Home » Blog » Nutrition for Bones » Bovine Collagen versus Marine Collagen: What’s Best For Your Bones?

Bovine Collagen versus Marine Collagen: What’s Best For Your Bones?

Collagen is a popular supplement these days, with everyone taking it from athletes to movie stars. You want to use collagen to strengthen your bones, but how do you decide: bovine collagen versus marine collagen?

Let’s unravel the mysteries of these collagen supplements, and find the right one for you.

What are collagen peptides?

Whether you choose bovine or marine, it’s best to use a product made with collagen peptides.

Proteins, such as collagen, are made from long chains of molecules called amino acids. Collagen is made of three amino acid chains wound together in interlocking strands (1).

This strong and flexible substance literally holds your body together. However, collagen is way too big to pass through your gut lining into your bloodstream. It takes a lot of work for your digestive system to break the bonds in these interlocking chains and create small enough molecules for you to absorb.

Manufacturers make collagen peptides by breaking down collagen into smaller units with short groups of amino acids. This takes care of the first few steps of digestion, so you absorb the collagen more easily.

What are collagen types?

Collagen types are the shape, size and configuration of collagen in various kinds of tissues in humans and animals. Form follows function in biological organisms. This means things are built so they can carry out their purpose. Some parts of the body may need a denser, stiffer collagen, while others might work better with a softer, more flexible type.

We know about roughly 28 different types of collagen. Over 90% of the collagen in the human body is Type I. There are also Types II, III, IV, V and even Type X found in various tissues.

Here are the parts of the body where you find collagen types I-V (2):

  • Type I: skin, bones, teeth, tendons, ligaments
  • Type II: joints and cartilage
  • Type III: muscle and blood vessels
  • Type IV: membrane surrounding tissues and muscles
  • Type V: eyes, hair, cell surfaces and placenta

Bovine collagen contains both Type I and Type II collagens, while marine collagen is mainly Type I.

However, just because you eat Type II collagen from the cartilage of an animal, that doesn’t mean it will automatically go to your cartilage. Your digestive system will break the nutrients down into their smallest units. Your body will absorb them and and use them whereever they are needed.

Does collagen have side effects?

First of all, if you have a medical condition, check with your doctor before you start taking collagen supplements. I am not providing medical advice, just general information about a product, which you must tailor to your own health.

Some side effects will be the same for either bovine or marine collagen.

If you are prone to calcium oxalate kidney stones, you might want to rethink collagen supplements. One of the amino acids that is plentiful in collagen is hydroxyproline. Your body metabolizes hydroxyproline to glyoxylate. Glyoxylate can significantly increase the amount of urinary oxalates that are excreted by the kidneys (3).

You might experience a heavy feeling of fullness, and changes to bowel habits like constipation or diarrhea when you start taking collagen. All of these digestive symptoms can depend on the health of your gut. You need stomach acid, digestive enzymes and gut movement to digest and absorb a high protein meal (4).

Some people have also reported skin rashes after taking collagen. If you are using collagen supplements for the first time, keep an eye out to see if anything unusual happens.

Keep reading to learn side effects specific to bovine or marine collagen.

What is bovine collagen?

The bovine family of animals includes bison, buffalo, yak, and of course cows. Most bovine collagen comes from cows. You find collagen in the hide, bones and tendons of bovine animals.

How effective is bovine collagen for bone health?

A randomized, controlled trial with 131 postmenopausal women tested whether bovine bioactive collagen peptides would affect their bone mineral density (BMD). Results showed clinically significant improvements in BMD in the spine and femoral neck of the women who took the collagen supplement (5).   The supplement used in this study was FORTIBONE®.

A follow up to this same study had some of the participants continue to take bioactive collagen peptides for the next 4 years. During this time the BMD of all subjects (both former active and placebo participants) continued to improve, and there were no bone fractures reported (5).

Collagen provides the amino acids that are necessary for you to make collagen in your own body. But this is not the only way that it works. Collagen peptides also function as signaling molecules that send instructions to different types of bone cells. Animal studies show that collagen peptides promote osteoblast proliferation and differentiation.

This means they are not just providing the building materials for bone, but also bringing in more workers to do the job. They are increasing the number of osteoblasts, the cells that create new bone (6, 7).

Does bovine collagen have side effects?

In 2016 the FDA banned using parts of the cow in supplements, to avoid passing on Mad Cow Disease, or bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE). Gelatin was given an exception, as there is no evidence that BSE can be transmitted through supplements when standard industry processes are used (8). 

Cows can pass other diseases on to humans. These include foot-and-mouth disease (FMD), and transmissible spongiform encephalopathy (TSE). This is more of a concern in the UK and Asian countries where the diseases are present in cattle (8).  

Is there a risk of getting these diseases when you take bovine collagen? It is highly unlikely, but not impossible, particularly if the brand you are using does not have the best manufacturing practices.

What is marine collagen?

If you do not want to take supplements that come from cows, marine collagen gives you an alternative. You might be a pescatarian, or you might avoid bovine products for religious reasons.

Collagen is extracted from the scales, skin, bones and cartilage of all sorts of sea creatures. This includes sea bass, tuna, shark, catfish, sponges, starfish, sea cucumber, jellyfish, shrimp, and more. 

How effective is marine collagen for bone health?

There are few if any human studies showing that marine collagen is effective to prevent or treat osteoporosis. However, there are plenty of animal studies that show the same improvements in bone mineral density that we see with bovine collagen (2).

Fish collagen has less hydroxyproline than collagen from mammals. This makes the collagen molecule less stable than the bovine variety, but it may be easier to digest and absorb (9).  

Does marine collagen have side effects?

Avoid marine collagen if you are allergic to fish or shellfish, or if you are histamine intolerant.

Some people claim marine collagen is easier to digest than bovine. If you have a delicate digestive tract you might see if marine collagen is easier for you to take.

Marine collagen may be better for the environment. If manufacturers use the parts of marine animals that are normally thrown out, like the bones, scales and skin, there is less waste and damage to the marine ecosystem. Some companies will be more responsible than others when it comes to sourcing their materials (8).  

Amino Acids in Bovine versus Marine Collagen

There is no significant difference in the amino acids that you get from eating these different types of collagen.

A study compared marine collagen from blue shark scales with bovine collagen, to see if one is more suitable for making the bone scaffolds that are used in regenerating surgery for bone defects.

Both types of collagen were around 30% glycine. Bovine collagen had 11.2% proline, while shark collagen was 10.1%. Hydroxyproline came in at 8.2% for bovine, and 6.5% for marine collagen.

They found the other 18 or so amino acids in relatively close amounts between the two types of collagen (10).

Both the bovine and the shark scale collagen in this study were identified as being mostly Type I. 

Can I just get collagen from foods?

Animals produce collagen in their tissues. Plants do not produce collagen. You can’t get preformed collagen from eating a strictly plant-based diet. However, plants contain all the nutrients you need to make your own collagen.

Read more about how to get collagen from plant and animal food sources.

The Bottom Line

Marine and bovine collagen are both nutritionally similar, and will both help to support healthy bones. There are still many reasons to choose between these two based on your health and your lifestyle.

If you are a pescatarian or do not eat cows for religious reasons, you can still use marine collagen. In countries where diseases like BSE or FMD are prevalent in cows, marine collagen is a safe alternative.

If you find bovine collagen is hard to digest, you might have better luck with marine collagen.

People with a fish allergy or histamine intolerance should avoid using marine collagen.

Collagen from sea creatures is more plentiful than bovine sources. Environmentally responsible companies produce marine collagen using parts of the fish that would otherwise be thrown out.

Bovine collagen has human studies out there to verify its effectiveness for bone health. A lot of animal and lab studies show marine collagen is effective for building bones, but there is still no human research.

What other foods are good for your bones? Get my freebie 7 Superfoods to Strengthen Your Bones. Just click on the link below!

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