Hyaluronic acid is a component of connective tissue and is found abundantly throughout the body. Interestingly, it has also been nicknamed the “key to the fountain of youth” because some have noted that those who ingest a lot of it in their diets tend to live to a very old age. In one news story carried by ABC, newscasters highlighted a village in Japan where individuals were getting large amounts of hyaluronic acid from starchy root vegetables in their natural diets and not taking any type of manmade manufactured supplementation.
There have been a number of studies that linked abnormal levels of hyaluronic acid to connective tissue disorders or other conditions that are commonly associated with connective tissue disorders, such as premature aging. Scientists are not yet sure about the role that this substance plays but they do theorize that just as other substances have levels which are optimal so does hyaluronic acid. (1)
Disease conditions often occur when these levels get out of range in either direction. For example, low levels of estrogen are linked to bone loss and osteoporosis while high levels have been associated with breast cancer. High cholesterol levels are linked with heart attack and stroke but low levels have been linked to bleeding problems and depression.
Research published in 1989 from the Cleveland Clinic Foundation in Ohio found that individuals who were cigarette smokers had a higher degree of degradation of hyaluronic acid than those who did not. They concluded that free radicals in the gas phase of cigarette smoke would degrade the hyaluronic acid in a rapid fashion that inhibited another antioxidant substance. (2)
There are several factors which are known to influence the levels of hyaluronic acid in the body. Some of these include genetics, environmental factors and dietary factors. Researchers have been studying hyaluronic acid for several years and have found some interesting facts. For instance, magnesium is needed for the synthesis of hyaluronic acid and maybe one of the factors some of the connected to disorder. Supplementing magnesium is an established treatment in many of the symptoms of fibromyalgia, mitral valve prolapse and contractures.
Researchers have also found that ascorbic acid can degrade hyaluronic acid and estrogen treatment will increase the activity of hyaluronic acid. (3,4) In one particular study using rats researchers found that the concentration of hyaluronic acid in the skin with higher than normal when rats suffered an energy deficiency but below normal in the rats who had prolonged protein deficiency.
Doctors do know that hyaluronic acid is a component of the synovial fluid and also found in the vitreous humor of the eye, the synovium of the joints and in the subcutaneous tissue functions as an agent to cement other tissues together. When individuals suffer from osteoarthritis researchers have found changes in the hyaluronic acid found in the cartilage.
Another use that researchers and physicians have found for this substance is in the intra-articular injection in order to increase the visco elasticity of the synovial fluid. This therapy can be considered for individuals who have residual symptoms even in spite of traditional non-pharmacological and pharmacological treatments.
The number of side effects after injection of hyaluronic acid into the knee has been small and consists of coughing, problems with swallowing, feeling feverish, itching or stuffy nose, swelling of the eyelids, face or lips, diarrhea, acute headache or a blue or purplish patch on the skin. Other individuals may report a loss of appetite, stomachache or swelling of the knee.
Oral supplementation of hyaluronic acid to promote the treatment of arthritis and skin health has also been proposed. Many studies have been conducted with the injectable form but only one or two have use the oral form of supplementation. Research into the injectable form has had consistent results but there needs to be further study in the use of oral supplementation of hyaluronic acid in order to have positive effect upon osteoarthritis.
Problems with the absorption of hyaluronic acid in the digestive tract made oral supplementation almost impossible. However, in the recent past an enzyme cleaving technique has been developed in order to break down the hyaluronic acid into a lower molecular weight that allows for use the absorption.
Research and case study has found that hyaluronic injections may give more pain relief to patients who suffer from osteoarthritis than oral medications. Patients can report that pain is relieve for six months to a year and sometimes longer. These injections are expensive but many of today’s health insurance programs now cover them recognizing the cost effective manner in which patients and doctors are attempting to postpone surgical treatment.
(1) Annals of Medicine: Serum hyaluronan as a disease marker
(2) Lung: Cigarette smoke degrades hyaluronic acid
(3) Free Radical Research Communications: Hyaluronic Acid Degradation by Ascorbic Acid and Influence of Iron
(4) Clinical Interventions in Aging: Effect of Estrogens on Skin Aging and the Potential Role of SERMs