By Amy Gorin, MS, RDN
When it comes to marine collagen vs. bovine collagen, you might be wondering: Which is best? Find out why both types of collagen can work.
Scroll through your Instagram feed on any given day, and you'll find nearly 9 million posts for #collagen. So it should come as no surprise that this buzz-worthy dietary supplement is readily available everywhere from your local grocery store to Target to high-end boutiques.
That said, choosing between marine collagen vs. bovine collagen can feel overwhelming at first, especially since there are major health benefits to both types. Want to learn the difference between the two so you can decide which is best for you? Read on for more.
What is collagen?
Before we talk about the differences between marine collagen versus bovine collagen, let's cover the basics. Collagen is the most abundant protein in the human body. It helps form our connective tissues, muscles, bones, skin, hair, tendons, and cartilage. Collagen is present in the body’s connective tissue and in the extracellular matrix, which is essentially a network that gives structural support to tissues.
As we begin to age, our collagen levels start to diminish. Our collagen production tends to peak between ages 25 and 34 and then declines about 25 percent over the next 40 years, per research published in Plastic and Aesthetic Research. Woah! This decrease can be further exacerbated by poor diet, lack of sleep or exercise, and extreme sun exposure.
At least 16 different types of collagen exist, but the majority of them are types I,II, and III. Each type has a different structure and function in the human body. Here's a quick overview.
- Type I (aka Type 1) is the most prevalent type of collagen and tends to be associated with strong skin, hair, and nails. Type I collagen is present in most connective tissues with bone, ligaments, tendon, and skin. As production of Type I collagen decreases, you may notice fine lines, sagging skin, brittle nails, and thinning hair.
- Type II (aka Type 2) is the main component of cartilage and a healthy skeletal system. Type II collagen is found mostly in cartilage, as it helps keep our joints limber and mobile. Low levels can result in pain and stiffness, making it tougher to recover from physical activities like biking, hiking, and running.
- Type III (aka Type 3) promotes healthy skin and good gut health. It's found inside your intestines, muscles, blood vessels, and uterus. This type of collagen is largely responsible for skin elasticity, hydration, and a healthy digestive system.
The science on collagen and its benefits is still preliminary. But some research in Nutrition Research shows that collagen supplementation may be helpful for skin elasticity. And collagen benefits aren't only for beauty. For people with osteoarthritis, research in International Orthopaedics found that it may be helpful for managing symptoms.
Collagen supplements can come in either powder or capsule form. And because they boast protein, some folks use powdered collagen as protein powder.
What is marine collagen?
Now that we've covered the ins and outs of collagen as a whole, let's look at marine collagen specifically. After all, you're probably wondering about marine vs. bovine collagen.
Marine collagen simply refers to collagen that's sourced from marine life—including fish skin, scales, and bones. It mainly contains Type I collagen, which is why fans of the collagen often supplement with it to help combat early signs of aging like fine lines, brittle nails, and premature wrinkles.
Marine collagen is made up of 18 amino acids but is characterized mainly by high levels of the amino acids glycine, proline, and hydroxyproline. Unlike bovine collagen, marine collagen contains only eight of the nine essential amino acids, those amino acids that your body is unable to make on its own. This means it's not considered a complete protein. But it's still a great way to promote healthy skin and gut health.
Marine collagen is easy to mix into a tasty layered strawberry orange smoothie or your morning coffee. You can even bake with it for a delicious breakfast, such as healthy green matcha muffins. Of course, you can also purchase flavored marine collagen, such as raspberry lime, dragonfruit, and blueberry acai.
Another benefit of marine collagen? It's a very clean source of protein. Not only can you purchase marine collagen with absolutely no additives, the protein pick can also be a sustainable choice—as there's an abundance of marine organism waste in our environment. Marine collagen is also a great option for people who simply want to avoid eating meat, so for someone like me who is a pescatarian.
Marine collagen is typically made from white fish such as cod, haddock and Pollock. Per serving size (which usually ranges from 10 to 12 grams), you'll typically get 9 to 11 grams protein and 10 to 12 grams collagen. In addition to marine collagen powder, you'll also find marine collagen in capsule form. However, this type typically provides less protein and collagen per serving.
Marine collagens to try
Marine collagen supplements typically range in price from $20 to $40 and last for about a month on average. You'll find many flavorless varieties, as well as some flavored options.
Indigo Marine Collagen Powder: This marine collagen powder contains just one ingredient: hydrolyzed fish collagen from cod, haddock, and Pollock. Per 10-gram (about a third of an ounce) serving, you get 9 grams protein and 10 grams collagen for just 35 calories. The product is gluten free and kosher, too. The brand is coming out with fruit-flavored options shortly.
Vital Proteins Marine Collagen Peptides Powder: Here's a marine collagen powder that's made from cod. Per 12-gram serving, you get 11 grams protein and 12 grams collagen peptides for 45 calories. It's Whole30 Approved and gluten free.
Neocell Marine Collagen Capsules: Not all collagen comes in a powder. This marine collagen supplement comes in capsule form. Four capsules provide 2 grams each protein and collagen for 10 calories, as well as a plethora of vitamins and minerals: vitamin C, vitamin B6, vitamin B12, magnesium, zinc, copper, and hyaluronic acid.
What is bovine collagen?
Now, let's chat about bovine vs. marine collagen. Unlike marine collagen, bovine collagen is sourced from animals. Specifically, it's present in the connective tissue, bones, cartilage, and hides of cows. One big benefit of bovine collagen is it's actually very close to what humans produce in our own bodies. However, like marine collagen, it doesn't contain all nine essential amino acids—so bovine collagen isn't a complete protein.
Also like marine collagen, bovine collagen contains 18 amino acids and the majority of these amino acids include glycine, proline, and hydroxyproline. Different than marine collagen, bovine collagen is very high in both Type I and Type III collagen. This means it's a good choice for anyone who wants to improve her hair, nails, skin elasticity, and overall gut health.
As with marine collagen, you can add bovine collagen to many recipes. It can be used in everything from a skinny pumpkin spice latte to smoothies to soups and stews.
Although bovine collagen is a good way to get Type I and Type III collagen, the quality of products can vary widely. Be sure to read labels closely to ensure that the product you're buying aligns with your beliefs. For instance, if sourcing from grass-fed, humanely-raised cows is important to you, look out for verbiage showing that this is the case.
Or if you don't want any sugar alcohols or other sweeteners added to your collagen, look out for those in the ingredients list. It's also important to make sure that any supplement you choose is free of contaminants and has been verified by a reputable third-party company like NSF International.
Bovine collagens to try
When it comes to bovine collagen, prices range from $20 to $40, are usually flavorless and typically last anywhere from one to two months, depending on how frequently you use the supplement.
Ancient Nutrition Collagen Peptides: This collagen supplement is made from hydrolyzed bovine hide collagen peptides and fermented eggshell membrane collagen. Per 20-gram (about two-thirds of an ounce) serving, you get 18 grams protein and 20 grams collagen for 70 calories.
Now Supplements Collagen Peptide Powder: Here's a collagen product that comes from a company that does significant quality testing. The only ingredient is hydrolyzed bovine collagen. Per 11-gram serving, you get 10 grams each protein and collagen for 40 calories.
Great Lakes Gelatin Collage Hydrolysate: This product provides 11 grams protein and 12 grams collage per 12-gram serving, all for 45 calories. You also get a little bit of sodium. The powder is kosher, keto certified, and certified Paleo friendly.
Which type of collagen should you take?
So which is it: marine vs. bovine collagen? Choosing between bovine collagen and marine collagen is a highly personal decision.
If you ask me, there isn't necessarily one right or wrong answer. Obviously, if you have fish allergies, bovine collagen is the better choice to ensure you don't have an allergic reaction. The same goes for bovine collagen: If you suffer from alpha-gal syndrome, otherwise known as a meat allergy, you're better off choosing marine collagen. If you have no known allergies, just be sure to do your research first and select a high-quality product.
Benefits of any collagen supplement
One of the most important things to keep in mind when it comes to collagen supplements: As with most supplements, you can choose to take in your nutrients from food or supplements, or both.
If you'd prefer to get your collagen from food, food sources include bone broth and meat that contains connective tissue (such as chicken with the skin on). Also, your body can naturally create collagen when it combines amino acids in foods with vitamin C, copper, and zinc. Examples of such foods include grapefruit and berries, which boasts vitamin C—as well as beans, because they contain the amino acids your body needs to create collagen.
Bovine collagen vs. marine collagen: the bottom line
Bovine collagen is sourced from cows (red meat), while marine collagen is made from marine life. Both are good ways to add collagen to your diet and to help the health of your skin, hair, and nails. Collagen powders are easy to mix into food and drinks and are usually sold at reasonable price points. However, there are pros and cons to both bovine collagen and marine collagen, so weigh your options carefully before deciding which product is best for you.
As a plant-based nutritionist, I prefer marine collagen over bovine since I avoid meat in my diet but do eat seafood. Either type of collagen can help to keep crow's feet and premature wrinkles at bay and may also help promote stronger hair and nails. I also love how easy it is to incorporate into my favorite healthy recipes, which I love to share on this blog.
Disclosure: This is not a sponsored blog post. However, because I partner with brands I love, I included some current and past clients in this article. These include Now Foods.
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I'd love to hear from you! Tell me whether you prefer bovine or marine collagen and why.
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