What Is Collagen? Everything You Need to Know About This Essential Protein

Although collagen is a protein, it does not have the same properties as other more commonly known proteins (e.g., whey, casein, meat, and fish).

In fact, because of collagen’s unique amino acid composition, it provides us with many benefits that we can see and feel. The positive effects of collagen even extend beyond what we can get from consuming fish, meat, whey, and casein proteins.

Collagen is helpful in so many ways that we decided to put together a comprehensive guide on this unique protein. In this guide, we will take a closer look at the most important collagen-related topics, including:


What Is Collagen?

The word collagen is derived from the Greek word “kólla“, meaning “glue” and the French “-gène”, meaning “something that produces”. In other words, collagen is a “glue-producing” protein that holds many of our tissues together and gives them support.

It is the most abundant protein, found in every square foot of our bodies. In simplest terms, it’s the “glue” that helps hold the body together and gives it strength and integrity. (Collagen serves the same purpose for animals as well, which why they are our one and only source of dietary collagen.)

More specifically, collagen makes up (by dry weight):

  • 90% of the sclera (the white part of your eye)
  • 80% of tendons
  • 70-80% of the skin
  • 60% of cartilage
  • 30% of bones
  • 1–10% of muscle mass

Basically, wherever you find connective tissue, you will also find one of the many types of collagen.


The Different Types of Collagen

There are at least 16 types of collagen, but around 80-90% of your body’s collagen consists of types I,II, and III:

  • Collagen I — Type 1 is the most abundant type of collagen protein in the body. It is found in almost every tissue: tendons, skin, bones, cartilage, connective tissue, and teeth. This is because type I collagen fibrils are incredibly strong. They can resist a lot of pressure without breaking. In fact, it is so strong that, gram for gram, type 1 collagen is stronger than steel.
  • Collagen II — This type of collagen is found mostly in cartilage. The health of our joints relies on type 2 collagen, which is why it’s beneficial for preventing age-associated joint pain and structurally-based arthritis symptoms.
  • Collagen III — Type III is usually found alongside type I and in muscles, organs, arteries, and a type of special connective tissue called reticular fiber (a type of tissue that provides structure for the liver, adipose tissue, bone marrow, spleen, and more). Deficiency in type III collagen has been linked to a higher risk for ruptured blood vessels and even early death, according to results from certain animal studies.

Three other common types of collagen found in the body (but not as abundantly as types I-III)  are type IV, V, and X:

  • Collagen IV — This type forms the basal lamina, a layer of the extracellular matrix (the web of tissue that supports cells) that sits underneath the epithelium. Basically, the basal lamina gives external support to your skin cells.
  • Collagen V — Collagen V can be found in the bone matrix, cornea, and in the connective tissue that exists between the cells of the muscles, liver, lungs, and placenta (also known as the interstitial matrix).
  • Collagen X — Type X helps with new bone and articular cartilage formation. It’s involved in the process of endochondral ossification, which is how bone tissue is created in mammals. It has also been found to help with bone fracture healing and synovial joint repair.

The main factor that sets each type of collagen apart is the peptides (amino acid chains) that are used to produce them. The peptides and how they are linked are what determine the different types and properties of collagen.


What is Collagen Made Of?

What is Collagen Made Of?

The peptides (that we touched on earlier) are made up of amino acids, which are the building blocks of proteins.  Each protein that our body makes will serve different purposes, and these purposes can only be carried out if that protein has the right amino acid composition.

Collagen’s amino acid profile is unique because it contains more proline and glycine than any other protein. These two amino acids are considered to be “conditionally essential,” which means that the body does produce them, but only in small amounts and only under the right conditions.

However, when you get sick or find yourself under stress your body will stop producing them. This is why it is incredibly important to get them from dietary sources like collagen powder or bone broth if you want to maintain optimal health.

To answer the question “what collagen is made of?” more simply, here is a simple breakdown of collagen’s structure from general to specific:

  • Collagen — A collection of collagen fibrils.
  • Peptides — The chains of amino acids that make up each individual protein. collagen type is determined by the amino acids the make up this chains.
  • Amino acids — These are the building blocks of each protein in your body. Collagen mostly consists of proline and glycine.

Now that we know about the building blocks of collagen, let’s learn about how we build it from the ground (amino acids) up.


How Collagen Is Made in the Body

How Collagen Is Made in the Body

The process of collagen production can be divided into three main phases:

Phase 1: Procollagen

Procollagen is the precursor of collagen. It’s shaped like a triple helix and it’s formed by three different chains of amino acids:

  • Glycine (makes up 30% of the total amino acids in collagen)
  • Proline
  • Hydroxyproline

A regular procollagen helix sequence looks like this: Gly-X-Y, (X and Y commonly being proline and hydroxyproline).

Other less common amino acids that can be part of procollagen chains include:

  • Arginine
  • Glutamic acid
  • Alanine
  • Lysine

Both the location of the amino acids in the chain and the type of amino acids found in the chain determine which type of collagen is being formed and what specific properties it will have.

Each amino acid sequence (peptide) is then processed in the endoplasmic reticulum of the cell, where they go through multiple changes that form a procollagen chain with loose ends, resembling a frayed rope. This is the final product of phase 1.

The procollagen chain is then sent to the Golgi apparatus (a vesicle in the collagen-forming cell), where oligosaccharides (complex carbs) are added. After that, it’s packed and sent out of the cell.

Phase 2: Tropocollagen

Once procollagen is out of the cell — in a place called the extracellular space — the loose ends of the procollagen chain are cut off. This forms the final collagen strand, also known as tropocollagen.

Phase 3: Collagen Fibril Formation

Tropocollagen (collagen strands) will bond together to form the fibrils that make up the collagen protein.

To sum up the collagen production process, you can think of collagen formation like assembling a rope made of 3 strands. Each strand is treated with chemicals to make them easier to bind together, they’re twisted together in a helix pattern and are left with frayed ends, which are quickly cut and sealed. The final product of this elaborate process is collagen.


The Main Difference Between Collagen and Other Types of Protein

The Main Difference Between Collagen and Other Types of Protein

After learning all of this about collagen, you may be wondering what the difference is between collagen and commonly consumed proteins like meat, fish, whey, and casein. After all, they are all just sources of protein, right?

Although they are all proteins made up of amino acids, they don’t provoke the same responses in the body. This is because each protein is broken down into its amino acid components before it can be used. In other words, the amino acid composition of the protein you consume determines, to a large extent, what your body does with it.

For example, one particular amino acid called leucine is a potent stimulator of the secretion of insulin and the activation of the IGF-1 and mTOR pathways. Simply put, leucine stimulates anabolism (the growth and development of tissue).

Meat and dairy proteins tend to be highest in leucine, which is why products like whey protein and chocolate milk are heavily marketed as “muscle builders”. However, they can stimulate the growth and proliferation of cancer cells and disease as well.

Another amino acid that can cause problems when consumed in high amounts is methionine. This amino acid is abundant in meat and fish protein, and it can cause an increase in homocysteine levels in the blood. Homocysteine is a significant risk factor for serious conditions such as heart disease, stroke, and mental illness.

The effects that consuming too much leucine and methionine have on an inactive body may explain why red meat consumption has been found to be associated with cancer and heart disease in some studies. However, this doesn’t mean that you should switch to a vegan ketogenic diet.

Meat consumption can be part of a healthy diet when we consume other amino acids that mitigate the effects that too much leucine and methionine can have on the body. For example, glycine and proline — the most prevalent amino acids in collagen — are able to counteract the adverse effects of having an overactive mTOR pathway (caused by high leucine levels) and consuming too much methionine.

This detailed example shows us a lot about the differences between collagen protein and many other proteins. The main principle being that the amino acid composition is what determines the effects that the protein has on our bodies.

The amino acids that makeup collagen protein are responsible for the unique benefits that collagen provide us with — benefits that meat, fish, and dairy protein just can’t match.


15 Bodacious Benefits of Collagen

Research shows adequate collagen levels and collagen intake confers a multitude of benefits. Let’s start with the results you can see, and finish with the positive effects you can feel:

15 Benefits of Collagen

1. Enhances Skin Health and Reverses Skin Aging

Unfortunately, rubbing the collagen on your skin won’t cut it. The real and lasting benefits of collagen in your skin come from the inside out. Research shows that taking collagen supplements (like a collagen protein or bone broth):

  • Improves skin elasticity and hydration
  • Reduces wrinkles
  • Prevents UV damage
  • Reduces cellulite
  • Prevents early signs of aging
  • Diminishes roughness of aging facial skin
  • Increases the amount of collagen present in the skin
  • Prevents the breakdown of collagen
  • Increases the amount of collagen production

How much collagen do you need to experience these effects? The current literature indicates that a dose between ½ and 1 tablespoon of collagen hydrolysate (or one of the other collagen supplements that we’ll take a look at later) is all you really need. However, you may want to take a higher daily dose to increase your likelihood of reaping the other benefits of collagen.

2. Keeps Your Nails Strong

One study found that oral collagen intake has these effects on our nails:

  • Increased nail growth rate by 12%.
  • Decreased frequency of broken nails by 42%.
  • Caused a significant improvement in nail integrity after 4 weeks.

3. May Prevent Premature Hair Loss

Adding collagen into your daily diet can not only help keep your nails strong, but possibly reverse signs of hair loss as well.

A study published in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology found that there is an “essential relationships between extracellular matrix (ECM) and hair follicle regeneration, suggesting that collagen VI could be a potential therapeutic target for hair loss and other skin-related diseases.”

Although the research on this topic is scarce, it is possible that providing your body with the building blocks for collagen will help improve hair follicle health in a way that prevents hair loss.

4. Promotes Muscles Growth And Recovery

Similar to other proteins, collagen is vital for the growth and healing of muscles. Collagen supplementation has the ability to:

  • Increase muscle strength
  • Make resistance training more effective
  • Aid muscle regeneration
  • Prevent muscle disorders

One study found that collagen supplementation in combination with resistance training increased fat-free mass and muscle strength while lowering fat mass in sarcopenic elderly men. In other words, collagen can help build muscle and strength in men that are struggling to maintain their muscle mass the most.

On the flip side, a lack of collagen VI has been shown to impair muscle regeneration and reduce the self-renewal capability of your cells after injury.

5. Essential for Optimal Joints, Tendons, and Ligament Health

Tendons are 80% collagen, and collagen types I, II, III, V, and XI form the basic framework of tendons and ligaments. Therefore, collagen deficiencies can affect flexibility, range of motion, and cause joint diseases like arthritis.

More specifically, the research indicates that supplementing with collagen peptides can:

  • Maintain the integrity of tendons and ligaments
  • Help reverse issues that are related to rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis
  • Reduce joint pain and swelling
  • Support tendon repair

To further demonstrate how effective collagen supplementation is: a randomized, double-blind trial involving 60 patients with severe rheumatoid arthritis found that type II chicken collagen helped decrease the number of swollen and tender joints and 4 patients had a complete remission after 3 months.

Another double-blind study concluded that “collagen peptides are potential therapeutic agents as nutritional supplements for the management of osteoarthritis and maintenance of joint health.”

6. Strengthens Bones

Calcium isn’t the only nutrient you need to consume for optimal bone strength.

Studies have found that supplementing with a blend of calcitonin (a calcium derivative) and collagen provided better results in preventing bone collagen breakdown than calcitonin alone. In children, daily collagen intake at key stages of growth has been shown to have positive effects on bone remodeling and formation as well.

Simply put, collagen works together with calcium to improve bone health.

7. Promotes Overall Tissue Repair

Without collagen, we wouldn’t be able to heal our wounds.  According to one journal article, a scar is “a strong collagen filler that bridges the gap left by tissue destruction, restoring strength and integrity.”

If your body isn’t able to produce enough collagen  (or you have a deficiency the key collagen-forming nutrients that we will learn about later), your ability to heal will be impaired.

8. Keeps Your Eyes Healthy

The eye is formed by many types of collagen, but type XVIII collagen is particularly important because it makes up your cornea, retina, and sclera (the white part of your eye). Research shows that collagen XVIII deficiency may lead to eye defects and malformations.

Fortunately, you don’t have to go out searching for collagen XVIII supplements to avoid deficiency. Simply by consuming the micronutrients and amino acids that makeup collagen, the body will be able to form this specific protein on its own.

9. Promotes Gut Health

Collagen helps us heal our gut and maintain gut health. A recent study found that collagen peptides do this by improving dysfunctional intestinal barrier cells.

This is essential for keeping us healthy because the intestinal barrier is the gatekeeper between our circulation and the food we consume.  It helps you absorb nutrients, water, and electrolytes and prevents the entry of harmful pathogens to your body.

When this barrier malfunctions, intestinal disorders can occur, including inflammatory bowel disease, celiac disease, leaky gut, and diarrhea. A lack of collagen in our gut can also set us up for chronic inflammation.

The promising effects that collagen has on our gut health explain why bone broth is known as a “gut healing tonic”. Bone broth is typically filled with collagen — and those amino acids are exactly what we need to keep our intestinal barrier healthy.

10. Improves Liver Health

Studies have found that glycine can be used to help reduce alcohol-induced liver damage and other forms of acute or chronic liver injury.

Researchers postulate that glycine does this by increasing our glutathione levels, which helps us minimize the effects of toxic chemicals and molecules on the liver.

Side note: I am including this (and many other benefits of glycine) as a benefit of collagen consumption because collagen contains more glycine than any other protein source.

11. Ensures Heart Health

Collagen keeps your heart beating, literally.

Type I collagen, the most abundant protein in the heart, is concentrated in one of the three walls of your heart: the myocardium, which is responsible for pumping our blood.  Without collagen, our myocardium would not have a stiff structural framework that allows for forceful heartbeats.

Unfortunately, as we age the collagen network in the heart naturally changes. This shift in collagen levels weakens and thins your heart’s wall, alters heart function, and changes the pressure in your arteries when the heart pumps blood. Heart attacks and heart conditions can also affect the collagen network.

Collagen supplementation may help us prevent these issues and keep our hearts healthy.

12. Improves Overall Sleep Quality

It’s hard to find a natural supplement that actually helps you sleep better. Most of them just provide us with a placebo effect and nothing else.

However, there are now several studies indicating that glycine (the primary amino acid found in collagen) may be what we need to help us snooze.

Here are some of the ways that this amino acid affects our sleep:

  • Improves sleep quality and sleep efficacy.
  • Decreases daytime sleepiness and improves some aspects of cognitive function.
  • May reduce the time it takes to transition to sleep.
  • May increase time and quality of REM sleep.
  • Decreases fatigue and increases mental clarity and subjective energy levels during the following day.
  • Counteracts sleepiness and fatigue induced by sleep deprivation.

In other words, glycine may help you fall asleep sooner, get a better quality sleep, and feel better than you usually do when you wake up.

The best way to get these benefits (other than taking pure glycine powder) is by taking a collagen supplement with your dinner. Studies indicate that you may need to take roughly 15 grams of collagen to experience these benefits.

13. May Help Improve Mental Health

Glycine serves as a neurotransmitter in the brain with inhibitory effects that may help improve various mental conditions.

Here are some findings that exemplify the relationships between glycine and mental health:

  • Depression is associated with lower levels of blood glycine.
  • When used for the treatment of obsessive-compulsive disorder in adults, glycine has shown positive results.
  • High dose glycine supplementation significantly reduced symptoms of schizophrenia.

Whether or not these results translate to an overall improvement in mental health is uncertain. Fortunately, collagen is safe and simple to supplement with so it will be easy for you to find out if it helps improve your mental wellbeing.

14. Helps with Type 2 Diabetes and Other Metabolic Disorders

Several animal studies indicate that glycine can help with diabetes and other metabolic disorders. Research conducted with patients who have type 2 diabetes confirm these findings.

One study, for example, found that glycine supplementation with 5 grams per day reduced glycated hemoglobin (A1C), a risk factor associated with poor blood glucose management in patients with type 2 diabetes. (To experience these effects, you would have to consume roughly 15 grams of collagen.)

Glycine has also been found to help patients with the oxidative stress that occurs during the development of type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome.

15. Supports Brain Health

Collagen is present in neurons, where it helps to fight oxidation and neurodegeneration.

Collagen VI, in particular, helps the brain function properly and prevents neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s.  This is partly due to the fact that the glycine that is found in collagen has been shown to dilate the microvessels in the brain by up to 250%.

When you combine these benefits with how glycine can help improve sleep and mental health, it becomes evident that supplementing with collagen will help you unlock another level of brain function.


How You Can Experience the Benefits of Collagen 

To reap all of the benefits of collagen, we must implement three strategies:

  • Avoid lifestyle factors that deplete collagen levels.
  • Eat foods that contain the nutrients needed to form, regulate, and protect collagen.
  • Take collagen supplements (or supplement with the amino acids found in collagen).

Let’s take a look at each strategy and how you can optimize them.


The Factors That Keep You from Collagen’s Benefits and How to Avoid Them

The Factors That Keep You from Collagen's Benefits and How to Avoid Them

Although genetics and aging play a key role in the structure, strength, and stability of your collagen, there are a couple of factors that you can modify:

  • High-sugar diet. Research reveals that glucose and fructose can prevent collagen from being used to repair skin while they also produce advanced glycation end products or “AGEs”. AGEs are toxic compounds that form when lipids or proteins are exposed to sugars, and they can trigger chronic diseases like diabetes and heart disease. The best way to keep sugar from messing with your collagen production and overall health is by following a low-carb, low-sugar diet like the keto diet.
  • Smoking causes early facial wrinkling and decreased wound healing because it slows down the synthesis of type I and type III collagen. The only way to avoid this and maintain optimal collagen formation is by dropping your smoking habit for good.
  • Excess sun exposure. Although sun exposure is necessary for improving our overall health, too much sun can cause a breakdown of collagen and shut down new collagen synthesis, making your skin weak and vulnerable. To get the benefits of sun and minimize the downsides, make sure you protect your skin, but only do this after you’ve gotten at least 3-30 min of mid-afternoon sun with at least 40% of your skin exposed to get some of the benefits (people with darker skin will need to get closer to 30 min of sun while those with lighter skin will require around 15 minutes).
  • Air pollution. Polluted air contains something called particulate matter (PMs), which are extremely small particles and droplets in the air that can be absorbed by your lungs and skin. Once absorbed in your skin, some particles may start to break down collagen, cause oxidative stress, and increase your risk of skin cancer. To prevent pollution from causing these issues, there are two strategies you can use: (1) move to an area that has lower levels of air pollution and (2) purchase houseplants and/or HEPA air purifiers that help filter the air.
  • Nutrient deficiency. A low intake of collagen-forming nutrients can lead to collagen deficiency. Getting adequate nutrition is key to preventing collagen breakdown and getting the benefits of this protein. Let’s dig a little bit deeper to find out what these collagen-forming nutrients are and how we can add them to our diets.

A Closer Look at Collagen-Forming Nutrients

A Closer Look at Collagen-Forming Nutrients

You will need to follow a healthy diet based on whole foods to get all the necessary building blocks for collagen. Here are the nutrients that you will need:

Amino Acids: Collagen’s Building Blocks

Roughly 20 amino acids are needed to form collagen, and they can be found in protein-rich foods. To get these amino acids, make sure you are eating enough of these high-protein keto foods:

  • Fish
  • Shellfish
  • Whole eggs
  • Beef
  • Pork
  • Poultry
  • Other meats (veal, goat, lamb, turkey and wild game)
  • Bacon and sausage
  • Nut butter

However, these protein sources tend to be lower in glycine, which is one of the key amino acids needed for collagen formation (and for you to experience many of the benefits of dietary collagen). For this reason, it is best to include animal skin and/or bone broth into your daily diet. Both will contain plenty of glycine as well as the other amino acids your body needs to make collagen. (if you’d like to learn how to make your own collagen-rich bone broth, click this link and scroll down to find our recipe.)

Vitamins, Minerals, and Fatty Acids for Collagen Production

Others nutrients are essential for collagen production as well.

Vitamins and minerals, in particular, are essential for procollagen formation (the precursor of collagen). The antioxidant abilities of vitamins, phytochemicals, and fatty acids also play a crucial role by preventing collagen breakdown and fighting damage.

The top 10 nutrients that aid collagen synthesis are:

  • Vitamin C. This is arguably the most important vitamin when it comes to collagen synthesis. Without it, our body will struggle to produce collagen, eventually leading to scurvy and its connective tissue related symptoms.
  • Vitamin E. Vitamin E protects collagen against free radicals and helps regulate its growth, preventing excess scar tissue from forming.
  • Vitamin A. One study found that 30 mg/day of beta-carotene (the plant-derived precursor to vitamin A) can increase procollagen levels and repair skin aging.
  • Vitamin B6. Animal studies indicate that vitamin B6 participates in the first step of collagen maturation and in the synthesis of collagen peptide chains. Although it is possible for collagen to be formed in a vitamin b6 deficient state, the collagen that is created in this state tends to be dysfunctional.
  • Vitamin B12. In animal studies, researches found that the synthesis of skin collagen was appreciably decreased in vitamin B12 deficient rat skins. The collagen that was formed lacked integrity because proper peptide chain formation and the cross-linking of those chains were both impaired.
  • Non-Vitamin Phytochemicals. Vitamins aren’t the only compounds that help boost collagen health, other phytochemicals are beneficial for collagen formation and protection as well. Zeaxanthin and lutein, for example, are two phytochemicals (found in spinach and swiss chard) that have been found to protect and strengthen the collagen in our retina.
  • Collagen requires calcium to form and preserve bone structure. Calcium allows the mineral crystallization (hardening) of collagen in the bones to take place.
  • This mineral is needed to produce the cells that synthesize collagen. It also plays a key role in stabilizing skin integrity and up-regulating collagen production for types I, II, and V.
  • Selenium helps prevent fibrosis (excess scar tissue) by regulating collagen just like vitamin E does.
  • Omega 3s. These fatty acids help to regulate collagen levels, increasing and decreasing production when necessary by allowing for proper cell signaling. To learn more about omega-3s, check out our guide to these fatty acids.

Key Takeaway — How to Meet Your Collagen-Forming Nutrient Needs 

The simplest way to increase your intake of these collagen-forming nutrients is by following a diet that primarily consists of low carb vegetables, high-quality meats and fish with the skin on, and some low carb fruits.

For more specific recommendations on exactly what foods you need to eat to meet your needs for the vitamins and minerals mentioned above, read through our keto guide to micronutrients. In that guide you will find all the info you need to provide your body with an abundance of collagen-forming vitamins and minerals.

By meeting your micronutrient, omega-3, and amino acid needs, you will be able to get most of the benefits we spoke of earlier. However, to ensure that you will reap all 15 benefits, it is best to take a collagen supplement every day.

What Are Collagen Supplements?

Collagen supplements provide your body with the amino acids it needs to form collagen and benefit your body in the multitude of ways we found out about earlier in this article.

However, don’t get the wrong idea — just because you are consuming collagen doesn’t mean your body will use it as collagen right away. Collagen is digested in the same way as every other protein: broken down into its amino acid components before the body does anything with it.

When you start looking for dietary collagen supplements, you will typically see the terms “collagen hydrolysate”, “hydrolyzed collagen” and “collagen peptides”. Fortunately, they all mean the same thing: small collagen chains extracted from animal tissues.

You may also come across another collagen-based supplement that is called gelatin. Is there a difference between the two?


What is the Difference Between Collagen and Gelatin?

Collagen peptides and gelatin are not the same supplement, but they are created from the same thing: intact collagen.

To create gelatin, the collagen-rich animal tissues are boiled at a high pressure to partially break down the collagen molecules. The gelatin is then extracted, purified and dried. This is called a partial hydrolysis.

Unlike collagen supplements, no enzymes are used to create gelatin. This leaves the collagen in a semi-broken down state of amino acid chains that are longer than the chains found in the other types of collagen powder. These longer amino acid chains make gelatin more difficult to absorb.

Another difference between the two is that gelatin products become a thick gel when water is added to it, which makes it much more inconvenient to add to your diet. On the other hand, collagen hydrolysate, hydrolyzed collagen, and collagen peptides will dissolve into water without turning it into a tasteless sludge.


Should You Take Collagen or Gelatin?

Unless you want to add a gelatinous texture to something you are eating, it is best to stick with one of these three collagen supplements:

  • Collagen hydrolysate
  • Hydrolyzed collagen
  • Collagen peptides

Although gelatin does provide you with the same benefits and amino acids as these three collagen supplements, gelatin comes with two distinct disadvantages that makes it a less valuable product:

  • Gelatin powder will become a thick gel when water is added.
  • Gelatin powder is made of longer chains of amino acids, which make them less absorbable and efficient.

For these reasons, I recommend choosing collagen hydrolysate, hydrolyzed collagen, or collagen peptides over gelatin.


The Main Types of Collagen Peptides

There are five main sources of collagen peptides:

1. Bovine Collagen

This collagen is derived from the hide, bones, tendons, cartilage, and placenta of cows and other bovine. It is the most popular form of collagen in the food industry.

Bovine collagen will typically contain type I, III, and IV collagen, which makes it a well-rounded protein that can support every tissue in your body.

Studies have been conducted using this type of collagen specifically, and the researchers found that it can improve skin and bone health. However, the benefits don’t stop there.

Although bovine collagen supplements have not been studied extensively, it is safe to say that you will get most, if not all, of the benefits of collagen that we discussed earlier by consuming this type of collagen.

Because of how much easier it is to get than other types of collagen, we recommend buying a bovine-based collagen supplement. Keep in mind, however, that the health of the cows can make a significant difference in the quality of the collagen, which is why you should always seek 100% grass-fed collagen supplements.

2. Pig Collagen

Pig collagen is similar to bovine collagen, except for the fact that it is much more similar to human skin. This makes it a suitable collagen replacement if you are sensitive or allergic to bovine collagen in any way.

3. Chicken Collagen

Hydrolyzed chicken collagen is less popular than bovine collagen, but typically contains the widest variety of collagen types (If the powder is derived from multiple parts of the chicken).

The reason why you don’t usually find chicken collagen as easily as bovine collagen is because of the risks of contamination from aviary diseases. If you’d like to avoid this risk and get many more collagen types in your diet, save all of the parts of the chicken that you don’t eat and turn it into a broth.

4. Marine and Fish Collagen

Marine collagen may include tissues from different marine animals including fishes, starfish, jellyfish, sponges, sea urchin, octopus, squid, cuttlefish, sea anemone, and prawn. Only the products specifically marketed as fish collagen are made exclusively with fish.

Both marine and fish collagen have many advantages, including a higher collagen yield during extraction, environmentally friendly processing, and easier absorption (because it is made up of smaller molecules than the collagen peptides derived from land animals).

What is fascinating about the properties of this collagen is that one study found fish scale collagen such small molecules that it was able to penetrate through the skin and stimulate collagen synthesis.

5. Egg Shell Membrane Collagen

Egg collagen, found in the shells and whites of eggs, contains mostly type I collagen but has some type III, IV, and X collagen as well.

The best part about egg collagen is that it provides us with glucosamine sulfate, chondroitin sulfate, hyaluronic acid, and various amino acids that make it even more effective than the other collagen supplements for improving joint health.

Below, you can use this graphic to help determind the pros and cons of each:

The Main Types of Collagen Peptides


How Are These Collagen Supplements Made?

Collagen is extracted through a process called enzymatic hydrolysis. Let’s take a closer look at how this process provides us with bovine, porcine, chicken, marine, and fish collagen supplements:

Step #1 — Preservation at very low temperatures (less than 0 degrees Celsius).

Step #2 — Pretreatment: Removing non-collagenous pigments and proteins to increase the yield of collagen. This happens through an acid or alkaline process, depending on the tissue. The acidic process is used for fragile raw materials with less intertwined collagen fibers, such as pig and fish skins. The alkaline process is used for thicker materials, like bovine bones.

Step #3 — Demineralization: Extracting minerals to facilitate pure collagen extraction.

Step #4 — Enzymatic hydrolysis: The use of enzymes to break down the collagen bonds.

Step #5: Extraction: The collagen goes through filtering, solidification, and dialysis.

  • Filtering: Separating any residues from the collagen, which is in liquid form.
  • Solidification: The liquid collagen is precipitated (turned into a solid), turning it into a solid powder.
  • Dialysis: Sifting out larger molecules of collagen from smaller ones.

Typical Yield: If we started with 1 kg (2.2 lbs) of raw material, this process would make only 12g of bovine, pig, or chicken collagen. This means that each 16oz container of collagen peptides is derived from roughly 38 kg (83.6 lbs) of raw material.

However, this doesn’t mean that all of that excess material will go to waste just to make your collagen supplement. By filtering out the collagen, we make it easier to extract fats, minerals, and non-collagenous proteins for other uses.

The key to making the best collagen supplement, however, relies much more on the quality of the collagen used than the processing it goes through.

Ideally, you’d want tissues sourced from healthy (grass-fed and/or pasture-raised) animals that weren’t pumped with excess antibiotics and tainted foods — but it can be tricky to know the origin since the sourcing depends on the manufacturer (who may or may not disclose where they got their starting materials from).

To make the decision-making process easier for you, let’s take a look at what makes a high-quality collagen supplement.


How to Find the Best Collagen Supplement

When searching for your collagen supplement, look for these six characteristics:

How to Find the Best Collagen Supplement

1. Sourced From The Right Animal

The best collagen powder available today is bovine collagen. It’s the most researched and easiest to find.

There are many reasons why it’s typically better than the other sources:

  • Pig collagen is less researched as a supplement and is typically made from unhealthy animals.
  • Chicken collagen is best avoided for its vulnerability to aviary disease contamination.
  • Marine and fish collagen show promise with their unique particle size, but they’re relatively new and there’s not enough research to ensure their effectiveness or safety.
  • Bovine collagen materials can easily be sourced from healthy, grass-fed cows.

2. Sustainably-Raised and 100% Grass-Fed 

Collagen from grass-fed cows is better for your health and the environment.

Research finds that grass-fed cows have higher beta-carotene (the plant-derived precursor of vitamin A) levels than grain-fed cows. This is worth noting because vitamin A is critical for maintaining the integrity of the cow’s hide, which is the main tissue used to create collagen peptides.

This means grass-fed cows may have healthier hides than grain-fed cows,  which may make grass-fed collagen more beneficial for us.

Even if there was no difference between grain-fed and grass-fed collagen, using grass-fed instead is one way that you can invest in sustainable farming methods that are better for the environment.

3. Make Sure It Contains at Least 10 Grams of Collagen per Serving

According to research, a dose of 10g of hydrolyzed collagen a day is good for skin, joint, and bone health (and this dose may provide you with some of the benefits of glycine as well). For this reason, make sure the serving size of your supplement provides at least 10g (10,000mg) of pure grass-fed collagen peptides.

4. No Unnecessary Fillers

Collagen peptides require no other ingredients for it to maintain its properties, so your supplement should have just one ingredient on the label that says something like this:

  • Grass-fed hydrolyzed collagen powder
  • Grass-fed bovine collagen peptides
  • Hydrolyzed beef collagen

Stay clear of any supplements that include gelatin, magnesium stearate, or sweeteners besides stevia or erythritol. The purest collagen supplement will have one ingredient and 0 grams of carbs and fat per serving.

5. 100% Keto-Friendly

Some collagen supplements might contain other ingredients for added benefits and flavor, but you have to make sure they don’t impair ketone production. The simplest way to make sure the supplement is keto-friendly is by checking its net carb content and making sure it fits within your keto carb limit for the day.

6. Only Contains Real Ingredients

If you decide to get flavored collagen, make sure it doesn’t have any cheap artificial flavors, natural flavorings, and sweeteners in it.

High-quality flavored collagen products will only contain real foods like spices, powdered roots, and organic extracts. Some of the most common examples of this are cinnamon, cacao powder, matcha, and vanilla bean powder.

 


How to Add Collagen Supplements to Your Keto Diet

Once you have a high-quality collagen supplement, the next step is finding a way to take it. Fortunately, this is one of the easiest powders to incorporate into your diet because it can be added to almost any liquid and semi-solid meal. It blends in perfectly and you won’t taste it.  My personal favorite strategy is to add collagen powder to the soups and sauces I have for dinner, but there are plenty of other options for you to try:

How to Add Collagen Supplements to Your Keto Diet


What Are the Recommended Dosages, Common Safety Concerns, and Side Effects of Collagen Supplements?

What Are the Recommended Dosages, Common Safety Concerns, and Side Effects of Collagen Supplements?

How Much Collagen Should You Take?

Collagen is effective and safe at virtually any reasonable dose, and there is currently no known lethal dose.

10g per day seems to be the minimum effective dose. Collagen supplements normally provide this dose in each serving, so simply follow the instructions on the package.

Of course, as with any supplement, consult with your doctor if you plan on taking more than the recommended daily serving.

When Should You Take It?

The best time to take collagen depends on how you feel when you take it and what your goals are. I find that collagen makes me calmer and more relaxed, so I tend to take it at the end of my workday or when I am stressed.

For those of you that want to maximize your gains at the gym and/or improve your joint health as efficiently as possible, it may be best for you to take it right before, during, or immediately after your workout.

Is Collagen Vegetarian or Vegan Friendly?

All collagen supplements are not compatible with a vegetarian or vegan diet. However, you can get most of the benefits of collagen by supplementing with the amino acids found in this animal-based protein.

Although you can get most of the amino acids found in collagen in vegan-friendly foods, it is difficult to find glycine in high enough quantities.

Since glycine is one of the most important amino acids when it comes to making collagen and reaping its benefits, anyone who is vegan or vegetarian should strongly consider supplementing with vegan-friendly glycine capsules or glycine powder. With this strategy, you will be able to experience almost all of the upside of collagen powder without contributing to animal suffering in any way.

Is Collagen Safe During Pregnancy and Breastfeeding?

There is no definite research on the safety of taking collagen supplements during pregnancy or breastfeeding.

The best thing you can do is ask your doctor.


Putting It All Together — Everything You Need to Know About Collagen

Collagen that is essential for the proper function of your skin, bones, joints, nails, hair, tendons, heart, brain, and eyes. It is so crucial for our health that a deficiency can lead to degenerative diseases like osteoporosis and early skin aging.

To prevent collagen deficiency, it is best to use these three strategies:

  1. Avoid lifestyle factors that deplete collagen levels.
  2. Eat foods that contain the nutrients needed to form, regulate, and protect collagen.
  3. Take collagen supplements (or at least supplement with the amino acids found in collagen).

By implementing these three strategies, you will be able to experience a plethora of benefits as well:

  • Skin health improvement
  • Increased nail strength
  • May help with hair loss prevention
  • Enhanced muscle growth and recovery
  • Improved function and integrity of joints, tendons, and ligaments
  • Increased bones strength
  • Enhanced tissue repair
  • Eye health maintenance
  • Better gut function and digestive health
  • Liver disease prevention
  • Essential for heart health
  • Improved overall sleep quality
  • May help with various mental health issues
  • Enhanced metabolic function for people with type 2 diabetes and other metabolic disorders
  • Brain health support

Although you can get most of these benefits by following the first two strategies mentioned above, the only way to experience all 15 is by taking a collagen supplement (or supplementing your diet with the amino acids found in collagen) along with those strategies.

If you need help finding high-quality collagen supplements, follow these simple principles:

  • Look for collagen hydrolysate, hydrolyzed collagen, or collagen peptides, not gelatin
  • Make sure it is sourced from 100% grass-fed cows (or other bovine animals)
  • Check the ingredients to make sure that collagen is the only one
  • If you want to buy a flavored collagen supplement, make sure it does not contain any added fillers, hidden carbs, or other ingredients that aren’t real foods.

Once you get your collagen supplement, you can add it to all sorts of drinks, snacks, and semi-solid meals to increase your collagen intake effortlessly. It is truly one of the most convenient and healthiest protein supplements that you can add to your keto diet.

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