In the wide world of collagen, there are generally two sources that are used, Bovine Collagen and Marine Collagen. It can get confusing when deciding which type of collagen is best, what they both do, and most importantly which one is right for me?
Collagen is the most abundant protein in the body. It is found in numerous tissues such as the bones, muscles, tendons, and skin. As will all proteins, collagen is made up of a unique blend of amino acids, which is particularly rich in glycine and hydroxyproline, along with other beneficial amino acids. There are 16 types of collagens, but the most common types are I, II, and III (1). And while protein supplements like whey protein dominate the market, the collagen market is set to be worth 16.7 billion dollars by 2028(2).
The three main types of Collagens.
Type I collagen is the organic part of the bone (i.e., the non-calcium part) that sticks the bones together. If the bone was just made of calcium, the bones would be very brittle and fracture easily. Type I collagen is also required for membranes for tissue regeneration. It is also found in the teeth, tendons, ligaments, and blood vessels.
Type II collagen is primarily found in the cartilage, which lines the joints in the body. This type of collagen is vitally important to protect against osteoarthritis, and other joint diseases affecting the cartilage. In a recent randomised controlled trial, type II collagen was found to benefit patients suffering knee osteoarthritis(3).
Type III collagen is the main constituent of reticular fibres and is primarily found in the muscles and blood vessels(4).
Collagen is made in the Body
There are two sources of collagen in the body. Firstly, the body can make its collagen from proteins consumed when these amino acids are combined with vitamins. One of the key amino acids found pretty much only in collagen is hydroxyproline and this needs to be either made in the body or supplemented in the diet. If you don’t consume collagen, the amino acid proline can be made into hydroxyproline if Vitamin C is present. If someone is deficient in Vitamin C (such as Scurvy), their collagen production is impaired and Scurvy symptoms appear(5).
Supplementing with Collagen: Which source is best?
There are pros and cons to the different sources of collagen. The two most common types of collagen sources consumed by humans are fish (marine) collagen and bovine (beef) collagen(6). Bovine collagen is widely consumed by people and has a long history of consumption through products like bone broth. Also, studies have confirmed that only a small amount of people mildly react to bovine collagen meaning it has very low allergenicity(7).
Skin Health and Collagen
As mentioned previously, type I collagen is found in the skin and studies have found that supplementing with type I collagen either from bovine or fish sources both help the skin. In one animal study, specific collagen from a bovine source was found to dramatically improve skin quality and the appearance of aging skin(8). In another study, using 2.5g of fish collagen in a randomized, placebo-controlled study, collagen supplementation improved skin hydration, elasticity, roughness, and density. These results were also maintained at a follow-up appointment(9). While both sources of collagen improve skin health, the most important aspect of collagen was the ‘size’ of the molecules used. The size of the collagen molecules is measured in Daltons and the ‘sweet spot’ size is around 2000 Daltons for the health of the skin. Thus, fish and beef can be used for improving skin health.
The best type of collagen for improving skin health is a type of collagen called VERISOL. This can be sourced from bovine, fish, or pig collagen, and studies have found it benefits the skin matrix and reduces wrinkles(10).
Arthritis and Bovine Collagen
Joint health can be vastly improved by collagen. The type of collagen for cartilage health is type II collagen however, when bovine collagen is hydrolysed (i.e., chemically broken down) and taken by humans, it can stimulate the production of the cartilage-rich type II collagen in the body(11). This type II collagen can then get into the joints and reduce osteoarthritis symptoms. In one double-blind cross-over trial, 81% of individuals taking the bovine collagen reported a reduction in joint pain. In addition to these benefits, 69% of patients taking collagen hydrolysate had a greater than 50% decrease in the consumption of analgesics, compared with 35% of patients taking egg albumin(12).
Bovine Collagen and improvements in Body Composition and Strength
Probably the area where bovine collagen shines above all other collagen sources is the ability of this collagen to increase muscle mass, while at the same time helping fat loss. While every age group and sex are seeing a more toned body, postmenopausal women find body compositional changes difficult because of the loss in their sex hormones which help to keep women healthier.
In a double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized trial involving 77 premenopausal women, the benefits of a specific hydrolysed bovine collagen (BODYBALANCE) were tested. These women completed a 12-week resistance training (3 days/week) and during that time ingested 15 g of BODYBALANCE collagen or a placebo daily. These women then have their calorie intake and exercise levels regulated to ensure an even amount of calories and activity across both groups.
As you can see below (figure 1), the bovine collagen (BODYBALANCE) caused an increase in fat-free mass (likely muscle mass), while reducing the fat mass. The reason that it was probably an increase in muscle mass was that the strength of the treatment group increased significantly(13).
Figure 1. Change in percentage fat-free mass and fat mass after 12 weeks of intervention in treatment group (n = 40) and control group (n = 37).
The take-home message
Both fish and bovine/beef collagen have their benefits. If you were just after improvements in the skin, the size of the collagen molecule would be the most important factor and both fish and bovine collagen can benefit the skin. In that case, you could take either collagen. However, if you are seeking a better body composition, bovine collagen, specifically BodyBalance collagen is easily the superior collagen. Beef collagen, via the stimulation of type II collagen in the body may also help joint health. So, bovine collagen covers all the bases, whereas fish collagen is fine for skin health.
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 Bakilan F, Armagan O, Ozgen M, Tascioglu F, Bolluk O, Alatas O. Effects of Native Type II Collagen Treatment on Knee Osteoarthritis: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Eurasian J Med. 2016;48(2):95-101. doi:10.5152/eurasianjmed.2015.15030
 Wang, H. A Review of the Effects of Collagen Treatment in Clinical Studies. Polymers 2021, 13, 3868. https://doi.org/10.3390/ polym13223868
 Peterkofsky B. Ascorbate requirement for hydroxylation and secretion of procollagen: relationship to inhibition of collagen synthesis in scurvy. Am J Clin Nutr. 1991 Dec;54(6 Suppl):1135S-1140S. doi: 10.1093/ajcn/54.6.1135s. PMID: 1720597.
 Song, W.K.; Liu, D.; Sun, L.L.; Li, B.F.; Hou, H. Physicochemical and Biocompatibility Properties of Type I Collagen from the Skin of Nile Tilapia (Oreochromis niloticus) for Biomedical Applications. Mar. Drugs 2019, 17, 137.
 Charriere, G.; Bejot, M.; Schnitzler, L.; Ville, G.; Hartmann, D.J. Reactions to a bovine collagen implant: Clinical and immunologic study in 705 patients. J. Am. Acad. Dermatol. 1989, 21, 1203–1208.
 Song H, Zhang S, Zhang L, Li B. Effect of Orally Administered Collagen Peptides from Bovine Bone on Skin Aging in Chronologically Aged Mice. Nutrients. 2017;9(11):1209. Published 2017 Nov 3. doi:10.3390/nu9111209
 Bolke L, Schlippe G, Gerß J, Voss W. A Collagen Supplement Improves Skin Hydration, Elasticity, Roughness, and Density: Results of a Randomized, Placebo-Controlled, Blind Study. Nutrients. 2019;11(10):2494. Published 2019 Oct 17. doi:10.3390/nu11102494
 Proksch E, Schunck M, Zague V, Segger D, Degwert J, Oesser S. Oral intake of specific bioactive collagen peptides reduces skin wrinkles and increases dermal matrix synthesis. Skin Pharmacol Physiol. 2014;27(3):113-9. doi: 10.1159/000355523. Epub 2013 Dec 24. PMID: 24401291.
 Oesser S, Seifert J. Stimulation of type II collagen biosynthesis and secretion in bovine chondrocytes cultured with degraded collagen. Cell Tissue Res 2003;311:393-9
 Adam M. Welche Wirkung haben Gelatinepräparate? Ther Osteoarthrose Therapiewoche 1991;41:2456-61
 Jendricke P, Centner C, Zdzieblik D, Gollhofer A, König D. Specific Collagen Peptides in Combination with Resistance Training Improve Body Composition and Regional Muscle Strength in Premenopausal Women: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Nutrients. 2019;11(4):892. Published 2019 Apr 20. doi:10.3390/nu11040892