Which collagen source is best for dietary supplements?

Collagen is coming from more places than ever. Here are the most common collagen sources currently on the market, and the strengths and limitations of each.

Nick Collias

January 29, 2024

7 Min Read

[Editor's note: This article is only one story in the Natural Products Insider digital magazine, "Collagenation." Download your free digital magazine here for an entire toolbox of industry insights, formulator wisdom and marketing ideas to propel your new product development and capitalize on the ever-upward collagen segment.]

Not that long ago, collagen took up a tiny space on select store shelves, if it was available at all. Today, those same stores might offer more collagen protein products than whey or plant-based proteins. According to Precedence Research, the global collagen market was estimated at $10.8 billion in 2022 and is forecast to be $23 billion by 2032 — rivaling and perhaps even overtaking whey protein.

But there’s not just more collagen. It’s also coming from more places than ever. Here are the most common collagen sources currently on the market, and the strengths and limitations of each.

Chicken collagen

So-called “avian sternum” collagen is the most common source for UC-II or type-II collagen supplements. Its biggest advantage is an ability to address a specific use case scenario — joint pain and joint health — in a tiny, easy-to-swallow capsule.

“Type-II collagen makes up more than 50% of the proteins located in joint cartilage and essentially helps joints with shock absorption, mobility and functionality,” explains Monther Elnajjar, VP of Business Development at Avicenna Nutracetical, maker of the patented collagen product AVC-H2.

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Such chicken-based collagen supplements have shown the most significant benefits at doses around 2.5 grams per day, taken for at least eight weeks. However, some studies have shown benefits in knee discomfort from exercise in daily doses as low as 40 mg. By comparison, mammal-derived collagen is often sold in doses of 15-20 grams.

The rise in popularity of chicken-based “bone broth” proteins speaks to one limitation of this source, though: the flavor. Its inescapable savory smell and taste works well in a capsule, or in a drink blend that calls out “broth” by name. But it’s less of a fit in, say, a coffee creamer or sweet drink mix.

Marine collagen

Marine collagen usually comes from the skin of cold-water fish like cod, although it can also come from farmed fish like tilapia. It is largely composed of type-I collagen, the most common collagen type found in skin and hair.

Fish-derived collagen has been studied extensively for its potential anti-aging impacts, boosting facial skin moisture and decreasing wrinkles in relatively small doses such as 2.5-3 grams per day. Because type-I collagen is also a major component of human bones, marine collagen has been promoted in recent research as having potential for supporting bone health and density.

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Among its other advantages, marine collagen from fish is not subject to the religious limitations of pork collagen, and can be halal and kosher certified. When labeled “wild-caught,” it usually comes from non-endangered variations of cod, but major marine collagen producers like Nitta Gelatin have made strides to provide more transparency in sourcing, adding sustainability-focused certifications like the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) label. Recent studies have also pointed to the potential of upcycling marine collagen from discarded fish bones.

Marine collagen is commonly utilized in capsules, but can also work in certain functional food and beverage applications. While generally light in flavor, several collagen formulators we spoke with on the show floor at SupplySide West 2023 said they preferred to use it in sweetened beverages and gummies to cover any residual fishiness.

Egg collagen

A relative newcomer to the collagen shelf is eggshell collagen, which also sometimes gets called “veggie” or vegetarian collagen. It is not actually made from ground-up eggshells, but rather from the soft membrane located just inside an eggshell. It is commonly sourced from egg industry waste, tying it to one of the most prevalent themes at SupplySide West 2023, which is upcycling ingredients from what is known as a “circular economy.”

Eggshell membrane is rich in type-I collagen, the primary collagen in human skin, but also contains some types V and X collagen, which are more commonly found in the bones and organs. It also contains glucosamine, chondroitin and hyaluronic acid, all common ingredients in joint health supplements. This has led researchers to posit that it might have potential for both joint health and even bone regeneration.

A major advantage of egg-based is that it can be accurately labeled vegetarian, although it’s not vegan. No animals need to be harmed in order to make it, and it isn’t subject to the same religious limitations as, say, porcine collagen. That said, it should still be handled with caution in the case of extreme egg allergies (which are rare).

Certain producers like Spain-based Eggnovo also produce eggshell collagen using chemical-free extraction methods using only water, whereas creating other types of supplemental collagens often demands subjecting them to either chemical or enzymatic hydrolysis.

Like chicken-based collagen, eggshell membrane collagen has been shown to be effective at relatively small doses, like 300-500 mg. This makes it easy to incorporate in multisourced collagen blends, as well as on its own in capsules, gummies or powders.

Porcine collagen

Pork-derived collagen is rich in foods like pork belly, pork rinds, trotters, and soup bones. But is also common in multianimal or single-source collagen products sourced from pig bones and skin. It contains primarily types I and III, the primary collagen proteins found in human skin and connective tissue.

Because it is so similar in composition to human collagen, porcine is thought to have less allergic risk than other collagens. This is a major reason why porcine tissue has been used in clinical applications like tendon reinforcement and even human reconstructive surgery. The downside of porcine historically has been that large doses, like 5-10 grams or more, have been necessary to see therapeutic benefits. This makes it a tough fit for products aiming for small capsules or scoops.

A major appeal of porcine collagen is its affordability, as a waste product of the most widely consumed meat source worldwide. When hydrolyzed, it also has a very mild flavor and is cold-water soluble. “This makes it easier to integrate into formats without affecting taste, texture or mouthfeel — everything from sports drinks to powders and gummies,” explains Florencia Moreno Torres-McLaverty, global manager of health & nutrition at collagen peptide producer Rousselot.

Bovine collagen

Bovine collagen remains the most common collagen protein on store shelves and in academic research. It can come from hides, bones, cartilage or connective tissues like the Achilles tendon, or even from organs like the lung. It is then hydrolyzed using enzymatic processes, leaving an easy-dissolving powder rich in type-I and III collagen. No existing research shows “grass-fed” or “pasture-raised” collagen to impart any particular nutritional benefit over non-grass-fed, but it helps brands steer clear of the image of a packed feedlot.

Because of its high type-I content, cow-derived collagen is the go-to choice for many skin, hair and beauty-focused products, both as powders but also in ready-to-drink (RTD) beverages and shots. Its neutral taste also makes it an easy fit for collagen creamers and other applications where a stronger flavor would be off-putting. Increasingly, it is also blended with non-hydrolyzed gelatin, such as in Gelita’s HST Verisol gelatin, to help create novel nutrient products like “fortified” gummies or “melts.”

But bovine collagen is also rapidly expanding into sports nutrition. Long regarded as a lower-quality protein that required far-greater doses than whey or egg to be effective, collagen peptides got a boost in 2022 when a study from Loughborough University, UK, showed that 15 grams daily of Gelita’s bioactive bovine collagen peptides led to impressive muscle gains (but not strength gains) in the lower bodies of healthy young men following a lifting program.

This article is only one story in the Natural Products Insider digital magazine, "Collagenation." Download your free digital magazine here for an entire toolbox of industry insights, formulator wisdom and marketing ideas to propel your new product development and capitalize on the ever-upward collagen segment.

About the Author(s)

Nick Collias

Nick Collias is a writer and editor with over a decade of experience working in the health and fitness industry. From 2016 to 2021, he was the host of the Bodybuilding.com Podcast, interviewing elite athletes and training thought-leaders on a wide range of exercise, nutrition and lifestyle topics. Additionally, he has worked for the last 20 years as a longform print and online journalist, as well as a book author, ghostwriter and editor. 

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