Type I Collagen

Type I collagen is protein that makes up skin, tendons and other connective tissues. Most type I collagen in supplements is sourced from cows, pigs or fish. Type I collagen may improve skin health and joint pain, but more research is needed to confirm the health benefits of collagen supplementation.

Last Modified: September 5, 2023
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What Is Type I Collagen?

Of the 28 types of collagens, types I through X are the most common, and type I collagen accounts for approximately 90% of collagen found in the human body. Collagen is the most abundant protein in the body. 

Like all other proteins, it’s made of amino acids. The amino acids in collagen form three chains that wrap together creating a triple helix that resembles rope or corkscrew. These fibers then mesh together creating a firm and supportive structure.

This structure gives collagen strength, rigidity and resistance to stretching. These properties make it a good structural component to build skin, cartilage, tendons, ligaments and bones.

Bone tissue is the tissue containing the largest amount of type I collagen. Type I collagen makes up 95% of the collagen found in bones, and it accounts for 80% of the total proteins found in bones.

Why Do People Take Type I Collagen?

Type I collagen makes up skin, bone, tendons, cartilage, cornea and connective tissue. People take type I collagen hoping it may improve the health and function of these parts of the body or repair them following injury.

Some people also take collagen for hair growth or to improve the strength of their nails. Scientific studies have discovered the various roles type I collagen plays in the body, including:

  • Promotion of wound healing and elastin production.
  • Helping the skin maintain elasticity, firmness and structural strength alongside elastin.
  • Supporting the growth of hair and nails.
  • Creating the structural scaffolding, known as the matrix, in bone, skin, tendons, cornea, blood vessel walls and other connective tissues.
  • Providing structural reinforcement in bone like steel bars in concrete. Type I collagen also plays roles in normal bone matrix maintenance and mineralization.

More research is needed to determine if taking type I collagen supplements can improve the health and function of tissues made up of type I collagen. Cosmetic and supplement industry funded reports suggest benefits of collagen supplements may include improved joint pain, tendon injury recovery and signs of skin aging. 

Many of the studies on collagen have been small, and the vast majority have been conducted on animals. More objective research in humans is necessary to confirm if collagen supplements offer health benefits.

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What Are Sources of Type I Collagen?

Type I collagen is naturally made in the human body with amino acids. Nonessential amino acids are made with a glucose base. Essential amino acids must be consumed in dietary protein containing lysine. 

While collagen is not found in plants, some contain the same amino acids found in collagen. The body also needs nutrients such as vitamin C, found in fruit and leafy greens. Scurvy actually occurs because of a decreased collagen production as a result of vitamin C deficiency. Zinc is also needed, which can be found in nuts and whole grains.

Primary food sources of type I collagen include red meat, fish, bone broth and gelatin. There is a lack of evidence showing that eating a certain type of collagen will directly result in more production of that collagen type, however. 

The body can use other types of collagen found in poultry and eggs to make type I collagen. Dairy, eggs, legumes and soy also contain essential amino acids the body can use to make collagen. Type I collagen supplements are most commonly made from cows, but they can also be sourced from pigs and fish.

How Does the Body Make Type I Collagen?

A gene known as COL1A1 helps the body make type I collagen. The body naturally makes its own collagen, breaking down the protein you eat into amino acids. 

The body then uses these amino acids, along with ones the body makes on its own, to build collagen. As protein is digested in the stomach, it’s separated into amino acids, which are delivered to the parts of the body most in need of protein.

Some people choose to take collagen supplements to provide the body with plenty of amino acids required to assemble collagen. More research is needed on the benefits of supplementing with collagen, but current evidence suggests it may improve skin and joint health.

Some people supplement with specific types of collagen, including type I, hoping it will help their body make more of that type of collagen. While more research is needed to confirm whether this is true, it is considered safe to take collagen supplements because the risk of side effects and adverse effects is low.

Are Sources of Type I Collagen Supplements Safe?

Collagen supplements are generally considered safe, but there are some potential risks. Collagen supplements have been recalled for failing to list potential allergens in the ingredients such as fish, eggs and dairy, as well as for contamination including listeria and arsenic.

While collagen supplements are typically sourced from cow hides and connective tissues, there have been concerns expressed about possible contamination and risks of exposure to mad cow disease from collagen powder. Mad cow disease is typically transmitted through consuming central nervous system organs of infected animals, such as the brain, spine or eyes. There are no reports of incidents of mad cow associated with collagen supplements.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not have the authority to review supplements before they enter the marketplace. This means the supplement industry is left to regulate itself and is responsible for reporting ingredients accurately.

Look for a third-party verification seal on supplements to ensure their safety. The U.S. Pharmacopeia seal indicates the ingredients in a supplement have been verified. To make sure a product’s ingredients match the label, look for the NSF International seal.

Talk to your doctor before starting any new supplement regimen to discuss possible drug interactions and unwanted side effects.

Please seek the advice of a medical professional before making health care decisions.