Wondering about major sources of collagen? Fish collagen definitely tops the list. While there are benefits associated with all animal collagen sources, fish collagen peptides are known to have the best absorption and bioavailability due to their smaller particle sizes compared to other animal collagens, making them antioxidant powerhouses. Bioavailability is highly important since it largely determines the efficacy of any nutrient you ingest.
Fish collagen is absorbed up to 1.5 times more efficiently into the body and has superior bioavailability over bovine or porcine collagens. Since it’s absorbed more efficiently and enters the bloodstream more quickly, it’s considered the best collagen source for medicinal purposes. (1)
Fish collagen’s ability to be more easily absorbed by our bodies is thanks 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 and carried throughout the body. This leads to 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.
What Is Fish Collagen?
Fish collagen is a complex structural protein that helps maintain the strength and flexibility of skin, ligaments, joints, bones, muscles, tendons, blood vessels, gums, eyes, nails and hair. It’s a type I collagen, which is the most abundant collagen in the human body. Type I is best known for providing the foundation for beautiful skin, strong connective tissues and sturdy bones.
Fish collagen peptides have very specific amino acid compositions with a high concentration of glycine, hydroxyproline and proline. When fish collagen is ingested, hydroxyproline peptides are not completely digested to free amino acids and can be detected in the blood. These hydroxyproline peptides stimulate cells in the skin, joints and bones, and lead to collagen synthesis through cell activation and growth. (2)
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 helps reduce environmental pollution. (3)
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 benefit the skin. It helps prevent and improve any signs of skin aging. Possible skin benefits of consuming this collagen include improved smoothness, better moisture retention, increased suppleness and prevention of deep wrinkle formation.
Hydrolyzed fish collagen is composed of small, low molecular weight peptides, which are easily digested, absorbed and distributed by the human body. Research published in 2015 in the Open Nutraceuticals Journal states how numerous clinical trials have now been performed showing the efficacy and benefits of collagen peptides on skin properties, including hydration, elasticity and reduction of wrinkles. Researchers conclude that hydrolyzed collagen is a smart weapon in the everyday fight against the undesirable yet visible signs of aging. (4)
2. Bone Healing and Regeneration
Fish collagen has recently shown its ability to increase the body’s own natural collagen production. In the past, studies have demonstrated that collagen peptides from fish skin might have a positive effect on bone health by increasing bone mineral density and exerting anti-inflammatory activity on osteoarthritis.
The goal of one 2013 study was to determine effects of fish collagen peptides on collagen synthesis, quality and mineralization. Findings of the study show that the fish collagen has a positive effect on collagen synthesis and collagen quality. Researchers also found that the fish collagen was helpful in the matrix mineralization of bone-synthesizing cells in vitro. While this study did not involve human subjects, it does show how fish collagen is biomaterial that can aid bone healing and regeneration. (5)
Furthermore, researchers from the NC Oral Health Institute at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s School of Dentistry examined the effects of fish collagen peptides in an osteoblastic cell culture system. They found that fish collagen peptide supplementation “exerts a positive effect on osteoblastic cells in terms of collagen synthesis, quality and mineralization, thereby suggesting the potential utility of FCP for bone tissue engineering.” (5a)
3. Wound Healing
Fish collagen might help your next scrape, scratch or more serious wound to heal better and faster. The ability of a wound to heal is ultimately based on collagen, which is essential to wound healing because it helps the body form new tissue. Type I collagen is the most abundant structural component of the dermal matrix so it makes perfect sense that having more type I collagen in your body might help wounds to heal faster.
It was previously believed that collagens were just structural supports. Now we know that collagen and collagen-derived fragments control many cellular functions, including cell shape and differentiation, cell migration, as well as the synthesis of a number of important proteins. Collagen also plays a critical role in all phases of wound healing: hemostasis, inflammation, proliferation and remodeling. (6)
So if you want heal cuts fast or alleviate that wound, fish collagen is a safe bet.
4. Increased Protein Intake
By consuming fish collagen, you don’t just get collagen — you get everything that collagen contains. Fish collagen is over 97 percent protein with no fat, sugars or carbohydrates, making it one of the absolute best protein foods on the planet. (7) What it does have is a very distinctive amino acid profile.
Amino acids are organic compounds that combine to form proteins. They, along with proteins, are the building blocks of our bodies. By increasing your protein intake through consuming collagen, you can improve your workouts, avoid muscle loss (and prevent sarcopenia) and have a better recovery post-workout. More collagen protein in your diet also always helps with weight management.
5. Antibacterial Abilities
Research out of Canada published in 2016 found that fish collagen has yet another impressive component. I’m talking about collagencin, which is an antibacterial peptide from fish collagen. This recent study found that collagencin completely inhibited the growth of Staphylococcus aureus, more commonly known as staph or staph infection. (8)
Staph is a very serious, highly contagious infection caused by bacteria commonly found on the skin or in the nose. For the future, marine collagens look like a promising source of antimicrobial peptides, which could improve both human health as well as food safety.
The exact nutritional content of fish collagens varies. Here’s an example of a 10-gram serving of hydrolyzed fish collagen, which contains about: (9)
- 45 calories
- 9.4 grams protein
- 10 milligrams sodium
- 0.07 milligrams potassium
- 0.05 milligrams calcium
- 0.04 milligrams iron
Fish Collagen vs. Other Types
- 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 rich supply of glycine and proline, and therefore useful for creatine production, building muscle and also helping the body make its own collagen.
- Chicken collagen: The type of collagen most abundant in chicken collagen is type 2, which is best for building cartilage. This makes it beneficial for joint health, especially since this source also provides chondroitin sulfate and glucosamine sulfate — both of which have anti-aging effects. Most supplements containing collagen usually use chicken collagen and provide type 2.
- Fish collagen: Collagen derived from fish has been found to be easily absorbed and provide mostly type 1 collagen, with the amino acids glycine, proline and hydroxyproline. Because type 1 can be found throughout the entire body, consuming more fish collagen has been associated with benefits for the joints, skin, vital organs, blood vessels, digestion and bones. Hydroxyproline is an important component of the collagen triple helix, and lower levels have been associated with joint degradation and therefore symptoms/signs of aging. (10) Hydroxyproline is needed for collagen stability and is created by modifying normal proline amino acids after the collagen chain is built. This reaction also requires vitamin C (to assist in the addition of oxygen), which is why vitamin C deficiency can cause abnormalities in collagen levels.
- 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 (approximately 100 times more type 1 than type 4). (11, 12) It provides glucosamine sulfate, chondroitin sulfate, hyaluronic acid and various amino acids that have benefits for building connective tissue, wound healing, building muscle mass and reducing pain/stiffness.
- The first time chemists extracted collagen from fish skin appears to be 1985.
- Fish collagen is sometimes called marine collagen, but marine collagen products are sometimes sourced from shellfish and jellyfish, which I don’t recommend.
- Fish collagen is sourced from the scales, skin, bones and fins of fresh or saltwater fish.
- Historically, full use of the fish body can be seen in many dishes, including the heads and eyes.
- In Chile and other parts of South America, fish heads are used in a dish called caldillo de congrio, which the fish heads are boiled together with vegetables and herbs to make a nutrient-dense, collagen-rich stock, which is used as the base for the soup.
- Fish collagen is high in essential and non-essential amino acids.
How to Use
You can find a fish collagen supplement at your local health store or online. It’s available as a pill, liquid or powder. You should choose one that comes from a reputable company and is non-GMO and gluten-free. Also, makes sure it has no fillers, sugar, artificial flavors or artificial preservatives.
You might find hyaluronic acid and vitamin C included in your marine collagen supplement because they aid the absorption of collagen. Beware of collagen supplements made in China and other countries with loose manufacturing controls and standards.
When collagen is hydrolyzed, the protein molecules are broken into smaller molecules. Hydrolyzed fish collagen supplements are more easily digested and absorbed by your body.
Fish collagen is different from marine collagen. Many marine collagen products are sourced from shellfish and jellyfish, which I don’t recommend.
Always store collagen products in a cool, dry place.
You might be scared to buy and use fish collagen products because you think they’ll smell and/or taste like fish. Not to worry — there are many fish collagen products on the market today that are tasteless and odorless or have a neutral, non-fishy taste. You can easily mix powdered collagen with smoothies, coffee, tea or a cup of hot water. You can even add it to soups or sauces.
Want to get your dose of fish collagen first thing in the morning? Try adding fish collagen powder to my Pumpkin Pie Oatmeal Recipe — it’s sure to start your day right!
Homemade fish stock is another great way to obtain the collagen benefits of fish. Try a Homemade Fishstock Recipe (wine optional) loaded with collagen and other health-promoting nutrients, along with other fish bone broth recipes.
In addition to adding a fish collagen product to your diet, you can also get this tremendous protein through collagen supplementation, such as collagen hydrolysates. Collagen hydrolysate supplements are easy to find at most health food stores or pharmacies.
Risks and Side Effects
There are no commonly reported side effects of fish collagen. If you’re allergic to fish, then you might need to avoid these collagen products. However, many producers of collagen products derived from fish remove the water-soluble allergens from the skin and significantly reduce the possibility of an allergic reaction.
If you consume fish collagen and have a mild allergic reaction then discontinue use. If you have a serious allergic reaction, seek medical attention immediately.
Speak with your doctor before taking it if you take any other medications or have any ongoing health concerns.
- Fish collagen peptides are known to have the best absorption and bioavailability due to their smaller particle sizes compared to other animal collagens. They’re absorbed up to 1.5 times more efficiently into the body.
- It’s considered the best collagen source for medicinal purposes and great for most diets, including the Paleo diet.
- It’s a type I collagen, which is the most abundant collagen in the human body. Type I is best known for providing the foundation for beautiful skin, strong connective tissues and sturdy bones.
- This collagen is a complex structural protein that helps maintain the strength and flexibility of skin, ligaments, joints, bones, muscles, tendons, blood vessels, gums, eyes, nails and hair.
- It’s been shown to fight aging, heal and regenerate bones, heal wounds, increase protein intake, and provide antibacterial abilities.
- It’s sourced from the scales, skin, bones and fins of fresh or saltwater fish.
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