Marine collagen is a buzz word in the world of health and wellness these days, but do you actually know what it is, where it comes from, what it can do for you?
This is one trend that may actually deserve all the good press.
In humans and animals collagen is the most abundant protein in the body, found in all connective tissues like skin, muscles, tendons and joints (*). The word collagen comes from the ancient Greek word kolla, which literally means “glue” (*). Collagen fibers create a matrix that holds our body together.
This graphic from Nordic Naturals shows how collagen is formed for all you visual learners out there!
Collagen gives our skin its strength and elasticity and allows joints and muscles to move freely. But, as we age, we produce less collagen resulting in weaker connections. As a result, skin begins to sag and wrinkle, joints move a little less freely and tendons and ligaments are more prone to injury.
From your diet, you can get collagen from a variety of sources like bone broth, chicken, dietary supplements and in smaller amounts the meat of fish and shellfish. Think about the last time you cooked a piece of chicken or fish, you probably didn’t eat much of the connective tissue, skin or bones, right? Well, that is where most of the collagen is found. So, many people turn to using supplemental collagen to obtain the health benefits.
The benefit of using a supplement over collagen from foods is that in general, they are easy to find, require very little effort (open container and mix), are odorless and mild tasting, easy to digest, and readily dissolve in hot or cold liquids.
Now, if you’ve been around here long, you know I am a big fan of bone broth and eating all parts of the animal to get your nutrients. I’m not telling you to throw that out the window. But, even I can’t argue with the convenience of a collagen supplement in a pinch.
Eat Collagen to Stay Healthy as You Age
All of the health benefits described here are built on one common foundational concept: dietary collagen is absorbed by the body and provides the necessary amino acids for your own collagen production as well as stimulating the collagen-producing cells found in bones and cartilage.
Supporting your body with dietary collagen can counteract the natural loss of collagen we experience with aging. But, does it matter what kind of collagen is going down the hatch?
Marine Collagen May Have a Leg Up
You can find collagen in any animal species. A quick google search will pull up recipes for beef and chicken bone broth, bovine (beef) collagen and marine collagen. Is one better than the other?
While all collagen types have a similar make up that lends itself to the health benefits noted below, marine may have a slight advantage.
Studies show that marine collagen is higher in the beneficial amino acids glycine and proline.
Glycine is technically considered a non-essential amino acid that the body is able to make in small amounts. But, research shows we don’t make enough to meet the demands of optimal health . Between what we make (approximately 3 g) and what a normal diet provides (between 1.5-3 g), research shows that we are short about 10 g of the glycine we need to maximize our body’s collagen production (*).
Because of the gap between what we need for optimal health, experts argue that glycine should be considered “semi-essential” (*).This is where collagen comes in. Collagen has double the glycine as compared to muscle meat (*,*).
Proline plays a role in several important physiologic functions, including (*):
- Creating new proteins in the body
- Wound healing
- Antioxidative reactions
- Immune function
Ok, enough of the background, let’s dig into the health benefits.
Top 6 Health Benefits of Marine Collagen
#1 May Repair a Leaky Gut
Considering your gut is the epicenter of digestion, immunity and cognitive health, repairing intestinal permeability so your gut can function optimally should be miles ahead of any health goal on your list. This is foundational. Who cares if you have wrinkles if you can’t absorb your food or fight off an infection, right?
Glycine, along with other amino acids in collagen helps repair the lining of the digestive tract to keep food and other particles from getting out before they are supposed to. This helps you digest, efficiently absorb and metabolize all that good beef liver you’re eating while waste products remain contained and eventually eliminated.
The glycine in marine collagen also acts as fuel for the cells that line the digestive tract and act as precursors to essential substances like the antioxidant glutathione. Because of this it is considered essential for maintaining the integrity of the intestinal lining (*).
#2 May Reduce Wrinkles and Improve Skin Elasticity
Studies show that elevated levels of glycine boost collagen production to make sure your body has what it needs to look and feel vibrant (*). Increasing type 1 collagen levels, one of the major forms of collagen in marine collagen, may increase smoothness, improve firmness and help skin cells repair normally (*). Research has also shown that patients who supplement with marine collagen experience improved skin firmness and hydration as well as a decrease in wrinkles (*).
#3 May Help to Heal Wounds
The Greeks called it glue for a reason! The amino acids in collagen can help the body recover from wounds big and small. The collagen fibers can help open wounds come back together as well as support production of new skin cells (*,*).
#4 May Build up your bones.
You heard me, put down the glass of milk and pick up some chicken bones. Really stop and think about it for a minute, the nutrients that make the bones of animals can be used to make our own bones. It’s not that deep and actually pretty logical. Consuming collagen hydrolysate stimulates an increase in synthesis of extracellular matrix macromolecules by chondrocytes (*). Chondrocytes produce and maintain our cartilaginous matrix, which consists mainly of, you guessed it, collagen.
#5 May Improve Sleep and Mood
By now you know collagen, and specifically marine collagen, is an excellent source of the amino acid glycine. In addition to its contribution to our physical structures like bone, muscles and cartilage, glycine also functions as a neurotransmitter, essentially a gatekeeper of nerve impulses that regulate behavior. It both stimulates and inhibits the brain and central nervous system. It participates in the regulation of memory, sleep, appetite and mood, among other things (*,*,*).
Glycine also helps produce serotonin, another neurotransmitter that has a calming effect on the mind and body, in turn stabilizing mood and improving sleep (*). For this reason, high doses of glycine have been used successfully in the treatment of psychotic disorders (*).
Given it’s positive effects on the nervous system and mood, it’s not surprising glycine helps with sleep too. Studies show that glycine reduces the time it takes to fall asleep and also promotes the quality of sleep (*,*). One study found that taking 3g of glycine before bed improved sleep quality, reduced daytime sleepiness and improved memory in healthy subjects (*).
#6 May Improve Immune Function
Marine collagen boosts immune function in several ways. First, by healing the gut lining as noted above. Remember, about 70% of the immune system is housed in the gut. Leaky gut = chaotic immune response. In fact, intestinal permeability is thought to be a precursor to some autoimmune conditions (*).
Collagen also helps prevent and reduce inflammation. Inflammation is an immune response initiated during times of illness or injury as a protective mechanism. Acute inflammation will kick in when you break a bone, causing the area to heat up to prevent infection, swell to stabilize the bone and provide cushioning. Clotting factors in the blood will upregulate to prevent blood loss.
Sure, in an emergency this can be good but, when inflammation is turned on chronically it can cause serious damage. Glycine from collagen suppresses activation of inflammatory cells and suppresses free radical production that damage cells (*).
Beyond inflammation, a component of marine collagen specifically helps inhibit growth of bacteria. Collagencin, a peptide found in marine collagen, has antimicrobial properties. Research shows that it inhibits the growth of disease causing bacteria. One study found that the peptide completely inhibited the growth of Staphylococcus aureus (*)
Getting More Marine Collagen in Your Diet Safely
If you want to include marine collagen in your diet, remember that fish are going to absorb whatever is in the water around them and any toxic material like heavy metals found lower in the food chain. Small, wild caught fish generally have the lowest levels of heavy metals.
So whether you are going to eat the whole fish for your collagen or supplement, make sure you know where the fish is coming from. Supplements should be third party tested for contaminants.
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