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Hyaluronic Acid for Skin and Joints
Hyaluronic acid (HA or hyaluronate) is a molecule with some important bodily responsibilities. It comprises significant portions of connective tissues and fluids, such as the synovial fluid in knee joints and vitreous fluid in the eyes. It is a major component of the skin and plays key roles in wound healing. It is also involved in the development and maintenance of tissues in the nervous system.
One of the characteristics of HA that makes it so useful in the body is its ability to attract and hold onto molecules of water. This ability underlies its usefulness cosmetically, when it is injected into tissues (usually the face) to smooth wrinkles or plump up the lips.
HA is not limited to making aging skin appear more youthful, however. It is also used to treat osteoarthritis, eye surgeries and in treatments for cataracts, glaucoma and retinal detachment as well as to promote the healing of wounds and skin conditions such as eczema and “burns” from cancer treatments.
Scientists have been studying HA since its discovery by Karl Meyer in 1934. Research which began in the 1970s led to the development of many injectable products, initially to treat ophthalmologic conditions, and subsequently for the treatment of osteoarthritis. Current research is being done on other forms such as gels (oral and topical) and tablets (oral).
Animal studies have shown benefit from oral administration. This is important because HA is a very large molecule – usually too large to pass from the digestive tract to the blood stream in its natural form. The existence of these benefits suggest that digestive processes do not mitigate the effectiveness of orally administered HA to such a degree that an oral route of administration now becomes practical. Certainly this may be preferable to having it injected via needles.
About half of the hyaluronic acid found in the body is located in the skin, where it helps to maintain the hydration of the skin and supports its collagen-containing connective tissues. HA “fillers”, such as injectable solutions containing HA have been used to restore declining skin stores and reverse skin wrinkling since 2003 but topical creams are now being used as well to aid the healing of conditions such as eczema.
The hyaluronic acid that occurs naturally in our bodies lasts for just a few days unless it is linked to or modified by other molecules. The rate of degradation tends to increase as we age eventually resulting in a kind of drying-out of our bodies that manifests as wrinkly skin, among other common concerns. Topical applications have been shown to reverse this process and have been used to successfully treat a variety of dermatological conditions.
Hyaluronic acid has been researched extensively for its use as an osteoarthritis treatment in both animals (especially race horses) and humans. Hyaluronic acid preparations have been shown to decrease pain and increase function in patients with osteoarthritis of the knee. Mechanisms of therapeutic effect include restoration of more normal synovial fluid levels with improved viscoelasticity, effects on cartilage biosynthesis and degradation, anti-inflammatory effects, and direct analgesic effects. Post-op pain control after knee surgery has been found to be similar with HA to the anaesthetic bupivacaine when injected.
Sources of Hyaluronic Acid
Hyaluronic acid may be derived from animal sources (rooster combs, cow eyes) or cultured from bacteria. HA from animal sources is usually well-tolerated because the molecule does not change significantly among source-species but reactions to HA preparations have occurred. Often, the reaction has more to do with the means of administration, such as bruising or inflammation caused by injection, but, in rare instances, it may be caused by the hyaluronan itself.
Food sources of hyaluronic acid include fish, meat or poultry products, especially those that contain chitin, cartilage, skin or nerve structures, such as the combs and feet of chickens. While fruits and vegetables do not contain HA, they do contain vitamin C, which promotes hyaluronate production. The best food sources of vitamin C include bitter melon, bell peppers, chilli peppers and horse radish. Increasing consumption of these foods is a low-risk way of increasing hyaluronate concentrations in your body. As with all pharmaceutical drugs or natural health supplements, consult your MD or ND before taking hyaluronic acid in supplement form.
Courtesy of OmegaAlpha Pharmaceuticals Inc. www.omegaalpha.ca
Janet McKenzie, BSN, MBA, ND, is a graduate of the University of the British Columbia School of Nursing, Queen’s School of Business and the Canadian School of Naturopathic Medicine. She has practices in Toronto, and has taught at the Canadian School of Natural Nutrition.