Does collagen help you lose weight? While you’ve probably seen skincare and haircare products containing collagen on the shelves, you might not have thought about collagen's other potential benefits. While collagen won’t magically melt body fat, it can help in several ways to support healthy weight loss and post-workout recovery.
Collagen is the most abundant protein in the human body, responsible for creating structure within our bones, cartilage, tendons, connective tissue, muscles and skin. You could say our bodies are built on collagen. It has been hailed as an anti-aging superstar, with exogenous collagen (synthetic collagen from outside the body) used in many skincare products. Natural endogenous collagen (collagen synthesized within the body) levels decline as we get older, leading to a decrease in skin elasticity, joint health and the speed of wound healing.
What is collagen?
Collagen is a protein found abundantly within the body, with synthetic collagen used to aid in wound healing, osteoarthritis treatment and even as an ingredient in dermal fillers. But what is collagen good for, and how else does the body naturally use this protein?
Brian Carson, PhD, a lecturer in the department of Physical Education and Sport Sciences at the University of Limerick and co-founder of Whole Supp (opens in new tab), outlines the basics. “Collagen is a form of protein which is found in connective tissues like skin, bone, tendons and ligaments,” he says. “Like any protein, Collagen is made up of a number of amino acids, the building blocks for protein. Collagen tends to be high in glycine, proline and hydroxyproline and has a low essential amino acid content.”
An article in the British Journal of Nutrition (opens in new tab) found that collagen supplementation was helpful in increasing body composition in elderly sarcopenic (frail) men, when combined with resistance training. This might indicate that collagen supplementation could support health in later life.
Dr Margarita Kitova-John, a medical doctor and founder of Lantern Clinic (opens in new tab), also adds that optimum collagen production requires a high protein and vitamin C diet. “Without collagen, the human body would be reduced to a clump of cells interconnected by few neurons,” she says.
Kitova-John qualified at the Medical University in Sofia, Bulgaria in 2004 and entered general practice in 2011. She has worked in various departments at St Mary’s Hospital in the United Kingdom and has clinical interests in women's health, sexual health and medicine management.
Does collagen help you lose weight?
So where does weight loss come in? A study in the International Journal of Medical Sciences (opens in new tab) concluded that in the specific case of weight-gain in menopausal women who had undergone an ovariectomy, collagen hydrolysate supplementation helped to keep body weight down, when it would usually increase due to the procedure. Although the study was very focused, it shows promise in the area of collagen for weight loss.
Carson says that there is no solid research showing that collagen can directly help with weight loss. “There are no clinical trials published which have assessed the impact of collagen on weight management or weight loss. Any effects that collagen intake may have on weight management would be secondary.
"For example, collagen has been used to treat joint and connective tissue injuries with some success. This may enable greater physical activity which may help in the management of weight. However, collagen is a low quality form of protein from a muscle protein synthesis perspective, so there are much better plant and animal proteins which could be consumed for the purpose of building muscle and managing weight in this way.”
A placebo controlled trial in the journal Marine Drugs (opens in new tab) involved giving overweight patients low-molecular collagen peptides derived from cartilaginous fish to see the effect this would have on their overall body weight. Overall, the results were positive, with the group receiving collagen supplements showing a higher reduction in body fat after the 12 week trial than the control group.
Another study in the Journal of Nutrition (opens in new tab) found that gelatin (a collagen derivative) resulted in better appetite suppression than casein (another type of protein). The study concluded that this appetite-suppressant effect of collagen could reduce overall food intake and lead to a reduction in body weight.
In general, a high protein diet has been linked to positive metabolic outcomes, as shown by research in the Journal of Obesity and Metabolic Syndrome (opens in new tab). The study concluded that a high protein diet is an effective tool for weight reduction and the prevention of obesity and metabolic syndrome.
Roxana Ehsani (opens in new tab), a registered dietitian nutritionist and a national media spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, says that research is limited, so we can’t say for sure that collagen is an effective tool for weight loss. However it may help indirectly.
Roxana Ehsani is a Board-Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics and a National Media Spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. She holds a Bachelors of Science in Human Nutrition, Foods and Exercise from Virginia Tech and a Masters of Science in Clinical Nutrition and Dietetics from the University of Pittsburgh and completed her dietetic internship at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.
“The body can’t absorb collagen from food well, so consuming more collagen rich foods doesn’t necessarily mean you are getting a higher amount of collagen into your body,” she explains. “You also need vitamin C to be present to better absorb collagen as well, so there’s no point in dumping it in your coffee. It would be better to add it to a cup of orange juice to get the benefits.
“Protein also provides us with feelings of satiety and fullness, which can help with weight loss. If you are consuming protein rich foods and spreading them out throughout the day, such as including it at each meal, it can be effective at keeping you full for longer in between meals, which can prevent eating in between meals or overeating at meal times.”
However, she says to keep in mind collagen is not a complete protein, because it's lacking some essential amino acids. “So I wouldn’t say swap it in for your whey protein, as it's missing key essential amino acids, therefore not making a high quality source of protein on its own,” says Ehsani.
How does the body use collagen?
Our bodies naturally produce collagen from the food we eat, but taking a dietary supplement may help to boost these natural collagen levels. Our bodies use collagen to build bones, skin, muscles and much more. It also plays a function in cellular communication, wound healing and tissues repair, and our immune response.
Collagen is metabolized like any other proteins into combinations of peptides and amino acids, and these are then used for physiological processes such as bone or connective tissue repair as needed.
Dr Kitova-John says: “If we eat a healthy, balanced diet, our body likely makes enough collagen for its needs. Most studies into collagen supplementation have been small.”
This article is for informational purposes only and is not meant to offer medical advice.