Odds are you’ve heard of collagen before. The trendy ingredient — perhaps best known for it’s wrinkle-fighting abilities — is found in everything from supplements to skincare. But what you might not know is that a special type of collagen known as marine collagen delivers powerful total-body benefits, especially when it comes to taming discomfort and restoring your stamina. Here, experts share how marine collagen can help you, plus the best ways to tap into the benefits.
What is collagen?
Collagen is a natural compound that comprises about 30% of your body’s protein. It serves as the key building block for your skin, bones, muscles, tendons and more. “Collagen is vital to the skin, and it also plays a central role in joint health by maintaining cartilage integrity,” explains Michael Green, MD, OB-GYN and co-founder of Winona. It’s also found in tiny parts of cells crucial to turning blood sugar and fat into energy. And it’s a raw material we use “to heal injuries, build stronger muscles and upgrade worn-out cells,” says Amy Myers, MD, author of The Autoimmune Solution.
The production of collagen starts to decline around age 35 — from there, we lose about 1 to 1.5% of collagen per year. It may not sound like much, but by age 60, your body’s natural collagen stores have been cut in half. As collagen levels dip over time, skin may become less elastic, bones can become weaker and joints and muscles can feel stiff and store.
Keeping your collagen levels up through supplementing can help reverse some of these common signs of aging, which especially flare up during menopausal hormone changes. “Collagen is a magic ingredient,” says Mark Hyman, MD, author of Food Fix. He notes that it’s rich stores of amino acids help improve skin, hair, joints, blood-sugar levels, gut health and heart health. Plus it’s one of the best ways to ease body aches that become increasingly more common as we age.
Understanding what causes body aches
Wake up with stiff joints? Or maybe your back aches after gardening, or your muscles are sore after playing a game of pickleball with friends. Blame aging. As we grow older, our tendons and ligaments start to lose their elasticity and flexibility, making it harder to do things we once accomplished with ease. What’s more, our muscles tend to become tighter and our joints get stiffer. This not only spurs body aches, but it can slow down your recovery from an injury such as a pulled back or strained muscle.
The link between menopause and body aches
Tighter muscles and stiffer joints become more prevalent during menopause, thanks to ever-changing hormone levels. Estrogen, which plays a role in bone health and collagen production, begins to decline. This can increase your risk of body aches and pains, as well as joint stiffness and discomfort. In fact, one study in The Lancet Rheumatology found that women who had undergone menopause were 29% more likely to have osteoarthritis, the most common form of arthritis in which the cartilage between joints begins to wear away and trigger pain, than those who hadn’t yet entered menopause.
“Most women know about hot flashes,” says women’s health researcher Joyce C. Harper, PhD. “But symptoms like muscle pain are among the most common issues that go unrecognized as menopausal, so women can suffer a long time or get the wrong treatment.” Enter marine collagen.
How marine collagen differs from bovine collagen
When most people talk about collagen, they’re likely referring to bovine collagen. This type of collagen, which primarily comes from cow bones, is more widely available. But marine collagen has an edge over its more popular counterpart.
“Marine collagen is a type of protein that comes from fish and marine life, typically the skin, scales, or bones of fish like cod, haddock, and tilapia,” Dr. Green notes. “It shares many similarities with the more commonly known bovine collagen. But it has some unique characteristics that can make it a favorable choice for certain individuals, including women over 50, especially concerning menopausal muscle pain and weakness.”
The top benefit: Marine collagen has excellent bioavailability, Dr. Green says, meaning it’s more readily absorbed and used by the body than bovine collagen. Credit goes to its smaller particle size compared to other animal collagens, explains Josh Axe, DNM, who notes that marine collagen is absorbed up to 1.5 times more efficiently into the body. “This can be particularly beneficial for those with digestive issues or decreased nutrient absorption, which can be more common in women over 50,” Dr. Green adds.
Marine collagen benefits
When it comes to marine collagen benefits, you’ll notice a difference head to toe. Here’s what this easily-absorbed supplement can do:
1. Marine collagen reduces soreness
Good news: You can speed recovery from muscle soreness and stiff joints, whether your ache is new or chronic, with marine collagen. Research in the journal Amino Acids found supplementing with collagen reduced muscle soreness that can linger 48 hours after over-working your body. And a separate study in Nutrients found taking collagen eased chronic joint pain. When you’re in less pain, you enjoy the activities and hobbies you love without feeling drained.
2. Marine collagen smooths skin and strengthens hair
“Marine collagen supplements may help improve skin elasticity, hydration, and diminish the impression of wrinkles and fine lines,” Dr Green says. “Plus, it may contribute to stronger nails and healthier hair.” A study in the journal Dermatology Practical & Conceptual found collagen supplements significantly increase skin’s moisture and elasticity while reducing wrinkles and rough spots. And separate study in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences found marine collagen noticeably increased hair growth within 6 weeks. (Click through to learn how to make rosemary oil for hair growth and how collagen can treat dents in nails, too.)
3. Marine collagen strengthens bones
Research in the journal Nutrients shows collagen increases bone mineral density for stronger, less brittle bones. It can even help reduce inflammation that triggers osteoarthritis, says Dr. Axe. Plus, marine collagen improves joint health by increasing comfort and mobility. How? Collagen is part of the bone matrix, Dr. Green notes. That means it helps form the network of fibers that makes bones strong. What’s more, it aids osteoblasts, or bone-building cells, in the formation of healthy new bone.
4. Marine collagen eases dry eye
The breakdown of collagen in the eyes’ tear film as we age can trigger dry eye. This can cause redness and irritation in the eyes, as well as a stinging or burning sensation. But a study published in the journal Survey of Ophthalmology suggests that marine collagen may help repair this damage, restoring tear function and noticeably improving eye hydration.
5. Marine collagen aids digestion
“Collagen contains amino acids like glycine, which can support gut health and may alleviate digestive issues that become more prevalent with age,” Dr Green notes. Scientists reporting in the journal JMIR Formative Research found supplementing with collagen reduced bloating by 33% within 8 weeks. And it reduced GI pain by 38%, calmed acid reflux by 24% and eased constipation by 18%. (Bothered by acid reflux often? Click through for fast-acting heartburn home remedies.)
6. Marine collagen speeds weight loss
Supplementing with marine collagen doesn’t just help repair sore, achy muscles. It also helps build new muscle tissue. And that’s key when it comes to weight loss, since muscle tissue boosts metabolism, Dr. Myers notes. In one study, folks who took collagen daily built more calorie-torching lean muscle and lost significantly more fat than those who didn’t take collagen. “Women tell me every day how much they love collagen,” Dr. Myers says. “It’s such a great tool to lose weight and optimize health at any age.”
Marine collagen success story: Maria DeRosa, 70
Maria DeRosa felt herself panting and her legs were growing weak and cramping as she pushed herself up a small hill during her morning run. Maria had always been an avid runner, but, after moving to the California desert from the San Gabriel mountains six years earlier, she’d been experiencing a steady decline in her stamina and strength, which was not only interfering with her running, but also with daily activities.
Curious, she discussed it with her doctor. He acknowledged the change in climate could be a contributing factor and noted aging also could play a part, but he didn’t offer any real solution. So, when talking to a nutritionist friend soon after, Maria asked her opinion. The friend agreed aging was likely the cause, specifically the decrease in collagen levels that naturally happens in post-menopausal women. As the most abundant protein in the body, collagen plays an integral role in building and maintaining bone and connective tissues such as muscles, cartilage, skin and tendons.
What inspired Maria to try marine collagen
The good news was that studies suggest that we can help rebuild collagen using external sources, and her friend recommended that Maria add collagen supplements to her diet. Hopeful, Maria did some research and learned that there are two kinds of collagen: bovine, made from animals, mostly cows, and marine collagen, which is derived from sea-dwelling sources, such as fish scales, skin and bones. Reading that due to its smaller particle size, marine collagen is better absorbed by the body, Maria decided to go with that for the benefits she was after. She chose Isagenix Collagen Elixir, liking the fact that it had a blend of marine collagen, powerful botanicals, and amino acids that support the body’s natural production of collagen.
The elixir that finally cured Maria’s pain and fatigue
In January 2021, Maria began drinking one 1.69 oz bottle of Isagenix Collagen Elixir a day (Buy from Amazon.com, $52.99, or try a powdered supplement such as Vital Proteins Marine Collagen, buy from Amazon.com, $32.39). “I wanted to have proof that this works and maintain my spirit to ‘give it a try and do NOT give up too soon,” remembers Maria. “I find this is my character defect — impatience. So I told myself give it at least 30 to 60 days just like any good habit. And sure enough, 30 days later, I found myself with more energy, more glow, more stamina…not to mention that it helped my chapped lips and brown spots too!” In her research, Maria had learned that bone broth is also rich in collagen and began adding it in powdered form to her soups.
Today, Maria is a new woman. She plays pickle ball twice a week and runs twice a week. She also does salsa dancing and aerobics. Best of all, she seldom finds herself sore or exhausted after these activities and no longer experiences any cramping. Thrilled, the now 70-year-old shares the power of marine collagen with other women as part of her small business, Ladies of the Kitchen, in which she helps women heal emotional wounds and build physical stamina through the art of cooking. “I can’t say enough about the power of marine collagen. I have more energy to do the things I love — and I help other women have better lives too!”
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