Marine vs Fish vs Bovine vs Vegan Collagen – What’s the difference?
by Jess Martin, Technical Document Controller
Before we dive deeper into the differences between Marine and Fish collagen, we should take a quick look at what collagen is.
Collagen: What is it?
Collagen is a protein formed of long-chain amino acids and is responsible for the structure, function and mechanical properties of the epidermis, cartilage and tendons.
Behind water, collagen is the largest component in the human body and the largest structural protein in the extracellular matrix in the human body. Collagen breaks down due to ageing and exposure to UV light. The degradation of collagen can begin from the age of 25, leading to the loss of elasticity in the skin and reduced cell turnover. Current evidence suggests that supplementing with collagen can reduce the symptoms associated with lack of collagen including: fine lines, wrinkles, inflammation and stiff joints.
The 3 most common types of collagen are:
● Type I – Found in the body, artery and corneas – the most abundant collagen in the body
● Type II – Found in cartilage and makes up to 50%
● Type III – Found in the epidermis, artery walls and internal organs
Fish collagen comes under Type I collagen and is a popular choice in the health and beauty industry as it can be absorbed up to 1.5 times more efficiently and its bio-availability is superior than collagen derived from bovine and porcine sources (Khan et al., 2009), meaning a better anti-ageing influence.
Is there a difference between fish and marine collagen?
Generally, collagen marketed as “Marine collagen” is actually not from sea water fish at all. Commercial fish collagen is usually sourced from freshwater fish, with the two most common sources being Pangasius and Tilapia.
Collagen derived from the skin of Pangasius and Tilapia contains more glycine, proline and hydroxyproline, which are amino acids that increase the stability of the collagen triple helix compared to other marine collagen sources. These three amino acids that compose collagen have an unusual composition and sequencing. The most common motifs in the amino acid sequence of collagen are: “X-Y-Gly” where every third amino is glycine and X and Y are any other amino acid, most often proline and hydroxyproline.
The content of hydroxyproline is quantified since this amino acid is almost only found in collagen and is an essential marker in the thermal stability of collagen due to its ability to form hydrogen bonds between polypeptide chains. The more hydroxyproline found, the more stable the triple helix of collagen is (Jenkins et al., 2003.)
In comparison to other fish skin collagen sources, such as codfish, pangasius and tilapia are the preferred and sustainable choice. Pangasius fish contribute to the sustainability of the aquaculture food chain as they are a net producer of protein, rather than a consumer. Tilapia feed mainly on plankton and algae and have a very low requirement for fish in their diets (Marine Conservation Society.) Both of these species’ natural habitats cover rivers, ponds and other freshwater sources.
Although codfish skin has a high degree of purity and ability to retain water, it offers a low denaturation temperature, meaning the collagen will be a poor gelling agent which limits its application in cosmetics (Carvalho et al., 2018). Codfish is currently poorly managed with the species ability to reproduce compromised due to fishing pressures being too high. Alongside this, codfish is not primarily caught for collagen production, with up to 75% of its body weight being discarded.
Does Marine Collagen Exist?
Controversially, there are marine collagen products on the market that are using shark skin (Type I) and shark cartilage (Type II) and as their primary source of collagen.
Shark species are undeniably under threat of extinction and being fished at an unsustainable rate. Shark collagen has a high Chondroitin Sulphate content found in their cartilage, a powerful ingredient used to treat joint pain and inflammation, their meat as food and squalene from their liver in skin care.
The act of shark finning is also killing between 73-100 million sharks each year, which are primarily used for Shark-fin soup in Asian countries. (Ker Than, 2006.) Shark fins are purely cartilage. More often than not, the sharks are still alive when they are discarded without their fins, impairing their ability to swim which ultimately leads to their death. Alongside this, much of shark meat is left unused due to concerns of high levels of urea and mercury.
The Future of Marine Collagen:
Globally, the world is facing an ever increasing need to find alternative, sustainable and environmentally-friendly sources of collagen due to changes in dietary and lifestyle choices of humans.
Collagen from fish is considered an environmentally sustainable source of collagen, as the majority of the by-products of fish processing becomes waste, which is primarily fish skin, which we now know is rich in Type I collagen. The same goes for bovine collagen production. However, when we compare the marine and bovine collagen on their environmental impact, marine collagen comes out top. Marine collagen produces far less greenhouse gas emission than bovine.
With shark species under threat, public awareness on the importance of protecting and conserving shark and all marine aquaculture is at its most prominent. Sharks do more than just benefit the food and supplement industry, they’re essential for maintaining marine and freshwater ecosystems and global diversity. Overfishing of sharks, both primary and secondary caught, is the biggest threat to shark species.
Shark protection campaigns outline the importance of the following 3 areas:
● Species protection
● Fisheries Management
● Responsible Trading
By protecting endangered marine species through effective conservation and ensuring fish farms focus on the sustainability of fish populations, we can prevent the consequences of overfishing. Legislation and fishing bans are reducing the demand for unsustainable and endangered marine species, specifically products of shark origin..
What about Vegan Collagen? Does Vegan Collagen Exist?
As for alternatives to using collagen derived from animals, vegan collagen does not currently exist. There are some genetically modified collagen being developed from bacteria and yeast, maining P.pastoris, a fungus, however this is not yet commercially available.
We can, however, supplement with amino acids that are found in collagen and Vitamin C for the synthesis of collagen as a great alternative. Nutraceuticals currently offers the following Vegan Collagen Base Blends: https://nutraceuticalsgroup.com/uk/base-blends/
Nutraceuticals as is committed to ensuring that only sustainable sources of fish collagen are used in our products and aim to be a Shark-free company. Nutraceuticals Europe is completely Shark Free
‘Effect of 3-hydroxyproline residues on collagen stability’ Jenkins CL, Bretscher LE, Guzei IA, Raines RT, J Am Chem Soc. 2003 May 28; 125(21):6422-7
Szpak, Paul (2011). “Fish bone chemistry and ultrastructure: implications for taphonomy and stable isotope analysis”. Journal of Archaeological Science. 38 (12): 3358–3372
Marine Conservation Society, Seafish, 2019. RASS Profile: Atlantic cod in the Celtic Sea, Demersal otter trawl. Available at https://www.seafish.org/risk-assessment-for-sourcing-seafood/profile/atlantic-cod-in-the-celtic-sea-demersal-otter-trawl
Ker Than (26 September 2006). “Shark Slaughter: 73 Million Killed Each Year”
Spiegel, J. (2000) “Even Jaws deserves to keep his fins: outlawing shark finning throughout global waters”
Khan, S.B.; Qian, Z.-J.; Ryu, B.; Kim, S.-K. Isolation and biochemical characterization of collagens from seaweed pipefish, Syngnathus schlegeli. Biotechnol. Bioprocess Eng. 2009, 14, 436–442. [CrossRef] 34. Alemán, A.; Martínez-Alvarez, O. Marine collagen as a source of bioactive molecules: A review. Nat. Prod. J. 2013, 3, 105–114.
Carvalho, Ana M et al. “Evaluation of the Potential of Collagen from Codfish Skin as a Biomaterial for Biomedical Applications.” Marine drugs vol. 16,12 495. 8 Dec. 2018, doi:10.3390/md16120495
Coppola, D., Oliviero, M., Vitale, G. A., Lauritano, C., D’Ambra, I., Iannace, S., & de Pascale, D. (2020). Marine Collagen from Alternative and Sustainable Sources: Extraction, Processing and Applications. Marine drugs, 18(4), 214. https://doi.org/10.3390/md18040214
Jenkins CL, Bretscher LE, Guzei IA, Raines RT. Effect of 3-hydroxyproline residues on collagen stability. J Am Chem Soc. 2003 May 28;125(21):6422-7.
Byproduct. IFFO. The Marine Ingredients Organization. Accessed online on December 11, 2018 at http://www.iffo.net/byproduct
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