuss in greater detail below.
There Are Many Types of Marine Collagen: Type I, Type II, and Type III.
- Type I Marine Collagen. Type I collagen is the type of collagen found in the greatest quantity in the body. Type I is found in skin, bones, tendons, and ligaments, and collagen production in the body is primarily directed toward these areas. Type I marine peptides are most often used to improve skin health, with purported benefits including increasing hydration in skin, reducing the appearance of wrinkles and fine lines, and improving the elasticity of skin.
- Type II Marine Collagen. Type II is the type primarily found in cartilage. Inadequate amounts of this type of collagen can result in stressed, stiff, or sore joints. The efficacy of fish collagen type II in reducing joint pain and increasing mobility is notable. A daily intake of collagen type II can help provide essential amino acids and reduce joint inflammation.
- Type III Marine Collagen. Type III is the type most commonly found in the skin, blood vessels, and organ tissues. This collagen type is extremely important, as it plays a role in maintaining the structural integrity of tissues. An intake of type III can improve skin health and tissue health by increasing hydration and elasticity.
Sources of Marine Collagen
Marine collagen can help improve bone mineral density, but does not actually come from the bones of all fish; instead, it is sourced from the scales or skin of fish, or from jellyfish, shellfish, sharks, starfish, and sponges (though larger species may have collagen sourced from bone). Endogenous collagen is not as readily absorbed and utilized in the body, if it is metabolized at all, making collagen peptides a potentially more bioavailable resource for collagen supplementation. Marine organisms can provide bioavailable collagen sustainably.
Most marine collagen supplements on the market use type I collagen that has been sourced from the skin or scales of fish, but some others utilize types II and III sourced from other marine creatures, including jellyfish and sea cucumbers. These sources can be useful but are not always essential.
How Is Marine Collagen Produced?
There are three steps to collagen production: extraction, processing, and quality control. Each of these steps can be used to deliver bio - resources to those seeking a sustainable source of marine collagen peptides.
- Extraction of Marine Collagen. In this first step, marine collagen is extracted from the skin or scales of fish. The extraction process will vary from company to company and supplement to supplement, but the raw materials are the same: a bioavailable source of protein that can support healthy skin, bones, and joints.
- Processing of Marine Collagen. During the processing of marine collagen, collagen is broken down until it is soluble in cold water and readily digested. The skin hydrating efficacy and changes to bone and joint health that have become associated with collagen supplementation would not be possible without this step.
- Quality Control of Marine Collagen. Marine collagen must undergo quality control measures to make sure that it is of the highest quality, is free from heavy metals, and contains only what is labeled. Once this final step has been completed, collagen can then move on to the packaging and distribution portion of production.
What are the Benefits of Marine Collagen?
The benefits of marine collagen are the same as those of other collagen supplements, but without some of the contaminant concerns of other sources, and issues with sourcing and religious beliefs. These benefits include improving:
Collagen has been linked to improved skin health because it can help increase the skin's hydration, reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, and improve skin elasticity. Because so much of the tissues in the body are supported with collagen and collagen synthesis can begin to wane as people age, skin can both look and feel better after collagen supplementation.
Joint health can also see an improvement after taking premium marine collagen; although having adequate grams of protein in your diet can help maintain muscle mass and joint health, collagen can further aid joint health by reducing joint pain, inflammation, and stiffness and improving joint mobility.
Fish collagen can help improve bone health by increasing or improving collagen synthesis in the body, thereby increasing bone density and reducing the likelihood of developing osteoporosis.
How to Use Marine Collagen?
Like other types of supplemental collagen, there are different forms of marine collagen you can use. These include powders, capsules, and gummies. We have identified the most common forms below.
Forms of Marine Collagen
- Powders. Powders are frequently used in hot or cold drinks, but can also be added to things like oatmeal. Our collagen with hyaluron is a powder designed for skin health, but provides all of the previously discussed benefits of collagen supplementation.
- Capsules. Capsules are convenient and easy to transport, making them an ideal option for some who do not want to work with a powder supplement.
- Gummies. Gummies are often used for children or those hoping to synthesize collagen through gelatin consumption. Gummies can also be used in conjunction with other interventions like elderberry.
Precautions and Side Effects of Marine Collagen
Although marine collagen is generally considered safe, some people may experience side effects. Digestive upset, minor bloating, diarrhea, constipation, indigestion, heartburn, and allergic reactions (think itching, hives, and rashes) can all come as a result of marine collagen supplementation side effects. These effects are not common, but should be evaluated if they arise.
To reduce the likelihood of having side effects, make sure you use collagen peptides as directed. Typically, the recommended dose lies within the 2.5-15 grams per day range.
Marine Collagen vs Other Collagens
Marine collagen may be the newcomer to the West where collagen is concerned, but there are some benefits of marine collagen over other types of collagen supplements. The most substantial of these differences have been identified below.
Comparison of Marine Collagen with Other Collagens
Marine collagen contains the same amino acids and grams of protein per grams of collagen as other collagen sources, but has a lower molecular weight, which may make it more easily absorbed by the body. Ready absorption means that the body can actually utilize the collagen as it comes in, rather than simply passing it without synthesizing any nutrients.
Advantages of Marine Collagen over Other Collagens
Marine collagen may be more sustainable and eco-friendly, as it is harvested from sea sources that are abundant and can be taken from the parts and pieces of marine animals that are not typically utilized in food. It is also free from hormones and antibiotics--two things that are difficult to come by when sourcing foods from land-based animals.
Disadvantages of Marine Collagen over Other Collagens
Because marine collagen does require more effort, it can be more expensive up front than other collagen sources. Marine supplemental collagen is not guaranteed to be more expensive, however; price varies depending on the brand, quality, and quantity of the alternative to collagen made from mammals, and need not necessarily break the bank.
Marine collagen may be a relative newcomer to the collagen protein scene, but this collagen type can be an excellent source of collagen fiber for anyone looking to avoid porcine or bovine collagen sources, for those who may have allergies to red meat or mammalian products, or for those seeking out collagen products with greater bioavailability.