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Marine Collagen Benefits and How to Use
By Jill Levy
November 28, 2020
Wondering how different sources of collagen compare? Fish collagen, also sometimes called marine collagen, definitely tops the list, considering it’s one of the most highly available types.
While there are benefits associated with all animal collagen sources, fish collagen peptides are typically known to have higher absorption and bioavailability — due to their smaller particle sizes compared to other forms.
Bioavailability of collagen is highly important since it largely determines the efficiency of the nutrients you ingest. Fish collagen’s ability to generally be more easily absorbed by our bodies is due to its lower molecular weight and size, which allows the collagen to be absorbed at a higher level through the intestinal barrier into the bloodstream, where it’s then carried throughout the body.
This leads to overall collagen synthesis in the joint tissues, bones, skin dermis and many other essential body systems. Since we don’t tend to eat the parts of the fish containing collagen (mainly skin and scales), making homemade fish stock or supplementing with collagen is the next best thing.
Fish collagen, or marine collagen, is a complex structural protein. It’s a type I collagen, which is the most abundant collagen in the human body.
Type I collagen is best known for providing the foundation for healthy skin, strong connective tissues and sturdy bones. That’s why consuming marine collagen can generally help to maintain the strength and flexibility of skin, ligaments, joints, bones, muscles, tendons, blood vessels, gums, eyes, nails and hair.
Although the names fish collagen and marine collagen are often used interchangeably, marine collagen products are sometimes sourced from shellfish and jellyfish, which may not have the same benefits as fish-derived collagen.
The scales, skin, bones and fins of fresh or saltwater fish are used for the creation of fish collagen supplements. Since these parts are considered waste products during fish processing, using them to create other products is sustainable and helps reduce environmental waste and pollution.
The first time chemists extracted collagen from fish skin appears to be 1985. However, historically, the full use of fish bodies for their nutritional benefits has been seen in many cuisines around the world.
For example, the heads and eyes have long been used in Chile and other parts of South America, such as in the dish called caldillo de congrio, in which the fish heads are boiled together with vegetables and herbs to make a nutrient- and collagen-filled stock.
Fish collagen is over 97 percent protein with no measurable fat, sugars or carbohydrates, making it one of the best protein foods on the planet. Consuming enough protein in general can help support exercise performance and recovery, help you build muscle mass, and may help manage your appetite.
Fish collagen provides essential and non-essential amino acids, which are the building blocks of proteins. Marine collagen peptides have a unique amino acid composition, with a large concentration of glycine, hydroxyproline and proline.
These function to help stimulate cells in the skin, joints and bones, and lead to collagen synthesis through cell activation and growth. This means that fish collagen health benefits generally include support for your hair, skin, nails, gut and joints.
Since fish collagen is a type I collagen, and type I collagen is what our skin consists of, it’s not surprising that it can promote healthy skin.
Fish collagen has the ability to increase the body’s own natural collagen production, which can generally have a positive effect on bone health by supporting healthy bone mineral density. It can also aid in joint health and contribute to joint comfort and mobility.
How does fish/marine collagen compare to other types? Here’s a bit about how they compare:
Bovine (cow or beef) collagen: Bovine collagen comes from cows, specifically from their skin, bones and muscles. It’s made of mostly types 1 and 3 collagen, which is a good fit considering these are the most abundant types created and found in the human body. It’s a good supply of glycine and proline, and therefore generally useful for creatine production and supporting healthy muscle mass.
Chicken collagen: The type of collagen most abundant in chicken collagen is type 2, which is best for building and maintaining healthy cartilage. This makes it beneficial for supporting healthy joints, especially since this source also inherently provides chondroitin sulfate and glucosamine sulfate — both of which also support healthy joint health and mobility.
Egg shell membrane collagen: Egg collagen, found in the shells and whites of eggs, contains mostly type 1 collagen. It also has type 3, 4 and 10, but by far the most type 1, just like the human body. It inherently provides glucosamine sulfate, chondroitin sulfate, hyaluronic acid and various amino acids that have benefits for building healthy connective tissue.
Ancient Nutrition’s Multi Collagen Protein powder provides you with collagen from four sources, including wild-caught pollock harvested from North American waters, so you don't have to choose between the different types.
This non-GMO and gluten-free formula is made with a combination of chicken, fish, bovine and egg shell membrane collagens. It contains no fillers, sugar, artificial flavors or artificial preservatives, ensuring you get the highest quality collagen available.
It also features collagen that has been hydrolyzed, meaning the protein molecules are broken into smaller molecules, making them easier for your body to digest and absorb.
Worried that marine collagen will smell and/or taste like fish? Not to worry — there are many fish collagen products on the market today that are unflavored and without odor or have a neutral, non-fishy taste.
You can easily mix a scoop of powdered collagen with smoothies, oatmeal, coffee, tea or a cup of hot water. You can even add it to soups or sauces.
Homemade fish stock/broth is another great way to obtain the collagen benefits of fish. Real stock is loaded with collagen and other health-promoting nutrients, just like other types of bone broths.
Most people can tolerate marine collagen well; however, if you’re allergic to fish, then you should avoid these collagen products.. As always, however, you should consult your healthcare professional prior to starting any new dietary or lifestyle regimen, including adding collagen.
Jill Levy has been with the Dr. Axe and Ancient Nutrition team for five years. She completed her undergraduate degree in Psychology from Fairfield University, followed by a certification as a Holistic Health Coach from the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. Jill takes a “non-diet” approach to health and really enjoys teaching others about mindful eating, intuitive eating and the benefits of eating real foods.