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I’ve been using grass-fed collagen supplements for quite some time now, and love the results. At first, I wasn’t sure if I’d really see the benefits of collagen. And, I had a lot of questions around it.
What is collagen? What is the difference between the various types of collagen? Are collagen peptides the same thing? What collagen benefits can I expect to see?
It seems like finding information about what collagen is, and collagen benefits, is difficult without spending a lot of time.
I thought it would be useful to have a high-level explanation. So here it is – everything you ever wanted to know about collagen, from “what is collagen?” to collagen benefits and types, and even what to do with it.
And, I want to tell you why my favorite collagen products come from Vital Proteins.
Let’s start with, what is collagen?
(Psst! Don’t have time now? Click the button below to pin it and save for later!)
What Is Collagen Protein?
Collagen protein is primarily found in our connective tissue, including ligaments, tendons, cartilage, and bones, as well as the gut, blood vessels, skin, hair, and nails. Its most significant function is structure, which is why it’s so critical for the body.
Amino Acids in Collagen
Like all proteins, collagen is made up of amino acids – these are the building blocks. Amino acids do all kinds of things in the body, like break down food, repair tissues, and more 3.
Out of the 20 types of amino acids, humans can only produce 10 of them, and we must get the rest from food (or supplements). The ones we can’t produce are called essential amino acids.
There are also conditional amino acids, which we can produce but might not in times of stress or illness, and nonessential amino acids, which we always produce 4. Collagen contains all three types, but the primary ones are of the conditional type.
We should not underestimate the value of conditional amino acids. The body produces them under ideal conditions, but sometimes might not produce enough. Consuming them via food and supplements can be a huge help.
The primary amino acids in collagen are glycine, proline, and hydroxyproline, but it actually contains 19 different types 5. Here is a summary of the most common amino acids in collagen protein:
Glycine is the smallest amino acid, and the most abundant one found in collagen (about 1/3). Its functions in the body include DNA construction , muscle growth, transmission of chemical signals in the brain, reduction of inflammation, regulation of blood sugar, hemoglobin synthesis, metabolism, and more 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12.
Proline also makes up a significant amount of the amino acids in collagen (19%). It plays a big role in protein synthesis, metabolism, wound healing, immune response, antioxidative reactions, and joint health 13, 14.
Hydroxyproline is derived from proline. It’s a key component in collagen, and keeps it stable structurally 15.
It’s also part of the elastin protein, which is found in connective tissues alongside collagen and helps the body’s tissues stretch. Hydroxyproline is not found in other proteins – only in collagen 16.
Other Amino Acids in Collagen
Even though glycine, proline and hydroxyproline are the main three amino acids in collagen, several others are significant and important. The main ones include alanine, arganine, and glutamine 17. These play vital roles in insulin secretion, liver metabolism, cardiovascular health, immune system, cell energy, and mental health 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23.
Types of Collagen
There are at least 16 types of collagen, but the vast majority of collagen in the human body (80 to 90 percent) is of type I, II, and III 24.
Here is a quick summary of the most common types of collagen:
Type I Collagen
Type I Collagen is the most common type found in the human body. It consists of extremely strong fibers, much stronger than other types. Gram for gram, it is stronger than steel 24! The highest concentrations of type I collagen are found in the skin, tendons, ligaments and bones 25. It’s also found in the dentin of the teeth and fluid that surrounds our cells.
Type II Collagen
Type II collagen is the main type of collagen in cartilage 26. Joint pain is often associated with degrading cartilage, which is why Type II collagen is so important. It also plays an important role in the eyes 27.
Type III Collagen
Type III collagen is critical for fibrous tissue in the muscles, intestines, and blood vessels 28, 29. It helps to organize cells within organs and even works together with Type I collagen in fighting cancer 30, 31.
What Types of Collagen Are Best?
The human body needs all types of collagen. They perform various functions, and all are important. If you are considering a collagen supplement, compare its type with what your primary goal is.
What Is Collagen Peptides or Hydrolyzed Collagen?
Collagen peptides, hydrolyzed collagen and collagen hydrolysate are actually all names for the same thing. So, what is the different between these versus just regular collagen protein? The amino acids are the same, but the difference is the structure.
Structurally, collagen protein forms a twisted helix of three long chains of amino acids. (These are glycine, proline, and hydroxyproline, described above.) It’s very strong, which is what makes it so useful in the body.
Unfortunately, this length and strength makes collagen protein difficult to digest and absorb. In addition, it does not dissolve well.
Collagen peptides, or hydrolyzed collagen, is the same collagen protein, but it’s broken down into smaller pieces. They are easier for us to digest and absorb 32, meaning they are bioavailable. And, they dissolve easily, which is perfect for use in drinks and recipes.
This is why collagen supplements, like Vital Proteins, are made out of collagen peptides.
Collagen vs Gelatin
What is the difference between collagen and gelatin? They are actually very similar.
When collagen protein is heated, it breaks down and becomes gelatin. The nutrition content and benefits are the same. It’s just a matter of consistency and how you use the product.
Gelatin can be used for thickening sauces or making gummies. (In fact, I made sugar-free gummy bears with it!)
Collagen peptides, on the other hand, are easier to use universally, since they do not “gel” the way gelatin does. They dissolve in liquids, so you can add them to a lot more different types of foods without a problem.
Where Does Collagen Come From?
Mammals, including humans, naturally produce collagen. However, our collagen production decreases with age, so our skin and joints begin to lose their structural integrity.
We can get collagen from the food we eat, but a due to the large particle size, it can be difficult for us to absorb effectively. In addition, today’s diets are usually not very high in the parts of animals that contain collagen, including bones (or bone broth) and connective tissues.
Collagen protein powder supplements, in the form of collagen peptides, are more readily available for our bodies to use. They are naturally sourced from animals, by cooking bones, hides, and/or connective tissue, and broken down using an enzyme treatment, so that they dissolve and are easy to absorb. Then, the collagen goes through an evaporation and milling process to make a powder 33.
There are three main sources of collagen peptides:
1) Bovine Collagen (Beef)
Bovine collagen is the most common source of collagen, coming from cows. It primarily contains Type I and Type III collagen, which are also the most common types in the human body.
2) Marine Collagen (Fish)
Marine collagen, or fish collagen, comes from fish scales and bones. The collagen peptides from fish are smaller, so some research says that they are easier to digest and more readily absorbed 34. However, all collagen peptides, no matter the source, will be digestible and available to us. Fish collagen also has higher levels of hydroxyproline, which can stimulate skin cell regeneration 35.
3) Chicken Collagen
The source of chicken collagen is chicken bones or cartilage. It primarily contains Type II collagen, so is excellent for the joint health 36.
Other Sources of Collagen
Collagen peptides are also sometimes sourced from pigs or the membranes of egg shells. These are less common.
Collagen Benefits for Skin, Hair, Joints & More
So, what is collagen good for? It helps support your body in so many ways.
Check out some of these amazing collagen benefits**…
1) Collagen for Skin
Collagen peptides improve skin hydration and elasticity, which means that they minimize the effects of aging and can even reduce wrinkles. And, one study found that it helps in cellulite reduction, too! This is because tightening skin can reduce its appearance. It’s almost hard to believe, but multiple double blind studies have demonstrated these amazing benefits of collagen for skin 37, 38, 39, 40, 41.
2) Collagen for Hair & Nails
The hair and nails are both composed of keratin. And, collagen contains the amino acids necessary to produce it! For this reason, collagen will keep your hair and nails strong. In fact, two studies has shown that it may even help with hair growth 42, 43.
3) Collagen for Joints
Our ligaments, tendons and cartilage make up the connective tissue in our joints, and all three are made out of collagen. So, it’s no surprise that it plays a huge role in joint health. Multiple scientific studies have shown collagen benefits in reducing joint pain 44, 45, 46, 47. In fact, it can even help with diseases like rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis 48, 49, 50, 51.
4) Collagen for Bones & Teeth
Collagen helps provide the structure in strong bones. One study showed that collagen peptides can help with improving bone density 52. It’s also found in dentin in the teeth.
5) Collagen for Hormone Balance
6) Collagen for Gut Health
Since collagen supports the formation of connective tissue, it helps to seal the protective lining in the intestines. This may help alleviate issues like acid reflux, IBS, and leaky gut syndrome. It can also improve low stomach acid levels, helping in digestion. 55, 56, 57, 58
7) Collagen for Cardiovascular Health
Collagen is a major component in the structure of the heart and vascular tissues, and some of its amino acids are critical in treatment of heart disease and high blood pressure. It has also been shown to reduce hardening of the arteries by reducing plaque buildup 59, 60, 61.
8) Collagen for Muscles & Weight Loss
Collagen aids in production of creatine, which is necessary for muscle growth and energy production. Muscle growth can increase metabolism and lead to weight loss. The glutamine found in collagen can help reduce storage of fat. 62, 63
9) Collagen for Mental Health
The amino acids found in collagen peptides can have numerous mental health benefits, including reduction of anxiety and improved brain function. In particular, glycine can induce feelings of calm and has mood balancing properties. It can also help improve sleep quality. 64, 65, 66, 67, 68
10) Collagen for Blood Sugar Regulation
Glycine, the primary amino acid in collagen, helps to regularate insulin release and blood sugar. Proline, another major component, plays critical role in liver glucose metabolism. In addition, one study showed that collagen is more satisfying than other proteins and reduces appetite throughout the day. 69, 70
**Note: This article cites sources from scientific publications and is accurate to the best of my knowledge. However, the article itself has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. It is not intended to diagnose or treat any disease.
My Favorite Collagen Products
With all these collagen benefits, it’s no wonder I’m excited about it. And, it’s really important for me to get my collagen from a source I trust.
That’s why I’m so excited to be partnering with Vital Proteins, because they are my favorite.
Why Vital Proteins Collagen?
There are multiple reasons why I think that Vital Proteins makes the best collagen supplements:
- The collagen peptides come from grass-fed, pasture-raised cows.
- The marine collagen comes from wild-caught fish.
- The BPA-free canisters are airtight, preventing moisture or oxygen from entering. This means the collagen doesn’t degrade.
- The powder is very finely ground and tasteless, making it easy to use.
- The protein content per serving is slightly higher than other brands I’ve tried, meaning it’s more concentrated.
- Every lot is tested for heavy metals and microbiological components, using a third party.
- It’s a whole food supplement. All products come from real food sources, and there are no fillers.
- The customer service is top-notch. They always answer quickly and the products are always available.
- Free shipping on all orders! Always a plus.
People often wonder, how much collagen should I take daily? Vital Proteins recommends 20 grams per day.
Here are a few of my favorite collagen products, and what each can be used for…
Collagen peptides are the product I use the most, and the most popular form of collagen from Vital Proteins. It comes exclusively from grass-fed, pasture-raised bovine hides from Brazil.
Since collagen protein powder is the only ingredient, it’s naturally low carb, gluten-free, dairy-free, sugar-free, whole 30 and paleo friendly. I use it in my coffee, soups, and baking. It dissolves easily in liquids, so is easy to use in recipes.
Recently I have become interested in marine collagen protein powder. Vital Proteins sources this from non-GMO red snapper, wild caught off the coast of Hawaii.
As mentioned above, fish collagen makes it easier to digest. So, it’s a good option for a sensitive stomach. The serving size is a little smaller, so has less collagen per serving than the beef collagen does.
You can get marine collagen here.
Cartilage collagen, made from grass-fed bovine tracheal cartilage, is an excellent source of Type II collagen. This one is my most recent discovery.
Since I experience joint pain and have back issues, I like to take cartilage collagen. It’s also rich in something called chondroitin sulfate, which has been shown to help with joint pain 72.
You can get cartilage collagen here.
Flavored Collagen Peptides
Flavored collagen peptides are a great way to change up your use of collagen! You can mix it into smoothies, protein shakes, or even bake with it.
I saved the best for last! I’m a huge fan of adding collagen to coffee, and for a long time I was adding regular collagen peptides to it. But, ever since I tried Vital Proteins Collagen Creamer, I am hooked!
It’s a combination of collagen peptides, coconut cream powder, vanilla bean powder, bamboo shoot extract, and acacia fiber. It’s all organic, too.
I actually love that it has no sweeteners! I don’t think they are necessary at all.
Froth up this collagen creamer with a milk frother or blender (with or without MCT oil added), and you’re good to go! It’s my favorite way to enjoy collagen. Get vanilla collagen creamer here.