By now, you’ve probably heard about collagen. It has become an immensely popular dietary supplement for its purported weight loss, skin and joint benefits. But before you start guzzling bone broth and adding collagen powder to your coffee, we need to separate fact from fiction when it comes to collagen protein benefits.
Read on as we explain the potential benefits of collagen for weight loss and your overall health.
What is collagen?
Collagen is the most abundant protein in your body, making up between 25% and 35% of your body’s total protein content.1 It’s a fundamental building block of everything from your muscle and bones to your skin, ligaments and tendons. Many scientists refer to it as the body’s “scaffolding,” or the glue that holds it all together.2
Our bodies naturally produce collagen, but when we hit our mid-20s, production begins to slow down and depletion begins to speed up, resulting in approximately a 1% loss per year.2,3 This depletion can manifest as sagging skin, reduced joint mobility, and increased likelihood of injuries.4 Environmental and lifestyle effects such as sun exposure, tobacco use and a poor diet can speed up collagen depletion.2 (Here’s why healthy eating habits are so important.)
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Naturally, eating healthy foods high in collagen, such as bone broth, gelatin, berries, and fish, would counteract this depletion, right? Not necessarily. Collagen is a particularly large molecule, so the body can’t absorb collagen through food effectively enough to completely reverse this natural collagen loss. However, science is finding real health benefits of eating collagen — particularly hydrolyzed collagen in supplement form, which has shorter chains of amino acids making it easier to absorb.5 Here are some of the most promising collagen protein benefits.
5 potential collagen protein benefits
1. Improves skin elasticity and health
Collagen is particularly beneficial for women thanks to its skin benefits. In fact, it’s the most commonly researched benefit of collagen and the area where it shows the most promise.6 Skin is made up of approximately 75% collagen,8 so naturally, scientists have done extensive research on how to utilize collagen protein as an anti-aging tool. One review of 11 studies found that collagen had anti-aging properties and also helped in the wound healing process. It also increased skin elasticity, hydration and dermal collagen density.7 Several other studies have also found that consuming collagen supplements reduced visible aging signs such as wrinkles and skin roughness.8,9,10
It’s important to note before you spring for an expensive jar of collagen-enhanced cream that collagen molecules are too big to be absorbed through your skin.11 However, consuming collagen through collagen-rich foods like chicken, pork and beef tendon, bone broth, oysters, dairy and beans paired with a collagen supplement might help restore that youthful glow.
2. Improves joint health and mobility
Coming in a close second is research around collagen’s effect on joint health and even bone density. Tendons and cartilage are made up of approximately 80% collagen, which makes it another obvious target for collagen’s benefits.12 And research about the benefits of collagen for joints abounds, for both healthy and elderly osteoporotic people.
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A review of 60 studies found that ingesting collagen stimulates collagenic tissue regeneration by increasing collagen synthesis as well as the synthesis of two other substances found in connective tissue.14 Clinical studies also showed the consumption of hydrolysate collagen helped reduce and prevent joint pain, bone density loss and skin aging.13
Protein-rich foods generally are the best food sources of collagen. Scientists have also found larger concentrations of collagen in fish and fish skin.14 One of the best ways to take advantage of collagen’s joint and bone health benefits is to drink bone broth (chicken, beef or fish are all excellent options).15
3. Helps manage weight
While there’s limited evidence that collagen can help with weight loss, it may support weight maintenance due to its appetite-suppressing properties. While all protein is beneficial in maintaining a healthy weight, gelatin in particular (a substance that contains collagen) seems to be more effective than other proteins in managing appetite.16 One study found that participants who ate a breakfast containing gelatin tended to eat less at lunch than those who ate a breakfast with other proteins such as soy or whey.17 Collagen alone probably won't help you lose weight, but it could help you manage your appetite and therefore reduce your calorie intake.
While there is some correlation between collagen intake and weight management, it’s important to note this isn’t a magic weight loss solution and more research needs to be done about how collagen may aid in maintaining a healthy weight. However, including healthy collagen-rich foods like eggs and fish into your diet is a great way to help keep your appetite in check.
4. Increases muscle mass
Collagen accounts for between 1% and 10% of muscle mass dry weight, therefore scientists are doing more research around how collagen might improve muscle mass.18 Preliminary results are promising. Most notably, a study of 53 elderly men who were experiencing muscle loss due to aging found that combining resistance training with collagen peptide supplementation improved their muscle composition. They developed more fat-free muscle mass, improved their strength and lost more fat than the placebo group.19 Another study of healthy young men found a similar result.20
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It’s important to note that this is an area that needs more research. While it’s known that protein aids in developing muscle mass, there isn’t enough research to definitively say that collagen protein is more beneficial than other types of protein. However, getting more high-quality protein in your diet is always a good idea. And since the body also needs vitamin C, zinc and copper to produce collagen, citrus fruits, dark leafy greens, nuts and shellfish should be a regular part of your diet to ensure you’re getting the most collagen-boosting nutritional benefits.
5. Improves heart health
Collagen’s skin elasticity benefits might even translate to a healthier heart. A clinical study in Japan looked at 70 elderly subjects who were at risk of developing atherosclerosis — a disease where fats, cholesterol and other substances build up on the arterial walls and cause them to stiffen. In the group that supplemented with collagen peptide derived from pork, there was a significant decrease in arterial stiffness after 12 weeks.21 Another six-month study of healthy, young people who consumed 16 grams of collagen tripeptide every day produced similar results.22
Cardiovascular disease is still the number one killer in America, and collagen shows real promise in helping to prevent or even treat one of its most dangerous manifestations by softening the arteries. While research around this use is still very new, collagen, combined with a healthy diet rich in good fats and leafy greens, may help keep your heart healthy.
While almost all collagen is derived from animal sources, new companies are developing vegetarian collagen supplements. We still need more research to understand whether vegetarian sources are as effective as animal-based ones, but collagen-rich fruits and vegetables like tomatoes, avocados, citrus and sweet potatoes are always a welcome addition to your diet. Check out this list if you’re looking for more ways to add vegetarian protein sources to your diet.
The bottom line
While collagen for weight loss isn't a magic bullet, incorporating foods rich in protein and vitamins is a great way to support healthy collagen production and your overall health.
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Elizabeth has been a writer and editor for over 15 years. Over the course of her career, she has written for a variety of publications in lifestyle, celebrity entertainment and tech, but her biggest passion is in the fitness, nutrition and wellness space. She spends the majority of her free time rock climbing, making ceramics, experimenting with new dishes and exploring the outdoors. Her writing has appeared in Men's Journal, Us Weekly, Muscle & Fitness and HuffPost.
Favorite healthy snack: popcorn with nutritional yeast
Monica Ropar, Nutritionist
Monica has over 15 years of experience with Jenny Craig, as an expert nutrition and program resource. She develops content, training, tools and strategies for the program to support clients throughout their weight loss journey, and offers inspiration, weight loss tips, lifestyle strategies and motivation. Monica holds a Bachelor of Science degree with a double major in Dietetics and Exercise, Fitness & Health from Purdue University and continues to stay current on weight management research, consumer trends and healthcare developments.
Favorite healthy snack: raw veggie sticks with homemade hummus
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