Can Collagen Really Help You Lose Weight?
Collagen may boost skin health, but its role in weight loss is unclear. Here's what to know about taking collagen for weight loss.
If you gained weight during the Covid-19 pandemic, you might be looking for ways to shed a few pounds. If so, you’re not the only one with quarantine weight gain. A study in JAMA Network Open suggests some of us may have gained as many as 1.5 pounds a month during the pandemic.
That’s where collagen powder supplements come in. Driven largely by testimonials from celebrities and social media influencers, people are laying down cash for collagen powder that promises to help them lose weight and accrue other potential benefits, such as younger-looking skin and more-flexible joints.
A longtime favourite of youth-seekers looking to smooth wrinkles, collagen supplements are a hot category these days. And their popularity is only expected to grow. The collagen market is projected to reach $7.5 billion by 2027, according to a report by Grand View Research.
What is collagen?
Collagen is the main structural protein found in skin, bones, hair, nails, tendons, and ligaments. Our bodies use the protein in food to make it naturally, but there’s a catch: our natural supply decreases as we age.
Collagen supplements, on the other hand, come from outside the body, most often in the form of pills or powders. These are derived from plant or animal sources. Proponents say ingesting them can plump skin, increase cushioning between joints, and even give you shinier hair.
While you can buy vegetarian or vegan collagen supplements, most collagen in supplements is extracted from animal hides, bones, or fish scales, says Tod Cooperman, MD, president of ConsumerLab, an independent supplement testing organization in White Plains, New York.
Collagen supplements nutrition facts
Here’s a peek at the nutritional content (and the percent daily value, or DV) of 14 grams of collagen peptide (small pieces of collagen):
- Calories: 50
- Fat: 0 g
- Sodium: 45 mg (2 percent DV)
- Carbohydrates: 0 g
- Protein: 12 g (25 percent DV)
- Fibre: 0 g
- Calcium: 29 mg (2 percent DV)
- Potassium: 0.98 mg
- Cholesterol: 0 mg
Weight loss isn’t magic. It’s simple math: the calories you take in should be less than or equal to the calories you expend.
“The fact that collagen powder is low in calories and high in protein suggests that it may be helpful,” says Mark Moyad, MD, the Jenkins/Pokempner director of preventive and alternative medicine at the University of Michigan Medical Center in Ann Arbor.
With powdered and liquid collagen supplements, the caloric content depends largely on how you use it. Tasteless varieties can be added to just about anything, including:
Stir some collagen powder in your tea, which is free of calories, and you’ll have a better shot at weight loss than if you eat the supplement in a higher-calorie food.
Forms of collagen supplements for weight loss
When shopping for collagen, the technical terms may leave you scratching your head. What’s the difference between type I and type II collagen? And what on earth do “hydrolyzed” and “undenatured” mean?
These terms refer to the type of collagen and how broken down it is. There are 16 types of collagen in the body, but the one you’ll most often find in supplements is type I. This comes from skin, tendons, teeth, internal organs, and bone, Dr. Cooperman says. Types II, III, and IV are less commonly used for supplements, but some multi-collagen protein powders use a mix.
Beyond the type of collagen used, a supplement will take one of three main forms:
Hydrolyzed: Collagen that has been broken down into its basic amino acids. Also known as collagen hydrolysate and collagen peptides.
Gelatin: Collagen that has been broken down from large proteins into smaller bits. It’s less broken down than hydrolyzed collagen.
Undenatured: Very small bits of type II collagen that work by stopping the breakdown of your natural collagen stores. This is also called undenatured collagen, meaning it’s not broken into smaller proteins or amino acids.
Most supplements use hydrolyzed collagen because it’s broken down into small bits that make for easy absorption (and easy mixing into cold liquids).
The lack of science behind taking collagen for weight loss
Not everyone is on board with collagen supplements as a potential weight-loss aid. Exactly how or even if collagen protein powder can aid your weight loss efforts isn’t fully understood, says Dr. Moyad. Collagen powder can be very high in protein, which may make you feel fuller for longer periods of time, limiting calories and leading to weight loss. “This can be said about any high-protein diet that leads to caloric control,” he says. In fact, bone broths—which are loaded with collagen—can take the edge off hunger and are a staple in some weight-loss programs.
There are no studies supporting the use of collagen for weight loss, says Scott Kahan, MD, director of the National Center for Weight and Wellness in Washington, D.C. “Unfortunately, none of the dietary supplements with magic claims for weight loss actually work,” he says. What does work? “For most, the most valuable strategy will be to build a support network to help guide and reinforce their efforts,” says Dr. Kahan. “This could include a medical specialist or dietitian or another supportive health care provider. It could include a support group or even an app.” Try these expert-approved weight-loss strategies. There are also several FDA-approved weight loss pills that can help over the long term, he says.
Risks of collagen supplements
Even if collagen powder were a panacea for weight loss, you still can’t be sure that you are getting what you pay for because the supplements industry is not regulated with the same scrutiny as the pharmaceutical industry, Dr. Moyad says. Because they are derived from animals, supplements could be contaminated with toxic heavy metals in levels that are deemed unsafe, he explains.
In fact, one study of 28 best-selling collagen peptide supplements on Amazon.com found that many contain measurable levels of potentially toxic heavy metals. This study was conducted by the Organic Consumers Association and the Clean Label Project. The good news? A study by ConsumerLab showed that products did contain their expected amounts of collagen.
How to shop for collagen supplements
If you decide to use collagen powder supplements, choose a product that has a third-party seal of approval, Dr. Moyad suggests. Know what you are taking, he says. Make sure the company shares its certificate of analysis (COA). This document provides the results of any and all testing of the supplements, and companies can release them voluntarily.
It’s also important to read the label and see what else is added to the collagen powder. Many products add biotin, which supports healthy hair and nail growth but can skew results on certain medical tests, Dr. Moyad says. For example, taking biotin can yield a falsely low result for troponin, a marker that helps doctors diagnose heart attacks.
Some supplements have added sugars. That may defeat the purpose of the collagen since sugar can speed the breakdown of collagen. On its own, collagen supplements are relatively safe and cause few side effects, Dr. Moyad says.
The last word
There’s not a lot of research suggesting that collagen powder helps weight loss, but it is high in protein and low in calories so it may play some role. Make sure you choose a reputable brand with a third-party seal of approval so you can be sure you are getting what you paid for. It’s always a good idea to seek guidance from a physician or registered dietitian who may be able to help you meet your weight-loss goals.