Hyaluronic acid

From arthritis to skincare


Some beauty experts have called it the fountain of youth. Scientists call it hyaluronic acid. Found naturally in your body, but most commonly in skin, this polymer compound  (think of a molecule that’s made up of lots of identical chain links) is used for a variety of functions including joint lubrication, tissue structuring, cell migration, and healing and fortifying blood vessels.

Interestingly, hyaluronic acid can bind up to 6,000 times its volume in water, and it’s this property that makes it of special interest to people who are worried about the dryness of their skin. There are many causes for dry skin, including exposure to pollution, smoking, UV light and age, as well as diet and genetics.

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The science

As we age, hyaluronic acid disappears from the outermost layer of skin, called the epidermis, but remains in the layer underneath, the dermis. The epidermal content of hyaluronic acid decreases from 0.03% in women age 19 to 47, to 0.015% in women age 60, to 0.007% in women aged 70.  Older women don’t have any epidermal hyaluronic acid at all. Without this moisture-hoarding compound, our skin can dry up, develop wrinkles and become saggy.  There’s another issue with having less hyaluronic acid. It’s part of the reason why as we age we are less able to heal quickly.

Because hyaluronic acid is a polymer, it can come in different sizes. While larger hyaluronic acids can stop what doctors refer to as proliferation and migration - the part of wound healing where cells travel to the centre of the injury to help seal up the exposed tissue - smaller molecules can promote the development of new blood vessels, increase inflammation, and even support proliferation. A trial in mice found that topical hyaluronic acid improved wound healing and increased production of a type of collagen which provides scaffolding for the healing process.


Hyaluronic acid and arthritis

Speaking of healing, it also has a stark effect on arthritis. In healthy joints, hyaluronic acid acts as a lubricant and a shock absorber. People who have osteoarthritis lose hyaluronic acid over time. Treating with hyaluronic acid can help “calm down” the joint that makes arthritis so painful. Studies from 2016 and 2017 concluded that hyaluronic acid is a better treatment than saline or corticosteroid injections, two common treatments for arthritis.

However, injecting it straight into the joint may not be necessary. Injections are both expensive and can be unpleasant, especially for patients who are afraid of needles. Oral supplements are an alternative method for relief: there’s a lot of clinical data showing that oral hyaluronic acid supplements are effective.


Hyaluronic acid and skincare

There’s a wealth of research proving that hyaluronic acid supplements increase skin moisture and elasticity, making skin less wrinkly and smoother overall.  Maybe you’ve seen $100 beauty products touting the anti-aging benefits of hyaluronic acid.  “Anti-aging” is a slight misnomer — you won’t look decades younger, but you will have noticeably more supple, softer, healthy-looking skin. It can also be injected, providing a safe, non-allergenic alternative to collagen injections for plumping lips and lifting wrinkles. Best of all it’s non-toxic, doesn’t cause mutations and is safe for pregnant women.

Hyaluronic acid is by no means a solution to all of your problems, but it does have some amazing properties. Every few years, scientists learn more about what it can do. As we gain a better understanding of how humans heal and age, we can expect to hear a lot more about it in the future.


Summary Q&A

What is hyaluronic acid?

It’s a compound important for skin moisture, structure, and wound healing.


Where does it come from?

Our bodies make it, but when we get older, they stop producing as much. This is part of why older people have dry skin and take longer to recover from injuries.


Which foods contain it?

The only foods that have meaningful concentrations of it are animal-based with high-cartilage. Bone broth may have a little, but even that will degrade during the long cooking process.

A coumpound called naringenin in citrus fruits may impede the action of hyaluronidase (an enzyme that destroy hyaluronic acid).  However, there isn’t a high enough concentration of it in the fruits for it to be effective.  A study had participants drink a variety of supermarket orange juices and then ran blood and urine tests on them. It found that peak concentration of naringenin in blood plasma was lower than the amount that could properly inhibit hyaluronidase by a factor of a hundred. That said, the effects of naringenin are very interesting. You can read up more about them here.

In short, if people claim that a food other than chicken combs will help boost hyaluronic acid levels, they are (probably) lying to you.
If it’s not in food, then, where can I get it?
Supplements are both easy to get and widely available..



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