Collagen is without a doubt one of the buzziest ingredients in the wellness world right now. Some swear by its beauty benefits: the power to smooth skin, strengthen nails, and make hair shinier. Others are into it for the gut health perks. (The protein smooths the gut similarly to how it smooths the skin, which can improve digestion.) By now, it’s indisputable that collagen is good for you.
But getting an extra helping can be confusing. Should you buy marine collagen, or one derived from animals’ bone and skin? What’s the difference between Type 1, 2, and 3—something a lot of supplement brands tout on the label? And WTF is hydrolyzed collagen?
To help set the record straight, I called up Nick Bitz, MD, a licensed, board-certified naturopathic doctor and collagen expert. (Full disclosure, supplement brand Youtheory tapped him to be their chief scientific officer.) Dr. Bitz’s background in botanical medicine and nutritional supplements made him just the guy I needed to answer all the confusing down-and-dirty collagen questions. Here, he explains the different types and offers up his best advice for buying collagen that’s truly good for you.
Keep reading for everything you need to know about the different types of collagen.
Animal versus marine
Picking a collagen source can feel a little bit like ordering dinner at a wedding: Do you want chicken or fish? In the end, the animal versus marine debate doesn’t matter as much as you might think. “Collagen is collagen is collagen,” Dr. Bitz says. “It’s always the same protein regardless of the source. Right now, there’s not one that’s preferable for human consumption.”
In other words, sipping on some bone broth and eating cod for dinner are both going to deliver on the benefits. Here’s why: According to Dr. Bitz, collagen is a triple-helix protein, which in non-science speak means it consists of three strands wound together to create one strong molecule. It’s a big, complex protein. While the ratio and concentration of amino acids may vary from source to source, structurally, collagen is the same whether it’s coming from a cow, chicken, or fish.
The low-down on hydrolyzed collagen
If you’ve started to shop around for collagen supplements, you might start hearing brands throw around the fancy descriptor “hydrolyzed.” “This means cold enzymes were added to the protein to break it down,” Dr. Bitz says. He explains that scientists started doing this because it made the supplement easier to absorb than collagen taken in through food. (Again, collagen is a big protein.)
“Hydrolyzed collagen really is just a more processed form of collagen,” Dr. Bitz says. The more broken down the protein is, the easier it is for your body to digest and use. So if you want to start using collagen medicinally, you might want to consider a supplement.
Marketing gimmicks to watch out for
While hydrolyzed collagen is a legit—and beneficial—term to look for on supplement labels, Dr. Bitz says there are others that are used more to trip up the consumer than anything else. “You’ll see things like ‘Type 1 and 3’ or ‘Type 2’ on the label, but it’s honestly just a marketing ploy,” he says.
While 28 different types of collagen do exist—differentiated by where in the body it’s sourced and its amino acid structure—Dr. Bitz explains that they’re all still the same protein. “When you ingest collagen, you’re rebuilding all of your own collagen in the body, not just Type 1 or 3, but every type,” he explains.
As far as what to look for instead, his best advice is to find out where the collagen is being sourced from. If it’s China, buyers beware: “Collagen sourced from China is really cheap and just not up to the standards of higher quality stuff,” he says.
Currently, there is no vegan collagen source—though Dr. Bitz says scientists are researching to find a plant that’s structurally similar. (One surprising lead: tobacco leaves.) “One thing everyone can do is consume green tea,” he says. “It’s known to help stimulate production and prevent its breakdown.” (If you aren’t vegan, this matcha collagen powder may be your new favorite product.) There is already collagen in your body doing amazing work. The key is to keep it stimulated so it can continue doing its job.