What Is Collagen Made Of? The Best Collagen Sources
Let's start with the basics. What is collagen? It comes from the Greek word (kólla), meaning "glue", and suffix, -gen, denoting "producing," which actually isn't too far off from its physical purpose. In scientific terms, collagen is a protein made from amino acids, specifically glycine, proline, hydroxyproline, and arginine.
Our bodies are complicated machines that, when kept healthy, function in a perpetual fashion. With all of their different substances, whether they be solid, liquid, or gas, it's difficult to gauge or even attempt to deem one of them "most important." Although, if we had to choose one, we might start with collagen as it's the most abundant protein in the body.
There are at least 28 different types of collagen that have been identified so far, but there are certain types of collagen that you'll most often find in supplements due to their desirable benefits. We'll explore the five most common types of collagen, what they're made of, and how to best source them.
However, before we dive into the different types, let's dive into the collagen before it's collagen. All collagen starts as pro collagen.
Your body makes pro collagen by combining two amino acids — glycine and proline. This process uses vitamin C.
To make sure your body is able to produce pro collagen, you'll need plenty of the following nutrients:
Vitamin C. Large amounts are found in citrus fruits, bell peppers, and strawberries.
Proline. Large amounts are found in egg whites, wheat germ, dairy products, cabbage, asparagus, and mushrooms.
Glycine. Large amounts are found in pork skin, chicken skin, and gelatin, but glycine is also found in various protein-containing foods.
Copper. Large amounts are found in organ meats, sesame seeds, cocoa powder, cashews, and lentils.
Additionally, your body needs high-quality, vital proteins that contain the amino acids needed to make new proteins. Meat, poultry, seafood, dairy, legumes, and tofu are all excellent sources of amino acids.
The short-chain amino acids found in collagen peptides are easy to digest, highly-bioavailable (meaning your body can make full use of them), and they're also a rich source of important amino acids such as glycine, proline, and glutamine to name a few – which are necessary for detoxification and immune function. Hydrolyzed collagen is a popular ingredient considered to be an antioxidant.
Types of Collagen
The five most common varieties of collagen are type l, type ll, type lll, type V, and type X. These types of collagen are an absolutely essential part of our physical makeup and can be found all over the body.
While there may not be a "best collagen," type I collagen is far and away the most abundant protein found not just in humans but all vertebrates. In fact, it accounts for about 90% of all collagen found in the body. When it comes to forming our skin, bones, tendons, ligaments, corneas, blood vessel walls and other connective tissues, Type I is the collagen we're speaking about.
When it comes to strength, Type I takes the heavyweight championship belt, as it is literally the building block for our skin, skin health and skin care. This is important to take into consideration when you factor in age vs the amount of collagen the body naturally produces. As we get older, the amount of collagen in our body decreases. This reduces the elasticity of our skin which is why we start to see wrinkles when we age. If you’re looking for a collagen supplement specifically for your skin, look for one rich in Type I collagen.
Fish or marine collagen is generally the most easily absorbable by the body. Egg collagen, which is located in the whites and shells of eggs, contains mostly type I collagen, but also can feature other types of collagen, including collagen type X.
Type 2 collagen is the major collagen found in cartilage. Cartilage is the connective tissue that protects the ends of long bones at the joints. It's also a structural component of the ear, the nose, the bronchial tubes, the rib cage, and more.
Since type ll collagen helps to form the cartilage that protects our joints, it's no wonder that this variety of collagen is often known for supporting healthy joints.
Supplements featuring chicken collagen, such as chicken bone broth protein powder, can be great supplements featuring type II collagen. Chicken collagen also inherently features chondroitin sulfate and glucosamine sulfate, which are both popular for supporting joint health and limiting joint pain.
Type III is a fibrillar collagen and is a major component of our skin and organs. In the body, type III collagen is often found in the same locations as type l.
Like type l, it is often in supplements designed to support healthy skin. Bovine collagen, which is derived from the muscles, bones, and skin of cows is another collagen supplement option that features mainly types l and lll collagen. These are two of the most abundant types of collagen in the human body.
Type V and Type X
Type V collagen is one of the minor collagen components that, along with type I collagen, plays a big role in the development of collagen fibers of connective tissue. Type V collagen co-exists with type II collagen in joint cartilage while supporting healthy collagen fibers of type II collagen.
Type V collagen also has a specialized function that is specific not only to the female body but also the creation of life. Type V creates the cells of a pregnant woman's placenta, the organ that attaches to the lining of the womb.
Collagen Type X, the blue-collar collagen, goes to work. Type X (which is generally found in eggshell membrane collagen) is a protein typically present in normal joint cartilage. While it is normal joint cartilage, without Type X we wouldn't have this cartilage to help create a soft, low-friction environment for our bones and joints to work pain-free.
Where Does It Come From?
Sourcing the many types of collagen can easily be done through diet and/or dietary supplements. For example, collagen is found in the connective tissues of animal-derived foods such as chicken and pork skin. When you read collagen supplement labels, you'll often find one or more of these collagen sources in one product. This is great news if you're looking to reap the benefits of collagen in one easy collagen protein powder. Other sources of collagen include:
cuts of beef
It's recommended to purchase grass fed chicken or beef in order to receive the healthiest benefits if sourcing from animals.
If your diet does not consist of meat, fret not! There are plenty of other pescatarian, vegetarian, and vegan options that will give you the same great benefits. These foods include but are not limited to:
fish & shellfish
For being the most abundant protein in our body, it's pretty convenient we can find collagen in so many whole foods, not just supplements. This makes ensuring our health easy and delicious! As a bonus, here's one my favorite recipes that I drink every day:
1 scoop of collagen protein powder
1/2 of a small frozen banana
A heaping handful of spinach
1 tbsp of almond butter (my favorite part, I might add a bit more)
1/2 cup unsweetened almond milk
1/2 cup of ice
1/2 cup of greek yogurt (I love the consistency and extra protein!)
Blend all that together and you have yourself an AWESOMELY flavorful and healthy breakfast or mid-day snack.
You may also notice that the collagens are hydrolyzed. This is a good thing! Hydrolyzed collagen is broken down into collagen peptides (widely found in protein supplements), but the process of hydrolysis makes the collagen easier to absorb. Hydrolyzed collagen readily dissolves in hot or cold water.
If you're looking for a quick intake of collagen, 1Body has excellent supplements specifically for joints or for hair, nails, and skin.
Health Benefits of Collagen Supplements
There are two types of supplements that are gaining in popularity that have shown to be most beneficial: hydrolyzed collagen (collagen hydrolysate) and gelatin. Gelatin is created when collagen is cooked. Both of these contain the large collagen proteins, but broken down into smaller peptides which are more easily absorbed by the body.
Piggybacking off the benefits and functions we've already talked about, there is mounting evidence from numerous studies showing potential benefits in...
Muscle mass. A 2019 study in recreationally active men showed that a combination of collagen peptide supplements and strength training increased muscle mass and strength more than a placebo (10Trusted Source).
Arthritis. A 2017 animal study looked at the effects of giving collagen supplements to mice with post-traumatic osteoarthritis (PTOA). The results indicated that supplementation may play a protective role in the disease’s development and progression (11Trusted Source).
Skin elasticity. Women who took a supplement showed improvements in skin appearance and elasticity in a 2019 study. Collagen is also used in topical treatments to improve the appearance of skin by minimizing lines and wrinkles (12Trusted Source, 13Trusted Source).
Some alternative medicine practitioners also advocate using collagen supplements to treat leaky gut syndrome and help with all around gut health. Of course, it is always advisable to contact your primary care physician when seeking out medical advice. Collagen supplements should not be used to replace any prescribed medication.
Safety and Side Effects
Since collagen is naturally produced by our bodies, no direct negative side effects have been documented. The biggest concern would be any food allergies found in supplements. The potential side effects of gelatin supplements include a lingering unpleasant taste and sensations of heaviness and heartburn.
Collagen is rapidly becoming more and more popular in the supplement world for people of all ages as it relates to their joint, skin, and hair health as well as muscle development. I strongly suggest checking out the 1Body shop as they have a variety of supplements rich in collagen for any of your needs.
Promote hair and nail strength – Collagen is essential for hair and nail growth and strength. Oftentimes brittle nails are a sign of low collagen, but collagen supplements provide a convenient solution.
Support gut and skin health – In addition to making your skin look healthy from the inside out by boosting elasticity, collagen peptides also protect the lining in the gut for good gut health.
Strengthen joints, bones, and cartilage – Collagen provides the structure, strength, and elasticity necessary for our connective tissues, such as bone, skin, and ligaments.