Collagen supplements are receiving lots of buzz right now thanks to their wide range of potential health benefits. Faster healing, stronger bones, healthier hair? Sign us up!
It’s no surprise that collagen matters because it is the most abundant protein in the human body.
Collagen serves as the basis for tissues like bone, muscle, skin, hair, and nails, plus it’s found in the fluid between our cells.
The body synthesizes collagen in the same way it does other proteins: by combining amino acids broken down from dietary protein. Taking collagen in supplement form helps ensure plenty of these amino acids are available for building new collagen.
If you’re already aware of collagen’s benefits, here’s the pro-level question: did you know there are actually different types of collagen?
Bring yourself up-to-speed with this guide to the three primary types of collagen: types 1, 2, and 3.
What are the different types of collagen?
All collagen types are stretchy to help support the body’s movement and structure, but each type is shaped slightly differently.
Scientists have identified over sixteen different types of collagen proteins.
Collagen types 1, 2, and 3 are the most prevalent, making up about 80-90% of our total collagen (1). These collagen molecules pack together to form “fibrils:” strands that help tissues stretch.
Below you’ll find a breakdown of the “where” and “why” behind collagen types 1, 2, and 3:
Type 1 Collagen
- This plentiful type of collagen is given the “type 1” designation because it was the first to be isolated and identified (2). Type 1 collagen makes up skin, tendon, bone, and ligaments.
- When it comes to collagen supplements, type 1 collagen is often associated with marine (fish-based) collagen (3).
Type 2 Collagen
- Cartilage is where you’ll find type 2 collagen. Joints (like knees and wrists) are made of cartilage, which helps provide a structure that is also quite flexible. Some studies (4, 5) found that supplementing with type 2 collagen helped improve knee pain, as cartilage can gradually decline away with time and friction.
- Collagen supplements that focus on type 2 collagen are typically chicken or beef cartilage-based.
Type 3 Collagen
- The third type of collagen is found in skin, muscles, blood vessels, and large hollow organs like the uterus and intestines. Type 3 has been identified as a key player in wound healing (6).
- Bovine collagen supplements are widely considered a great source of type III cartilage.
Which type of collagen is right for you?
Now that you understand the main three types of collagen, the next step is to use that information to maximize your health and fitness.
Based on the available evidence, it’s not clear that you need to take a specific type of collagen to achieve targeted benefits.
In other words, while we know that cartilaginous knee joints are made of type 2 collagen, it has not been clearly proven that you have to take specifically type 2 collagen to improve knee function.
Because of how collagen is synthesized (more on that in a few paragraphs), it’s primarily important to eat enough protein so that you have the amino acids on board to synthesize collagen.
With that said, if you do have specific health goals in mind, you could experiment with picking a collagen type accordingly.
For example, for optimizing bone health, you could seek a supplement that delivers type 3 collagen, like bovine-based Naked Collagen.
How to support your body’s collagen synthesis
To make sure you’ve got the ingredients on hand to support your body’s collagen synthesis, lay the foundation with diet, and then fill in the gaps with a supplement.
As highlighted earlier, eating collagen in dietary form does not directly translate into increased collagen in your connective tissues. Rather, like any other protein, collagen is synthesized in the body by piecing together amino acids that come from digested dietary protein.
Eating a wide variety of protein sources helps make these amino acids available. To further support collagen production, make sure your body has specific amino acids on hand.
Amino acids (of which there are 20 total) fit together in unique combinations to code for different protein shapes.
Collagen particularly relies on three amino acids - glycine, proline, and hydroxyproline - for its shape. By eating collagen through either food or supplements, you help ensure these specific amino acids are available.
Natural Collagen Sources
Logically, collagen is naturally found in foods that are composed of connective tissue.
Certain cuts of meat (such as those containing tendons and ligaments) and bones are hearty examples.
Incorporating a variety of meat cuts into your regimen and simmering bones to make bone broth are great ways to ensure you’re getting collagen straight from nature.
For a quicker option, you can find bone broth ready-made at most grocery stores.
Supplemental Collagen Sources
If you’re not a fan of stewed meats or bone broths, you’ve got plenty of other options.
Collagen supplements are easy to use and widely available.
These flavorless powders can be scooped into smoothies, oatmeal, yogurt, or any other food that fits your routine. Some collagen users love stirring it into their coffee!
Nutrients to Take it Further
The human body is a complex system, so it makes sense that additional nutrients have a role to play in forming new collagen.
Combining the amino acids to make collagen requires vitamin C to happen (7). Make sure you’ve got plenty of berries, bell peppers, citrus, tomatoes, and broccoli on board to supply you with vitamin C.
Zinc is another nutrient that appears to play a role in collagen synthesis (8). Zinc is found in an array of foods. Beans, nuts, seeds, and seafood (like oysters and crab) are particularly dense sources.
Collagen is a safe, easy-to-incorporate supplement with promising research behind it. Each type of collagen supports different tissues so the human body can be strong yet flexible.
If you’re still not sure which type of collagen you need most, rest assured that any type of collagen will provide the amino acids necessary to help your body keep making collagen.
Look for a collagen supplement from a reputable brand without unnecessary additives. Ready to try out collagen now? It’s as easy as 1, 2, and 3.