With a growing number of collagen supplements now available, including those derived from lesser known sources like marine collagen and eggshell collagen, many people have the questions: what is collagen exactly and where does it come from?
Despite its popularity, the origins of collagen protein are still a mystery in many ways. For example, the importance of plant-based “collagen boosters” is becoming more well known, yet vegans are still left wondering if plant-sourced collagen even exists.
Below we’ll dive into the details about how collagen supplements are made, plus discuss how the body uses the different collagen types (there are at least 28!) that are consumed from things like collagen powders and capsules.
What is collagen made of exactly?
Collagen is an animal-based protein. It’s naturally found in the connective tissues of mammals and other animals including cattle, chickens and fish, plus in eggshell membranes.
Collagen proteins are actually the most abundant types of proteins found in mammals, including humans. Various types of collagens are produced internally to give the body structure and strength, plus you can come consume extra collagen from some foods/beverages including bone broth.
What exactly is collagen made up of? It’s formed from polypeptide chains; in other words, it’s a complex protein build from amino acids that are linked together. This is why amino acid are sometimes referred to as “the building blocks of proteins.”
Collagen contains 19 different amino acids, including high amounts of proline, glycine, arginine and hydroxyproline. These help contribute to mechanical properties such as muscle and joint functions, as well as the shapes of tissues including the joints, ligaments, tendons, muscles, bones, skin and organ linings.
Benefits of adding more collagen to your diet, via foods like bone broth and also supplements, include: providing support for joint health, skin health, gut health, muscle building, exercise recovery and the general health of the heart and arteries.†
No, plant-based collagen isn’t real, but…
Technically, plant-based collagen doesn’t exist. As explained above, collagen comes from animals and is not found in any plants, even those that are high in protein. However, it’s still beneficial to consume certain nutrient-rich foods that the body uses to help boost collagen production.
In terms of getting collagen from our diets, the best sources are bone broth, organ meats and certain other cuts of meat. You can see that none of these are vegan!
Although vegan collagen is not possible to produce, the body uses nutrients found in plant foods to help form collagen fibers. The most important nutrients that contribute to healthy collagen levels include:
- Vitamin C
- Other antioxidants (such as vitamin E, beta-carotene, anthocyanins, ellagic acid and quercetin)
- Polysaccharides (types of bound carbohydrates)
- Plus protein in general, including from plants like legumes, beans, nuts, seeds and grains
Focus on eating a variety of whole foods that provide you with plant-based protein/amino acids, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. These support your body’s ability to make its own collagen and the health of connective tissues in general, including during the normal aging process when collagen levels slowly diminish.
Best types of collagen
As mentioned above, there are many different types of collagen. Two types, types I and II, are by far the most abundant kinds of collagen found in the human body.
There are five types of collagen that are found in most multi collagen supplements, such as Ancient Nutrition’s Multi Collagen Protein powder. These include: type I, type ll, type lll, type V and type X collagen.
Type I is very abundant in our skin, bones, tendons, corneas, blood vessel walls and other connective tissues. This is considered the strongest type of collagen and is often taken to support skin and joint health.
Type I collagen is usually found in supplements sourced from bovine (cattle) or marine/fish collagen. Egg shell membrane collagen is another source of type 1.
Type II is the major collagen found in cartilage, which is the connective tissue that cushions and protects the ends of bones where they meet joints. It’s taken to support healthy joints and is also a structural component of the ears, the nose, the bronchial tubes, the rib cage and more.
Supplements featuring chicken collagen are high in type II collagen. Chicken collagen also inherently features chondroitin sulfate and glucosamine sulfate, which are both popular for promoting joint health and comfort.
Type III is a fibrillar collagen and is a major component of our skin and organs. It’s often found in the same locations as type l and is similarly used to mostly 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.
Other types of collagen
Other collagens, including type V and X, contain collagen components that help form bigger collagen fibers and contribute to the integrity of tissues found in the skin and certain organs.
You’ll reap the most benefits when you supplement with a multi collagen protein (MCP) that provides different types.
Ancient Nutrition’s Multi Collagen Protein provides all five types of collagen described above and is sourced from four food-based sources. It features entirely non-GMO, pasture-raised, cage-free and cruelty-free sources. It also contains hydrolyzed collagen which is broken down into smaller collagen peptides in order to make it easier to absorb.
†These statements have not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent disease.