Is all collagen the same? Short answer: No.
When it comes to collagen, there are many types. There are even different types of types! Dozens of types of collagen naturally occur in your body; there are various supplement forms, preparation types and even different sources.
Ford instance, did you know JELL-O® is made from collagen? Or that animal-derived collagen has been used in glue-making for over 4,000 years? This naturally-occurring substance has been valued for ages, but has recently become popular as a dietary supplement.
Educating yourself about collagen — not only about the collagen that naturally occurs in your body, but the various supplement options out there — can help you make sound choices when it comes to your health.
There are at least 28 different members of the collagen family, all found across the animal kingdom. These collagen types are identified using Roman numerals. Types I, II and III account for 80 percent to 90 percent of collagen in the human body.
Type I collagen is perhaps the most researched and abundant type of collagen. It is found in nearly all connective tissues — such as tendons, ligaments and the skin — and is also prevalent in the intestines. Type I collagen mutations are associated with certain bone and connective tissue diseases, such as osteoporosis and Ehlers-Danlos syndrome — a disorder characterized by overly flexible joints and stretchy skin.
Type II collagen is also abundant in the body and is the main collagen type found in cartilage. Mutations of this type of collagen are associated with problems like osteoarthritis.
Type III collagen is found in places like the skin, lungs and vascular system. Like other collagen types, a mutation of this type of collagen can result in Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, as well as vascular and heart problems.
Other types of collagen are found throughout the body, including in the brain, eyes, kidneys, stomach, heart and even the placenta of pregnant women.
Eye the supplement aisle in your favorite big box store or look online, and the majority of the collagen supplements you see will be powders or pills. There are also liquid collagen options, and even collagen gummies out there. While you no doubt are concerned with the ingredients of the particular supplement you choose — no matter the form — the forms can make your collagen more convenient to fit into your lifestyle. Here are some considerations:
Pills/capsules: May be convenient for travel or as a backup option, as they’re easier to transport than a tub of powder and they require no preparation.
Powders: Hydrolyzed collagen powders are generally formulated to dissolve easily in liquids, which means you can add them to a post-workout drink or your daily smoothie. They come in unflavored varieties for adding to existing drinks or flavors for a collagen shake.
Liquids: Liquid collagen supplements generally have the convenience of being ready-to-drink, with one major drawback: they usually have to be refrigerated.
Just like collagen supplements come in several forms, they also come from several different potential sources. Your choice of collagen supplements will depend, at least in part, on your dietary restrictions and how those align with collagen sources.
Bovine: Collagen supplements made from beef will typically be labeled as “bovine-derived" and are the most common. These usually contain collagen types I and III.
Marine: Marine collagen supplements come from fish and primarily contain collagen type I. They could be a good alternative for people who don’t eat red meat, but should be avoided by anyone with seafood allergies.
Poultry: Chicken-derived collagen supplements are less common and mostly contain type II collagen.
Vegetarian: Collagen supplements labeled as vegan or vegetarian do not contain collagen itself (if appropriately labeled, since collagen is animal-derived). Instead, these supplements are called "collagen builders" and typically contain ingredients that are derived from plants, such as plant-based protein.
When you’re checking labels, you’ll also likely notice mentions of peptides, hydrolysate, multi-collagen and more. At least some of these terms are used interchangeably, but it pays to know what you’re looking at.
Hydrolyzed collagen: Collagen in its natural form is a component of connective tissue, and eating cow hide or tendons would be far from pleasant (even if it were ground up). Hydrolysis breaks the collagen down into smaller components (peptides made up of amino acids) that make it easier to dissolve into liquids. Collagen that has undergone hydrolysis is known as “hydrolyzed.”
Collagen hydrolysate: Hydrolysate is the name for a substance created through hydrolysis. So, yes, you guessed it: collagen labeled as hydrolysate is essentially the same as that labeled with hydrolyzed or peptides.
Collagen peptides: Again, collagen peptides are those smaller compounds that result after collagen has undergone hydrolysis.
Types I, II or III collagen: Some collagen products are labeled with the type of collagen contained within, and may specifically mention including just type I, II or III collagen.
Multi-collagen: Generally, if a collagen supplement is labeled as “multi,” it simply has more than one type of collagen in it.
Choosing a high-quality collagen supplement involves first knowing what you’re looking at. With the information above, you’re better equipped to decipher a collagen supplement’s label. Collagen products have been around for decades — JELL-O alone was created in the 1800s. So, collagen hydrolysis isn’t a new process and there are many different collagen products on the market.
With so many different types and forms of collagen, choosing a collagen supplement that’s right for you involves finding one that can fit your lifestyle and dietary needs.
If, for instance, you’re vegan or vegetarian, you’ll want to opt for a “collagen builder” that doesn’t contain animal-derived collagen. If you eat paleo, finding a collagen supplement will probably be easier, but you’ll still want to watch out for things like added sugars.
As with any supplement (or food!) you buy, you should always check the ingredients label. It’s always good to know what you’re putting in your body so you can do so with confidence.