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Let me introduce myself. My name is Mark Sisson. I’m 63 years young. I live and work in Malibu, California. In a past life I was a professional marathoner and triathlete. Now my life goal is to help 100 million people get healthy. I started this blog in 2006 to empower people to take full responsibility for their own health and enjoyment of life by investigating, discussing, and critically rethinking everything we’ve assumed to be true about health and wellness...

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November 14, 2017

Collagen for Skin: The Truth Behind the Benefits

By Mark Sisson
53 Comments

Inline_Collagen_SkinIt’s easy to get into the habit of assuming that certain things “just happen” as we get older. As the years pile up, we brace ourselves for brittle bones, expanding waistlines, failing eyesight—and a propensity for falling asleep in front of the T.V.

Statistically speaking, they do loom largely. This is what we often see around us after all. But, of course, we know it’s not the whole story. We certainly can resign ourselves to a common fate, but that’s probably not why anyone is reading today. Most people who visit this blog (and definitely those who frequent it) want more. They want something better, and they’re willing to learn, move, and eat to get it.

And as with our bodies, so with our skin…

Collagen Basics

The body’s most abundant protein comprises around a quarter of your overall protein makeup and as much as 80% of the protein in your skin alone. Of the more than 16 different types of collagen, an estimated 80-90% of collagen in the body is types 1, 2 and 3.

The premise of collagen is simple: keep the skin elastic, the hair strong, and the connecty bits nice and stretchy. Without it, your muscles, bones, connective tissues, GI tract and even blood cells would be in a tough spot. 

But that’s not always easy.

Collagen is comprised of 4 amino acids: glycine, proline, hydroxyproline, and arginine. When the collagen protein is digested, these are the individual elements left over for uptake. But in order to produce collagen within the body, we need to have good levels of glycine, proline and lysine, along with a decent amount of vitamin C as a cofactor.

Of these three, lycine is an essential amino acid, meaning the body is unable to produce it intrinsically—it must be obtained from protein-rich foods like meat, fish, dairy and legumes. Glycine and proline, on the other hand, are considered “conditional” amino acids: the body can produce them to a small extent, but most people argue that this isn’t near enough for our daily collagen needs.

Glycine, for example, is synthesized from serine and threonine at a rate of around 3 grams per day. This, in addition to between 1.5 and 3 grams glycine per day from the average diet, doesn’t quite add up to the estimated 10 grams/day required for metabolic purposes. That 4-5.5 gram gap in your daily glycine stocks is bound to hurt collagen production, and in turn undermine healthy skin, joints and musculature.

So. More collagen consumption means elevated levels of circulating amino acids, laying the foundations for healthier skin (among other things). But just how much healthier are we talking here?

What’s Really At Work Under the Surface

As the external manifestation of our health, the condition of our skin is kind of a big deal. Needless to say, the cosmetics industry has been cashing in. 

While those topical skincare products offer little effect (being that collagen molecules are larger than our skin pores), their messages at least bring our attention to the role of collagen itself. 

Wrinkles and Aging 

As we age so, too, do the mechanisms behind collagen synthesis within the body. This means a steady decline in epidermal collagen—that same compound that makes up (or used to) 80% of the protein in your skin. And with falling collagen levels, one can expect to see a loss of smoothness, firmness and buoyancy in their skin.

Happily, several of the amino acid precursors to collagen synthesis in the body can be supplied via consumables—in particular hydrolyzed collagen (aka collagen peptides) and gelatin. A 2014 study, for example, demonstrated a 20% reduction in eye wrinkles from just 8 weeks of collagen peptide supplementation, with the anti-wrinkle effects extending at least a month after supplementation was discontinued.

Another study using a different hydrolyzed collagen formulation found that daily collagen supplementation over the course of 12 weeks led to a 76% reduction in skin dryness and a 13% reduction in wrinkles. Researchers were also able to show a notable increase in collagen within the skin dermis from the supplementation—a sure sign that the collagen is being distributed where we need it most.

So far, these studies have largely focused on middle-aged to elderly females, but there’s no reason why the same results wouldn’t be seen in men and in younger members of both sexes. It’s also worth noting that there’s almost certainly a strong positive association between collagen supplementation and certain vitamins – particularly vitamin C, but also vitamins A and E. Considering vitamin C is a cofactor for collagen synthesis and regeneration of collagen in the skin, it’s not hard to see why.

As an aside, a slightly more invasive – but apparently quite safe – method of restoring collagen to the skin is via percutaneous collagen induction therapy – a roller with tiny needles that puncture the upper layer of the skin and thereby (purportedly) trigger the production of new elastin and collagen. I’ll admit the thought makes me personally mildly nauseous, but if you’re comfortable with acupuncture then it might be worth giving a try.

Skin Elasticity

Arguably, elasticity goes hand in hand with wrinkles – you can’t have one without a deficiency in the other – but it’s still worthwhile highlighting just how beneficial collagen supplementation can be for skin elasticity.

Research conducted by the same folks who gave us those anti-wrinkle studies also shows that hydrolyzed collagen given at different dosages has a similarly significant impact on skin elasticity. Sixty-nine women between the ages of 35 and 55 were given either 2.5 g or 5 g of collagen hydrolysate once a day for eight weeks, with the results showing a marked improvement in skin elasticity in both groups compared to placebo.

Another study used a “nutricosmeceutical” (say that ten times) composed of collagen peptides and antioxidants to produce a similar result in 120 healthy volunteers across 90 days of supplementation: “Overall, we demonstrated a significant increase in skin elasticity (+7.5%)…and an improvement in skin texture after daily oral consumption of the nutricosmeceutical.” (I think I’ll skip the fancy title and just stick to calling it my daily shake.)

And as unpleasant as it sounds, apparently getting more collagen in your diet should ensure a lower risk of skin cracking. That’s a relief.

Cellulite

An estimated 85-98% of post-pubescent females have cellulite. While not life-threatening or even health-compromising, many consider it a bane for  an otherwise flawless (and even fit) physique.

Admittedly, what allows fat deposits to push through and cause the wavy appearance is weakened collagen fibers. And as we know, collagen supplementation can help with that….

In a longer term clinical study, 105 women between 24 and 50 years of age were given either 2.5 g collagen peptides or a placebo over the course of 6 months. In normal weight women given the peptides, there was a decent decrease in the degree of cellulite and “reduced skin waviness,” along with improved dermal density. Interestingly, however, this beneficial effect of collagen on cellulite was less pronounced in overweight women. All the more reason to clean up your diet and get moving, too. Collagen isn’t a miracle. It’s a tool—and an effective one, especially in the right context. 

Sun Damage

There’s two ways in which the skin ages: chronologically and photologically. I may have made that last word up, but you get the idea – our skin ages whether we go out into the sun or not, but that process can be accelerated somewhat the more sun we get.

Which isn’t to say that you should cringe every time a ray of sun comes your way That would be depriving your body of essential vitamin D (along with a whole lot of enjoyment). The trick is to avoid overexposure, ensure antioxidant protection, and make your collagen intake sufficient to maintain healthy collagen levels in the skin.

The mechanism by which UV light can damage the skin is largely pinned down to a decrease in certain key antioxidants with increasing sun exposure, and a corresponding rise in malondiaidehyde—a biomarker of skin damage. Happily, both gelatin and collagen supplements have shown an ability to increase activity of the skin-protecting antioxidants and block the formation of skin-degrading malondiaidehyde.

Increasing Dietary Collagen

There’s a myriad of other ways in which higher collagen consumption can promote better skin – sleep, gut health, digestion and tissue repair are all critical for healthy skin, and collagen can in its own way enhance all of these functions. But let’s cut to the chase and talk 

Clearly, then, you need more of the stuff. Stat. But where to get your hands on the finest, most skin-supporting collagen? Let’s find out.

Bone Broth

You’re Primal, or at least Primally-inclined, so you know about bone broth, a source rich in gelatin. Gelatin contains the same amino acid makeup as collagen peptides (the amino chains just haven’t been broken down as much), making it your natural go-to for increased collagen synthesis.

If you’ve got the time, make your own bone broth from bones and meaty offcuts, or find a well-respected company that’s already made it for you. Just make sure that said broth is thick and jiggly when it’s cold.

Skin and Stringy Bits

The skin and connective tissues of any animal – land or water dwelling – contains a hefty amount of collagen (just like us humans). This means that the more crunchy cartilage bits, stringy bits, chewy bits and flappy bits you eat from that cooked animal carcass, the more collagen you’re ingesting.

Collagen Peptides

As I discussed earlier, collagen peptides are just a different name for collagen hydrolysate and hydrolyzed collagen. The Primal Kitchen® Collagen Fuel, our collagen hydrolysate powder, provides the full amino acid profile in an easy to digest form, making it even more effective than gelatin for folks who have trouble with digestion. I made it to use it myself, but I’m happy to share. 

Vitamin C

Yes, yes, I mentioned it earlier, but it’s important enough to bear repeating. Vitamin C, while not a source of collagen per se, is critical for synthesizing collagen in the body – so if you’re not getting enough from the food you eat, you need to get on that. There’s no sense wasting good collagen’s benefits

Thanks for reading, folks. Have you noticed any changes in your skin or otherwise after upping your collagen intake? What’s your go-to source? Be sure to share your thoughts below.

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53 Comments on "Collagen for Skin: The Truth Behind the Benefits"

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Monikat
Monikat
3 months 7 days ago
Great article, Mark. I’d like to add something about collagen, and that is its role in healing injuries. We talk a lot about reducing chronic inflammation, but the inflammatory response is good for us in certain circumstances–in particular, for healing injuries. My understanding is that NSAIDS (Advil etc), by reducing pain through reducing inflammation, blocks collagen production, and therefore that injury that might have healed completely now becomes a chronic problem. Perhaps Mark could discuss this aspect in another post. I’ve sort of fallen into this information thanks to being treated for chronic tennis elbow (even though I don’t play… Read more »
Elizabeth Resnick
3 months 7 days ago

Wow, I’d love to hear more about that too. Know so many people who take NSAIDS frequently.

Becky
Becky
3 months 7 days ago

And what types of painkiller can one safely take after surgery where there is significant pain–even for someone who shys away from pain medicine?

And if the NSAIDs are blocking “collagen production”, would eating extra collagen make up for that or do they block the ability to use it, too?
,

Marge
Marge
3 months 3 days ago

The simplest pain management in many cases is ice. We often forget that it is an option. Though it is not any help for internal pain…

Elizabeth Resnick
3 months 7 days ago
This is exactly what I have been shouting from the rooftops about for years. I cannot believe the difference collagen has made in my skin. It’s firmer now than it was ten years ago, and old scars have even softened a bit. It’s also made my nails grow like crazy. I started out taking collagen peptides daily, which I still do. Then forced myself to start eating the “skin and stringy bits” of the meat. As a former vegetarian this was hard for me at first, but know I love it…especially the crispy skin of a whole roast chicken. I… Read more »
Shary
Shary
3 months 7 days ago
These things probably all help to a modest extent, but I’m convinced that taut, wrinkle-free skin is mostly hereditary. My mother didn’t have wrinkles and I don’t get them either. I do have naturally oily skin (which isn’t just oil and can’t really be commercially duplicated). It can be a pain in the patoot when one is a teenager but becomes a huge plus as we get older. Regardless of the type of skin we inherit, I think by far the best thing we can do, besides eating a healthy diet, is to avoid tanning it into leather through too… Read more »
NaturalGirl
NaturalGirl
3 months 7 days ago

I agree. My grandmother and mother had beautiful skin into their 80s. Both my mom and dad side had good skin genetics. They also ate organically, from their farms. I do incorporate bone broth into my diet. I love the benefits from the collagen that Mark provides. Thank you!

ShaSha
ShaSha
3 months 7 days ago

Great info! My skin has always looked healthy but I assumed it was mostly due to heredity until I started drinking some Hibiscus tea daily. I learned that it contains Vitamin C, although I don’t know in what amounts. Anyway my skin has become noticeably more clear and smooth. Nice perk. I always thought I was getting plenty of C but perhaps drinking it in a tea is better absorbed? Don’t know but I sure like the look.

sosi
3 months 7 days ago

Interesting, thanks!

Timothy
3 months 7 days ago
Highly informative article! A bit of color on two points: 1) Biased towards what we see in the mirror, we obsess over our paint job and rarely look under the hood. If we did, the effect of collagen on wrinkles would be a footnote compared to its vastly larger role throughout the body literally keeping us from falling apart. Bone, tendon, and ligament is the foundation of strength, preventing every kind of crippling injury, and scurvy is not merely a cosmetic affliction. 2) “Conditionally” essential means, for our purposes, essential. Just because our bodies make enough of something to ward… Read more »
Shary
Shary
3 months 7 days ago

Your points are well taken, but a lot of us don’t like liver. Personally, I wouldn’t be able to gag it down raw, blenderized or otherwise. Fortunately, there are choices. Those essential nutrients can easily be acquired from various other foods.

Dan
Dan
3 months 7 days ago

Homemade paté? Or swap out 20% of your ground beef in any dish for liver, you’ll never know!

Curtis
3 months 7 days ago

Agree with Dan. I mix mine with ground beef for lunches, first running it through a food processor, and I don’t notice the difference. Also, if you get grassfed bison liver, it has a sweet taste. I scraped the food processor clean with a spoon last night when I made my weekly lunches.

Shauna
Shauna
3 months 7 days ago
I wish it were that easy. Liver is one of my few trigger foods that set off my gag reflex. It has since I was a child. Now, even the smell of it cooking makes me gag. I’ve tried to make myself eat it as an adult and have given up. As a child, it was served cooked, usually with onions. I’ve blended it, frozen it in small pieces to take more like a pill, tried to hide the blended liquid in chili (tons of spices), etc. and I just can’t do it. Awesome if you can, though. I wish… Read more »
framistat
framistat
3 months 7 days ago

Have you considered EFT tapping for the reaction you have to liver? Should help.

Shary
Shary
3 months 6 days ago

framistat, not wanting to eat liver isn’t a disease that needs to be treated. I rarely eat it (other than a little pate on rare occasions) and I’m quite healthy. It’s usually a mistake to force foods on one’s self that, for whatever reason, the body won’t tolerate.

Elizabeth Resnick
3 months 5 days ago

I can totally eat chicken livers, but beef liver is a little strong. I’ve taken liver capsules and also just cut it into small pieces and freeze. Then take one out of the freezer in the am, let thaw slightly and swallow it whole, like a pill. And sometimes I can get it down if its cooked with a lot of bacon.

Timothy
3 months 4 days ago

Elizabeth, have you tried bison liver? I find the taste (as does Curtis) a lot more palatable than beef liver. Northstar Bison is my source. Blended raw with kimchi and kefir, it’s actually quite delicious in my opinion. Certainly the least objectionable way to get a lot of high-quality liver into your system.

Timothy
3 months 5 days ago

Ingenious!

Clymb
Clymb
3 months 4 days ago

Timothy–Wondering what foods you would recommend to someone who eats, as their only animal sources, pastured eggs and bivalves? These also constitute only about 5-10% of my diet.

I do this for ethical reasons, though I was very recently (and for many years), of the paleo/primal persuasion, and have been a fan of Mark’s for years. I’ve read up on his vegetarian/vegan diet posts, but I’m curious as to your take.

I’d like to add that I’m not commenting to argue on this decision, just wondering what would be the best alternatives for someone with a diet like mine.

Timothy
3 months 4 days ago
Clymb, my opinion is quality egg yolks are the most nutritious alternative to liver. They are essentially an organ meat. Being avian instead of mammalian the nutrition won’t be quite as optimal for us, but we can make up for that by eating more of them. If we take choline content as a proxy for nutrient density, eggs are about 2/3 as nutrient-dense as liver. Doing the math, that’s about 12-13 eggs to equal the micronutrients in a pound of liver. Eggs don’t have nearly the exceptional B12 content of liver, but fortunately for your scenario, clams are an even… Read more »
Clymb
Clymb
3 months 4 days ago
Thank you for the kind and helpful response! I buy eggs from Vital Farms, and they seem to be the highest quality you can find at the store in terms of ethics and nutrition. And I don’t just eat clams–other bivalves too, like oysters, mussels, scallops, etc. Personally, I see no ethical issues with eating pastured eggs and bivalves (farmed only), and I actually know many people of the vegan persuasion who agree with this. Buuuut, after years of being paleo/primal, I felt unsure about my nutrition. I’m glad you agree with me, that these are great nutritional choices. I… Read more »
HealthyHombre
HealthyHombre
3 months 6 days ago

Not cool.

Becky Sodon
Becky Sodon
3 months 7 days ago
I just came across powdered liver. It comes as grass fed beef liver. I have previously made pate and eaten it on cuke slices and hidden liver in ground meat dishes. But this is an even bigger breakthrough. You can mix this into any saucey food or casserole with extremely minor taste change. Mixing it into ground meat would work. What I usually do is mix it with mayo, curry powder and my morning sardines. Also, liverwurst (homemade) can be very tasty and quite unliver-y. I’ve made venison liverwurst (and venison liver is strong!), and it has no liver taste–just… Read more »
HealthyHombre
HealthyHombre
3 months 7 days ago

Informative Timothy thanks but hope your last sentence was an attempt at humor, or maybe a remedy if you accidentally swallow poison. 🙂

Timothy
3 months 5 days ago

Dead serious actually. Drinking liver is a huge athletic advantage. I would be far less productive without it, and my loved ones depend on me, so flavor is irrelevant. The problem with liver isn’t that it doesn’t work or that it tastes weird. The problem is most people refuse even to do the experiment!

Tracey Holekamp
Tracey Holekamp
3 months 6 days ago

Great commentary Tim! Liver has always been a kriptonite for me but knowing it is an ideal food (like eggs) the way I get it down is to cut it into small pieces and freeze. Then in the am I grab a few and swallow like a supplement. I learned this many years ago from a Naturopathic Dr. I get mine from USWellness Meats-

Josh
Josh
3 months 6 days ago

Tracey, do you cook it before freezing or is it raw?

Elizabeth Resnick
3 months 5 days ago

That’s what I do too sometimes (mentioned above) and it is raw.

Timothy
3 months 5 days ago

Excellent! Good for you! At first, I could not stand the taste of liver either. I literally held my nose while drinking it down. But the effects the next day were profound. Now it seems positively ridiculous to turn down those effects on account of taste. I really don’t know why more people don’t think of it as you do — a potent supplement. There is some very odd psychology behind the refusal to ingest liver!

Karen
Karen
3 months 7 days ago

Chicarones? That’s pork rinds. Or does the good stuff get melted out?

Rose
Rose
3 months 7 days ago

I had annoying cellulite in my 20s onwards. Late 50s, a patch appeared inside a knee as well. Present time (64), no cellulite anywhere.
Coincided with cutting out butter/oil mix, seed oils and sugar. Losing 10 kg.
I’ve always eaten animal skin and cartilage and dairy

Guy
Guy
3 months 7 days ago

I add a tablespoon of Great Lakes collagen powder to my coffee every morning.
Does anyone know if adding it to near boiling water compromises it’s nutrient value?

Shauna
Shauna
3 months 7 days ago

Excellent question. I put it in my tea.

Becky Sodon
Becky Sodon
3 months 7 days ago

Without having any expertise on this, I would say no. 1) You are supposed to put gelatin into cold water then heat it, so I assume you wouldn’t if it were to destroy it. 2) Bone broth as it’s being made often comes to a boil, so why do that if you’re destroying the collagen/gelatin?

Brad
Brad
3 months 6 days ago

I do too, Guy. A heaping tablespoon and 5 gms of creatine in my first cup of coffee every day. I run first thing in the morning and have never had stomach issues from it, either.

Kate
Kate
3 months 7 days ago

Thanks for a great post! Any recommendation as to how much vitamin C one should take per day to maximize the benefits of collagen?

Becky Sodon
Becky Sodon
3 months 7 days ago
I”m also wondering about how much vitamin C you need. Plus, I have found that adding collagen to baked goods (ie plantain batter products or those made with fermented legume batter or the good ol’ banana egg pancakes) helps with their texture and is bonus collagen. I also put collagen into my “macaroons”. They are essentially energy bars. (nuts, dried fruit, coconut, spices/flavor, and collagen) And note, cricket powder can disappear into them as well. And “jello” (fruit, coconut oil, and gelatin) is a daily snack. Since my daughter won’t drink bone broth, I put collagen into her quesadillas and… Read more »
Prin
Prin
3 months 6 days ago

Thanks for this article. I am sending it on to all my girlfriends. Who likes getting wrinkles? My personal favourite way to take it is in a cup of tea before bed, with the juice of a lime.

Rob H
Rob H
3 months 6 days ago
Well, this leads on very nicely from last week’s post about the benefits of whey protein – and how much of it’s benefits re: cancer are mediated through its cysteine content, which is one of the 3 precursors of the ‘master antioxidant’ glutathione. The other rate-limiting precursor of glutathione? None other than glycine.. So I am now in the habit of adding some hydrolysed collagen powder (or even plain glycine – much cheaper!) to my whey protein each morning to help boost glutathione.. On another note, I too would very much like to hear more about how much vitamin C… Read more »
Shary
Shary
3 months 6 days ago

Mega doses of anything isn’t a terrific idea. One of the reasons, as you point out, is that the body will recognize that it’s getting too much and you will just end up with expensive urine. Also, as was pointed out to me years ago by a health provider, mega doses of isolates (versus a balanced array of nutrients such as are found in whole foods) can result in imbalances–not a terrific idea either. Supplement if you’re positive you need it, but thinking that more is better can create problems.

Rob H
Rob H
3 months 5 days ago
I happen to fall down on the same side of the argument as you on this Shary. But the reason I raise the question is that there are plenty of very eminent thinkers in this area that fall on the opposite side of the argument and recommend daily Vitamin C ‘mega’ supplementation, eg Paul Jaminet (1g/ day), Dave Asprey (1g -2g/ day), Abel James, Dr Andrew Saul, Dr Gabrielle Lyon, just to name a few. These are all very intelligent and highly respected thinkers in the field. Hell, on the ‘product facts’ section of Mark’s own ‘Primal Damage Control’ capsules,… Read more »
Simon
3 months 6 days ago

Anyone have experience with Sprouts brand organic bone broth? It’s comparatively inexpensive, but definitely not thick and jiggly when cold. Is it doing the trick or a waste of money?

Madama Butterfry.
Madama Butterfry.
3 months 6 days ago

“This means that the more crunchy cartilage bits, stringy bits, chewy bits and flappy bits you eat from that cooked animal carcass..”
Vegans, we’re not in Kansas anymore. 🙂
It’s good to be back.

Matthew Zastrow
3 months 6 days ago

I’ve got 6 cases of Primal Collagen Coconut Chocolate flavor on their way to my home now!!! I live on a Goat Farm (we have 3 female goats and a male) so I’m going to add a serving of chocolate collagen to 2 cups of raw goat milk each day…hopefully I will have skin like super strectch armstrong, hair like a sheep dog, and gain about 300 lbs of pure lean muscle. (really I am just happy to have something chocolate flavor to make chocolate milk instead of eating too much chocolate at night)

Adrian
Adrian
3 months 6 days ago

Hi Mark, How does collagen supplementation effect protein/amino acid generated insulin levels significantly if you are wanting to to into and maintain ketosis?

Gayathri
Gayathri
3 months 5 days ago

Drops everything, types “collagen supplements” on amazon

Giles TROULAN
Giles TROULAN
3 months 5 days ago

could we bet some more information about the joint health benefits of collagen and gelatine. I take it regularly for as part of a knee rehab protocol. Is there a preferred type and dose. I believe Phil Maffetone prefers the non-hydrolysed versions.

Justin Faraday
3 months 5 days ago

I’ve experience huge benefits from collagen supplementation. Be careful with quality, though. All collagen supplements are not created equal.

Laura
3 months 5 days ago

Have any other females had problems with collagen giving them unwanted facial hair? I want to include it in my diet but every time I do I start getting longer and thicker facial hair. Kinda embarrassing. I’m thinking that somehow it is increasing my androgen levels? Thoughts?

Marge
Marge
3 months 3 days ago

I have been making my own breakfast ne broths for years, and have always enjoyed gnawing on the gristly bits of meats. But now I am wondering if a DAILY supplement is in order…

Dana Leigh Lyons
3 months 3 days ago

Great overview! I began adding collagen peptides to my bulletproof “breakfast” a handful of months back and definitely notice a change in my fingernails (way stronger). At age 42, I love thinking about what this means for my skin and bones!

Ion Freeman
Ion Freeman
2 months 15 days ago

Remember the South Asian Health Solution? I was just speaking with a South Asian about collagen, and he was wondering if there were commercially available goat or lamb gelatin supplements. Anybody?

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