Has anyone ever told you that your skin is as smooth as a fish? Not likely, but if you think about it, fish skin certainly is smooth, and there is a reason for that. It’s because there is a high concentration of Type I collagen located there.
Type I collagen is the most abundant type of collagen in the human body (1) and accounts for 80% of the collagen in skin, with the remaining being Type III. These collagen fibers form a dense network throughout the dermis (deep layer) and provide structural support for the epidermis (surface layer) of skin. In addition, collagen is the main insoluble fibrous protein found in the extracellular matrix (the mixture of substances that are secreted by cells and fill the spaces between cells). It, combined with hyaluronic acid and elastin within the extracellular matrix, give the skin its structure, elasticity and firmness, and overall health and longevity. Therefore collagen is a critical building block of the skin. But it is also the main structural protein in all fibrous tissues within the body including tendons and ligaments, and is abundant in the cornea, cartilage, bone (2), gums, muscles, hair and nails.
Collagen is produced within our bodies by fibroblasts and epithelial cells (2). We also eat collagen found in animal connective tissue (3). Nowadays, powdered hydrolyzed collagen derived from cattle, pigs and fish, is commercially available and can be mixed with beverages or added to certain foods. Many of these collagen peptide products are derived from pig and cow hides (1), primarily because they are abundant by-products and cheap to produce.
However, fish skin-derived collagen peptides, while more costly, are significantly better absorbed, so give you more bang for your buck. Moreover, the risk of exposure to Creutzfeld-Jacob disease (CJD) and bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), whose occurrence is associated with prions carried within bovine collagen, has led to an increased preference for fish derived hydrolyzed collagen (1,4). It is made from skin and bones of fresh or salt water fish and since these parts are typically discarded during fish processing, using them to make hydrolyzed collagen is environmentally friendly.
Fish hydrolyzed collagen consists of smaller peptides (pieces of protein) than other sources and is consequently 1.5 times (5) more easily digested, absorbed and distributed throughout the body (2). When consumed, it is absorbed into the blood stream through the small intestine and carried. in particular, to the dermis, where it can remain for up to 14 days (6). Here, it stimulates the multiplication and motility of fibroblasts, increases collagen production including fiber density and diameter, increases hyaluronic acid production, and activates protection against UVA radiation (2). It also differs from other collagens because of its high content of the amino acids: lysine, glycine, proline, and hydroxyproline (2). Combined, these nutrients stimulate cells in the skin, joints and bones to synthesize proteins including collagen and help build body tissues including muscle, bone and skin. Lysine not only plays an essential role in collagen production, but also promotes healthy immune function. Lysine plus another amino acid called arginine, has been shown to prevent infection, which could also help prevent acne (7). A double-blind, study found that 12 months supplementation with lysine significantly decreased the recurrence of cold sores (8).
When you are young, collagen makes up about 75% of your dermis and is responsible for giving your skin structure, firmness, and elasticity. However, collagen production starts declining in your 20’s and by the time you are 80, its production is reduced by 70%! During the aging process, hyaluronic acid, collagen, and elastin fibers undergo structural and functional changes (9) that contribute to fine lines, furrows, roughness, wrinkles, brown spots, and thickened and sagging skin. We call this process skin aging. Such damage is accelerated by smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, physical and psychological stress, poor nutrition, over eating, lack of sleep, environmental pollution, autoimmune diseases and chronic UV radiation from the sun (2). In addition, as we get older our ability to replenish lost or damaged collagen decreases by about 1.5% annually, partly because our fibroblasts make smaller amounts (2). Eventually, the increase in collagen damage, coupled with decline in collagen production results in older looking skin.
Many human clinical studies have reported the benefits of hydrolyzed collagen on skin properties (3) including enhanced hydration and improved elasticity that decreases visible fine lines and wrinkling (2). Ten grams of hydrolyzed collagen daily can increase skin hydration by 28% in 8 weeks and decrease deep wrinkles by 30% in 12 weeks (2), while as little as 2.5 g daily for 4 weeks can reduce eye wrinkles, and by 8 weeks can increase Type I procollagen by 65%, elastin by 18% and fibrillin by 6% (10). Other studies have reported increases up to 78% in dermis density (11), improved elasticity (12), and in combination with other nutrients including anti-oxidants such as Vitamin C, which is needed for collagen production, improved elasticity (13), reduced skin dryness (14) and improved skin texture (8).