Health Benefits of Hyaluronic Acid
Hyaluronic acid was first discovered in 1934. Chemically-speaking it is a type of carbohydrate known as a “mucopolysaccaccharide” and is naturally found in most tissues of the body. What makes hyaluronic acid such a fascinating substance, responsible for a range of crucial roles, is how it is attracted to, and binds with, water molecules. It can subsequently help to increase hydration at specific target sites and for this reason has been referred to it as “nature’s moisturizer”.
What Are the Benefits of Hyaluronic Acid?
The chemical properties of hyaluronic acid have made it a rich topic for scientific research, and seem to offer a range of benefits in cases where increased moisture content is beneficial.
Aging of the Skin
Scientists have theorized that hyaluronic acid may play a key role in the maintenance of healthy skin, thanks to its moisturizing properties.
In order to assess this concept they used specialist dyes designed to bind to hyaluronic acid to inspect levels in the skin of different age groups. The researchers confirmed that the natural hyaluronic acid content of human skin declines with age, being completely absent from the age of 60 onwards. They concluded that falling levels of hyaluronic acid may therefore play a role in natural aging of the skin, including reduced elasticity and the appearance of wrinkles.
This discovery has led to hyaluronic acid becoming increasingly popular as a cosmetic solution to fight the appearance of wrinkles. Like the better-known Botox, a number of surgeons now offer hyaluronic acid injections just beneath the skin’s surface - but does it work?
In one study, 158 volunteers received “augmentation therapy” with hyaluronic acid, before patients were asked for their opinions on the results. As it turned out, 78.5% of participants reported at least a moderate improvement in the sign of wrinkles.
It is important to point out that while the results of such injections tend to be long-lasting; they are unlikely to be permanent. A study that monitored the appearance of wrinkles after hyaluronic acid injections found that 60% of participants still showed benefits after a 12 month period. That said, as hyaluronic acid is a naturally-occurring and biodegradable substance, it is likely that eventually the impact will start to wane as the body breaks it down, at which point further treatment may be required.
Hyaluronic acid has been found to stimulate the activity of cells known as “chondrocytes”, which are responsible for the production of cartilage and tissue. It should therefore be no surprise that supplementing with hyaluronic acid seems to speed up wound healing, by stimulating growth in the affected area.
In one example, small holes were drilled into bone, before suitably-sized bone grafts were used to fill the holes. In half of patients hyaluronic acid was also added to the hole, to assess the impact it had on the repair process. The scientists responsible noted that those grafts treated with hyaluronic acid tended to bond much more quickly, leading to speedier recovery.
Another fascinating study looked at the potential impacts of hyaluronic acid as an alternative solution to some surgeries. Eardrum tears, such as after exposure to loud noises, can negatively impact the hearing. These typically require surgery to repair. In this study, however, scientists tried treating the damaged membranes with hyaluronic acid. The doctors involved found that most of these tears successfully repaired themselves naturally in a matter of weeks, with no surgery being required.
It is interesting to note that some other substances can actually stimulate production of hyaluronic acid in the body. Those known to have an impact include the popular joint supplements glucosamine and chondroitin. As a result of this, some experts have suggested that supplementing with glucosamine tablets immediately after surgery “can be expected to enhance hyaluronic acid production in the wound, promoting swifter healing”.
Hyaluronic acid is often used as a topical application in an attempt to maintain healthy, younger-looking skin. It is therefore often included in skin creams with a view to maintaining moisture in the skin and promoting healthy elasticity.
There is also evidence to suggest, however, that oral supplementation may provide similar benefits to moisture levels in the skin. In one study patients suffering from long-term skin dryness were given either 120mg per day of hyaluronic acid or a placebo. After four weeks, the participants underwent testing to ascertain the effects (if any) on skin hydration. The experts reported increased moisture content, improved smoothness and a reduction in the appearance of wrinkles. They concluded that the “ingestion of hyaluronic acid is effective at increasing moisture retention and smoothness in the skin”.
However this is just one aspect of its potential benefits. A common condition in postmenopausal women is vaginal dryness, leading to persistent discomfort. Studies have used gels made from hyaluronic acid as a potential treatment, and in one experiment was found to improve symptoms by almost 85%.
Elsewhere, a similar gel comprising of hyaluronic acid was used by individuals suffering from recurrent mouth ulcers. Surveyed for their experiences, the participants reported a 72% reduction in the number of ulcers experienced when using the gel.
Hyaluronic acid is well-known for its role in the stimulation of cartilage growth. It is also a key component of the “synovial fluid” - in essence a gel-filled bag that acts like a shock absorber in the joints. As a result, experts wondered whether supplementation with the substance had the potential to improve the symptoms of arthritis.
Scientists tested this hypothesis by injecting either hyaluronic acid or a placebo directly into the knee joints of volunteers suffering from osteoarthritis. The data suggests that such injections do indeed help to relieve symptoms of sore joints.
A notable study aimed to compare the impact of hyaluronic acid on knee osteoarthritis against the more traditional treatment of corticosteroids. Their analysis of 606 volunteers showed that for the first two weeks of treatment the steroid-users saw greater improvement in their condition. By week four, however, the hyaluronic acid group had caught up, and from that point on saw greater improvements than steroid-users.
Whilst the idea of receiving injections into sore joints doesn’t sound like the most appealing treatment, one particular benefit seems to be the length of time over which volunteers benefitted. Participants in a study received between three and five injections, each spaced a week apart. What was surprising was that beneficial impacts were still reported by subjects for between 6 and 12 months after the treatment.
While most studies to date have focused on injecting hyaluronic acid directly into joints, this is clearly not a practical option for home users. Fortunately, limited studies have assessed the efficacy of oral supplementation on arthritic joint pain. In one study volunteers were provided with a daily intake of hyaluronic acid, with their symptoms being monitored for a period of eight weeks. The results indicate that the volunteers taking hyaluronic acid experienced significant improvements in measures of pain, stiffness and general joint functional.
Elsewhere, sixty arthritis sufferers were divided into two groups; one of which received 200 mg of hyaluronic acid per day, while the other received an inert placebo. Both groups were then encouraged to complete regular exercises designed to strengthen their leg muscles, thus taking pressure off their arthritic knee joints. While both groups reported improvements in their symptoms, the hyaluronic acid group saw greater results.
Lastly, scientists have found that the level of hyaluronic acid in the blood is directly proportional to the joint inflammation experienced by rheumatoid arthritis sufferers. Measurement of hyaluronic acid levels are now therefore considered a key diagnostic tool in assessing levels of joint inflammation.
How Much Hyaluronic Acid Should I Take?
As hyaluronic acid serves so many potential benefits, and may be taken in so many different forms, it is difficult to provide recommended dosages. This is further complicated by the fact that hyaluronic acid comes in a number of forms, and with differing strengths depending on the source.
That said, the research to date suggests that supplementation of around 200mg per day is likely to be beneficial when taken orally. Topical skin creams may be applied as necessary whilst injection dosages will be decided by the professional administering them.
Which Foods Contain Hyaluronic Acid?
Hyaluronic acid is present in most animal tissues. Unfortunately they are generally found in body parts that we wouldn’t normally consume. For example, hyaluronic acid is found in decent volumes within the aqueous humor of the eye, in the umbilical cord and in the lungs, kidney and brain. High levels are also found in the combs of chickens.
As a result, anyone looking to boost their levels of hyaluronic acid will likely have to rely on supplementation of some form. Hyaluronic acid supplements are available from some specialist suppliers. Alternatively, the scientific research to date seems to suggest that taking glucosamine or chondroitin supplements may also help to stimulate the natural production of hyaluronic acid in the body.
Side Effects of Hyaluronic Acid
Studies of hyaluronic acid to date have generally found very few potential side effects. One of the few studies involving oral supplementation experienced just three adverse events; one participant experienced worsened joint pain, one a bout of diarrhoea and the last short-term numbness of the tongue. All the same, these situations were judged as “probably not related” to the use of hyaluronic acid.
Other studies have also indicated that any side effects experienced by participants are few and far between, and are of low to moderate intensity. A scientific report published in the Journal of Toxicology addressing the use of hyaluronic acid in the beauty industry summarized that “hyaluronic acid and its sodium and potassium salts are considered safe for use in cosmetics”.
Some evidence exists of allergic reactions occurring when injections are given for cosmetic purposes, where short-term pain, redness or swelling may ensue.
The evidence to date seems to suggest that hyaluronic acid is safe in most instances, with any side effects typically being minor and transitory.
That said, until more research is forthcoming, there is no available evidence to suggest its safety for pregnant or breastfeeding women.
Irrespective of the studies to date, you are advised to consult a qualified medical practitioner before starting to take any new supplement.
Hyaluronic acid is a potentially exciting discovery, with scientists really only starting the scratch the surface of the potential benefits it may offer. The best-researched benefits of hyaluronic acid seem to relate to its property as a natural moisturizer. From reducing wrinkles and skin dryness, to improving arthritic joint pain or speeding up wound healing, hyaluronic acid certainly seems like an exciting supplement.