The Truth About Marine Collagen
You’ve undoubtedly heard about it, but there’s a lot more to collagen than meets the eye. Yes it can give you a pair of pouty, bee-stung celebrity lips if you’re not afraid of needles (or pain – let’s be honest, injecting anything into your lips hurts like hell), but there are other ways to benefit.
Edible collagen products can improve skin strength and elasticity, keep joints healthy and maintain hair, nails, bones and teeth – things we all want to keep looking their best, especially as we get older.
So what is collagen exactly?
Well, it’s a structural protein and the most abundant protein in the human body (experts reckon about a third of your body’s protein is in the form of collagen). It’s hard, fibrous, and found throughout your body; but particularly as a building block in your skin, your bones and other connective tissues (cartilage, tendons, ligaments etc).
In fact, you could say that collagen is the glue that holds your body together. The word even comes from the Greek for glue: kólla.
Collagen makes up around 75 to 80 per cent of your skin. It helps form a network of cells called fibroblasts in the middle layer of your skin; the dermis (this is the layer that makes your skin full and plump). When you’re young, your body makes a plentiful supply of its own collagen called endogenous collagen, secreted by various types of cells including connective tissue cells.
Why do we need it?
Certain things affect your body’s collagen production, including age. The older you get, the less collagen and the lower-quality collagen your body makes, which is why older skin is prone to wrinkles and sagging. Collagen loss starts earlier than you might think, with researchers saying it begins when some people are just 18. Then, after you reach your 40th birthday, your body loses around one per cent of its collagen each year, so that by the age of 80 your collagen production has been reduced by a massive 75 per cent.
If that wasn’t enough, there are other things that have a negative impact on your collagen production too, including smoking, eating too much sugar and refined carbohydrates, and exposure to UV light.
It’s no wonder then, that collagen supplements and skin creams are so popular. The demand for collagen products isn’t set to drop any time soon either: one market research firm estimates the value of the global market for marine collagen in 2021 at $778 million, with a projected rise to $1,137 million expected by 2026.
Did you know? Experts believe some types of collagen fibrils (groups of collagen molecules) are even stronger than steel! (gram for gram).
Types of collagen
Scientists have identified around 28 different types of collagen, though the types that account for the vast majority of the collagen in your body are:
- Type 1 (this is the most common type found in skin, bone, teeth, tendons, ligaments and organs – 90 per cent of your collagen is type 1)
- Type 2 (found in cartilage, the substance that cushions your joints)
- Type 3 (most commonly found in skin, muscle and blood vessels)
Meanwhile, collagen you don’t make yourself – that is, collagen supplied by natural supplements, drinks and skincare products – come from different sources. The most commonly found types are marine and bovine collagen.
Marine collagen Primarily a type 1 collagen, marine collagen is sourced from fish skin and scales.
Bovine collagen Usually a mixture of type 1 and type 3, bovine collagen is derived from cow hides.
Surf or Turf?
So which is best? Well, if you happen to be pescatarian (meaning you eat fish but not meat), then marine collagen is obviously going to suit you better. You could argue that marine collagen scores more highly on the environmental front too, since fish protein is thought to release less Co2 than meat products.
Research suggests marine collagen is absorbed more easily than bovine collagen, and that it has negligible toxins compared with the bovine type (this is because wild-caught fish tend not to contain the chemicals – including antibiotics – that are added to mass farmed cattle feed) hence why we opt for this type in our own supplement, it is widely regarded as better quality.
That said, bovine collagen does contains type 3 collagen, whereas marine collagen does not, and is cheaper to produce, and therefore buy, in bulk. This may make it more applicable in certain situations such as as for use as a protein supplement or specifically to repair cartilage damage.
Did you know? Scientists are currently trying to formulate a vegan form of collagen; made by genetically modifying ‘P.pastoris’ bacteria with fragments of human DNA then adding the digestive enzyme ‘Pepsin’ to form home-grown collagen molecules… now that's future science!
What the Daltons?
But why is marine collagen absorbed more easily than bovine collagen? The reason may be that is has a lower molecular weight; though this idea is hotly debated by different science camps and has been the subject of many recent articles on this subject.
When it comes to molecular weight, what you need to be aware of is a unit of mass called a Dalton. This is used to express the weight or size of atoms and molecules, including collagen molecules.
In their original or native form collagen molecules are around 28,500 - 30,000 Daltons, which some commentators think is too big, or long, to be absorbed by the human digestive system. The popular theory is that smaller particles are more easily absorbed, however there’s not actually a great deal of solid scientific evidence to back this up. Others argue it’s completely irrelevant, since collagen molecules are broken down into smaller components by digestive enzymes before they’re absorbed anyway.
The long & short of it
The truth is nobody really knows for sure how big or small a collagen molecule must be before it can be absorbed by the gut and then into the bloodstream, or even if size is the most important issue. However, in line with everything else we know about digestive absorption; most scientists agree it seems logical to assume smaller is better.
Japanese scientists have even developed a technique called hydrolysation that breaks down collagen molecules into smaller compounds (much like the digestive process). Hydrolysed collagen has a molecular weight that’s typically between 2,000 and 6,000 Daltons.
High quality supplements may be even less; for example our collagen is guaranteed to be less than 2000 Daltons. At this size/weight the molecules are thought to be far more bioavailable (that is, more easily absorbed) than native collagen.
Although there are different schools of thought when it comes to edible collagen, there is no doubt that the size of collagen molecules is absolutely crucial when it comes to topical skincare products.
Skin, after all, is designed to keep germs and other unwanted substances out, so we know it protects against large molecules. Most scientists believe collagen molecules of 500 Daltons or smaller will allow skin absorption – something to bear in mind when your choosing your next face cream.
Did you know? Most experts are sceptical about the effectiveness of topical collagen skincare products. But there’s an increasing amount of evidence to suggest oral collagen supplements can protect skin against various signs of ageing, with studies finding they increase hydration, elasticity, firmness, wrinkles and skin rejuvenation.
What else do you need?
Collagen does not work alone, taking other nutrients at the same time can seriously boost its effectiveness, plus they each add their own skin-rejuvenating advantages on-top. Here are the main ones to look out for:
Hyaluronic acid Your body naturally produces HA, which has a unique capacity for retaining water. But as you age there are significantly lower levels of HA in your epidermis (the outermost layer of your skin), making your skin lose volume and plumpness.
Copper This trace mineral is needed to maintain collagen and elastin in your body. It helps to heal and hydrate your skin - hence it's a popular anti-aging nutrient.
Zinc Probably best known for its role in keeping your immune system working effectively, zinc also has potent antioxidant properties. That means it may help protect your skin and other parts of your body against premature ageing-related oxidative damage.
Vitamin C Your body needs vitamin C to make hydroxyproline, one of the main amino acids that form collagen (indeed there’s plenty of evidence that vitamin C stimulates type 1 collagen production). Vitamin C is also a very potent antioxidant and can help to keep skin clear.
Vitamin E Another antioxidant nutrient, vitamin E is a popular ingredient in skin treatments. Studies suggest it protects against sun damage and has properties that stabilise the skin barrier. Vitamin E may also protect against collagen breakdown in the skin.
Vitamin B2 Also called riboflavin, vitamin B2 is widely thought to have antioxidant and anti-ageing properties. Vitamin B2 may also help your body absorb and use zinc.
Biotin Another B vitamin, biotin can contribute to skin problems if you’re not getting enough of it. One small-scale study found taking a daily supplement containing collagen as well as other ingredients including biotin may significantly improve skin hydration and elasticity after just 12 weeks.
Iodine If you’re deficient in this essential mineral your skin may suffer: studies of people with low thyroid hormone levels (thyroid hormones contain iodine) show more than three quarters of them experience dryness and flakiness. Lacking in iodine can cause other symptoms too, including feeling cold all the time, weight gain, tiredness, weakness, hair loss, a slower-than-normal heartbeat and irregular or heavy periods.
Did you know? Omega 3 fatty acids (and the omega6: GLA) are thought to be highly beneficial to skin health by increasing the skins natural protective barrier and locking-in moisture. Ingesting fats and oils along with vitamins A, D and E boosts their absorption too - making an omega supplement such as fish, hemp or starflower oil the ideal addition to your skincare regime.
Now you know all the important facts about collagen and what it can do for your health and wellbeing, you may well want to give it a try.
Although collagen-based lotions and potions may feel nice on your skin, if you ask us then according to most recent research taking an edible collagen supplement is definitely the way to go if you want the best results.
Fancy trying a supplement that contains hydrolysed type 1 marine collagen plus all the other skin-boosting nutrients mentioned in this article?
Look no further than our Marine Collagen Complex, where you’ll find all of them expertly formulated into convenient, easy-to-swallow capsules.
We think it's one of the best edible beauty products out there. And hopefully it’s a much more convenient way to give your collagen levels a boost than eating as much chicken skin, pork skin or bone broth as you can (though don’t let us stop you if you really want to!).