What Is Collagen? 7 Benefits for Skin, Hair, Joints and More

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What Are the Best Collagen Types and Sources?

What is collagen made up of? For starters, procollagen is the “soluble precursor of collagen formed by fibroblasts and other cells in the process of collagen synthesis.” And as stated in the Journal of Supramolecular Structure,

Collagen in most tissues of higher animals and in many tissues of lower animals takes the form of a rope with a high degree of order. Like a rope, which has several levels of coiling, the collagen fibril has four structural levels of which at least three are coils. The polypeptide chain, the molecule, and the microfibril are helical structures; the fibril may consist of parallel or perhaps coiled microfibrils.

Further, according to the Wellcome Trust Centre for Cell-Matrix Researchat the University of Manchester, “Collagen is most abundant in animal tissues as very long fibrils with a characteristic axial periodic structure.” Collagen fibrils are what allow the shape of tissues to be defined and maintained. This so-called “microfibrillar structure” is what makes up collagen.

A little known fact is that there are at least 16 different types of collagen within the human body. These include collagen types 1, 2, 3, 5 and 10. However, the vast majority of the collagen — between 80 percent and 90 percent — consists of types 1, 2, and 3. Type 1 collagen specifically accounts for almost 90 percent of the body’s supply according to some findings. There are also different types of collagen found in certain foods or used to create collagen products and supplements. 

What are the best collagen types? Here’s an overview of the different types of collagen, collagen sources and their primary benefits so you can determine what collagen type is the best:

  • Type 1/Type I: This is by far the most abundant, and almost considered to be the strongest, type of collagen found in the human body. It’s made up of eosinophilic fibers that form parts of the body, including tendons, ligaments, organs and skin (dermis). Type 1 collagen also helps form bones and can be found within the GI tract. It’s very important for wound healing, giving skin its stretchy and elastic quality, and holding together tissue so it doesn’t tear. 
  • Type 2/Type II: Type 2 collagen primarily helps build cartilage, which is found in connective tissues. The health of our joints relies on cartilage made of type 2 collagen, which is why it’s beneficial for preventing age-associated joint pain or various arthritis symptoms.
  • Type 3/Type III: Type 3 collagen is made of reticular fibers and a major component of the extracellular matrix that makes up our organs and skin. It’s usually found with type 1 and helps give skin its elasticity and firmness. It also forms blood vessels and tissue within the heart. For these reasons, deficiency in type 3 collagen has been linked to a higher risk for ruptured blood vessels and even early death, according to results from certain animal studies. 
  • Type 4/Type IV: Type 4 collagen has the important job of forming basal lamina, which is found in endothelial cells that form tissue that surround organs, muscles and fat. Basal lamina are needed for various nerve and blood vessel functions. They line the majority of our digestive organs and respiratory surfaces. Basal lamina can be found in the spaces between the top layer of skin/tissue and the deepest layer. They’re a thin layer of gel-like fluid that provides cushion/padding for the tissue above it.
  • Type 5/Type V: This type of collagen is needed to make the surface of cells, as well as hair strands and tissue found in women’s placentas (the organ that develops in the uterus during pregnancy, provides oxygen and nutrients to the growing baby, and removes waste).
  • Type 10/Type X: Type 10 helps with new bone formation and forming articular cartilage. It’s involved in the process of endochondral ossification, which is how bone tissue is created in mammals. It’s been found to be beneficial for bone fracture healing and repairing of synovial joints.

Related: What Are the Best Types of Collagen and Benefits of Each?

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When it comes to sources of collagen we get from our diets, the main ones are foods very high in protein, including beef, chicken, fish and egg shell membranes. Here’s a bit about how these collagens differ and benefit us:

  • 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. 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). 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.

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