Hyaluronic Acid: A Bodily Fluid Crucial for Joint and Skin Health

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Story at-a-glance -

  • Hyaluronic acid's main function is to reduce friction in your joints to keep them moving smoothly, as well as keeping your eyes lubricated
  • While there’s a chance that hyaluronic acid supplements may benefit your health, people who suffer from certain health conditions are not recommended to use these supplements

Hyaluronic acid (also known as hyaluronan) is a polysaccharide found in nearly every cell in your body. Its main function is to reduce friction in your joints to keep them moving smoothly, as well as keeping your eyes lubricated.1 It's also a critical part of your skin, acting as a natural support for your dermis, delivering nutrients and keeping it moist by pulling water from your body.2 In fact, your skin uses up most of the hyaluronic acid, accounting for half of the amount.3

Your body can produce hyaluronic acid through an enzyme called "hyaluronic acid synthase." The enzyme combines two sugars, D-glucuronic acid and N-acetyl glucosamine, to produce the acid.4

Aside from manufacturing your own hyaluronic acid, you can get it from food as well. Grass fed meats, especially pork, poultry and beef, are rich in this acid. Consuming bone broth made from these meats is also a beneficial way of getting this acid.5

Furthermore, certain foods may help synthesize and optimize the production of hyaluronic acid in your body. Foods rich in vitamin C, such as spices and citrus fruits, are notable options. Magnesium-rich foods are beneficial options as well. Dark leafy greens, nuts, beans, avocados and bananas are your best choices in this regard.6 This is because magnesium deficiency has been linked to hyaluronic acid abnormalities.7

The History of Hyaluronic Acid

Hyaluronic acid was first discovered in the vitreous body of cow's eye in 1934 by Dr. Karl Meyer, a German-born biochemist from Columbia University.8 While performing experiments, he learned that it was this substance that helped the eye retain its shape, and speculated that it may have a therapeutic use.9

During the 1940s, it was discovered that rooster combs become rich in hyaluronic acid in response to testosterone. Dr. Endre Balazs, a Hungarian scientist and world leader in ophthalmic biochemistry10 who also happened to work at Columbia University, made this discovery. And since combs were more abundant compared to cow's eyes, they became the favored source of hyaluronic acid for economic reasons.11

Another way hyaluronic acid is externally produced is through bacteria. Scientists learned that Group A and C Streptococci bacteria have the ability to produce hyaluronic acid. In light of this discovery, scientists fermented the microbes and extracted the hyaluronic acid to be purified. As time went on, other researchers have found out that strains such as Agrobacterium, E. coli, Bacillus and Lactococcus may also be used to produce hyaluronic acid.12

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The Different Uses and Potential Benefits of Hyaluronic Acid

Researchers believe that as you grow older, your body's ability to produce hyaluronic acid decreases, increasing your risk of developing certain conditions related to this compound. The table below presents several examples of diseases related to problems in hyaluronic acid production:

Fibromyalgia — This condition is sometimes marked by high levels13 of hyaluronic acid in the blood, particularly in the morning,14 so much so that some suggest that one way to diagnose fibromyalgia may be to measure HA levels in your blood.15

However, since the levels appear to rise and fall, normalizing your levels with HA may be one way to provide healing and relief from the symptoms.16

Osteoarthritis — Hyaluronic acid is quickly becoming a go-to approach for the treatment of osteoarthritis. According to one study, the acid has been found to be a helpful tool in helping ease the symptoms of this inflammatory condition.17

Dry Eyes — In a study published in the journal of the American Academy of Optometry, researchers suggested that hyaluronic acid has the potential to help alleviate dry eyes, especially in severe cases.18

Skin Health — Hyaluronic acid can help keep your skin moist, and make it stronger, smoother and tighter.19 This is why you'll notice that many skincare products include it as an ingredient.

Glaucoma — According to the medical journal Molecular Vision, a reduction in hyaluronic acid can increase your risk of developing primary open-angle glaucoma.20

Mitral Valve Prolapse (MVP) — MVP occurs when the leaflets of the mitral valve in your heart bulge into the left atrium during contraction which, although not usually life-threatening, may cause chest pain, fatigue and dizziness.21

This condition is usually linked to magnesium deficiency; increasing your magnesium levels, which in turn increases your hyaluronic acid levels, may help with the symptoms of MVP.22

Foods That Can Increase Your Production of Hyaluronic Acid

It's clear that hyaluronic acid plays an important role in your daily bodily functions, so how do you optimize it? The best way is through your diet. Several foods are known to have good sources of hyaluronic acid, while others can help boost its production. I recommend the following foods:23

Grass fed meats — Most livestock meats such as beef, turkey, pork, lamb and chicken contain high levels of hyaluronic acid. You can make a broth from the bones, cartilage and ligaments to gain this substance.

Root crops — It is believed that the senior citizens in Yuzurihara, a Japanese village outside of Tokyo, remain in good health due to their diet, which primarily consists of starchy root crops like potatoes (both regular and sweet), imoji (a potato root) and konyako, according to local doctors.24

However, don't gorge on these foods all the time — starch is a type of carbohydrate that can lead to weight gain when eaten too much.25 I recommend moderating your consumption and diversifying your diet with other fruits and vegetables as well.

Vitamin C-rich foods — Ascorbic acid is believed to play a critical role in the production of hyaluronic acid. Your best choices include red, yellow and orange bell peppers, citrus fruits and herbs like parsley and cilantro.

Magnesium-rich foods — This mineral can help synthesize the production of hyaluronic acid.26 Your best options include bananas, apples, avocados, tomatoes, melons, pears and peaches. They're also rich in other nutrients that can help further optimize your health.

But what if you're still suffering from the symptoms of disease related to hyaluronic acid abnormalities? Then perhaps it's time to consider taking a supplement to help alleviate your current situation.

Considerations Before Taking a Hyaluronic Acid Supplement

While there's a chance that hyaluronic acid supplements may benefit your health, people who suffer from certain health conditions are not recommended to use these supplements. These include those who are/have:27

Sensitive or allergic to poultry meats and/or eggs

Currently taking medications that affect blood clotting, such as warfarin and aspirin

Affected with a blood clotting disorder, such as hemophilia28

Recently developed an infection or a skin disease near the affected joint29

Pregnant and breastfeeding women should also avoid taking hyaluronic acid supplements. Currently, there's very little data regarding how it may affect your baby and the quality of breastmilk produced. Again, to be on the safe side, I advise not taking it.30 Instead, nourish yourself with the dietary options I mentioned above.

The Safe Dosage for Hyaluronic Acid

The Cleveland Clinic recommends that only adults over the age of 18 should take hyaluronic acid supplements. For supplemental requirements, 50 milligrams should be taken once or twice a day with your meals.31

If you're planning to use hyaluronic acid for a current condition, your doctor may recommend a higher dosage. In the case of osteoarthritis, you may be asked to take an 80-milligram dose daily for eight weeks, along with a 20-milligram injection once a week for three weeks. Dry eyes may be alleviated by using a 0.2 percent hyaluronic acid eye drop three to four times daily for a total of three months.32

Before purchasing any sort of hyaluronic acid supplement, I recommend visiting a doctor first to get their recommendation on the best dosage for your body type. This can help you identify possible risks and complications if you happen to be taking other medications and/or currently have a medical condition that's being treated.33

Possible Side Effects of Taking Hyaluronic Acid

Currently, there's very little information available about the side effects of hyaluronic acid supplements in healthy people, but it's speculated that this type of product may be well-tolerated by the human body. While this information may seem encouraging, I urge you to visit your doctor before taking it for safety precautions.34

On the other hand, if you choose to take hyaluronic acid in other forms, such as through an injection or a skincare product, certain side effects may occur. According to the Mayo Clinic, injecting hyaluronic acid into an affected joint may cause you to have trouble moving, muscle stiffness and joint pain after the procedure.35

Less common effects include swelling or redness on the joints. In addition, be aware that there's a very small chance you may develop more severe complications such as bleeding, blistering, pain and skin discoloration at the injection site.36 Additionally, it should be noted that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved injectable hyaluronic acid only for use as an intranasal splint after surgery on the nose or facial cavity.37

As for hyaluronic acid skincare products, the only side effect you need to be aware of is dryness. Aside from this, there are no significant side effects currently reported. If you develop dryness while using this type of skincare product, you can apply a different moisturizer.38

While hyaluronic acid is generally known not to cause significant side effects, it's still important to be vigilant. If you develop anything unusual after taking a capsule, applying a cream or getting an injection, contact your doctor right away.

Make Sure to Use Hyaluronic Acid Made From High-Quality Sources

Before taking a hyaluronic acid supplement, or any other type of supplement, it's important that you carefully research and review the product you are about to purchase. Since most hyaluronic acid supplements come from chickens, make sure that they are pasture-raised to lower your risk of developing illnesses and side effects.

According to the scientific journal 3 Biotech, there's a possibility that animal-derived hyaluronic acid supplements may contain toxins that can cause disease.39 Certain strains used in bacteria-derived hyaluronic acid are pathogenic as well.40 Again, when purchasing hyaluronic acid supplements (or its other variants), make sure they are sourced from pasture-raised chickens and non-pathogenic bacteria.

Frequently Asked Questions About Hyaluronic Acid

Q: Where does hyaluronic acid come from?

A: Hyaluronic acid can be found in almost every cell in your body, but it's mostly concentrated in your skin, cartilage, joints and other connective tissues throughout your system.41 External sources of this acid can be found in livestock meats.42

Q: What does hyaluronic acid do to your body?

A: The main purpose of hyaluronic acid is to lubricate your joints.43 It also helps keep your skin and eyes moist to retain their structure.44

Q: Where can I buy hyaluronic acid?

A: You can purchase hyaluronic acid supplements in capsule form. Skincare products made from this material are also sold on the market today, and used for topical purposes only.45 Injections are also available, but they should only be administered by a doctor for safety reasons.46

Q: What is hyaluronic acid used for?

A: Hyaluronic acid supplements are typically used by seniors to help lubricate their joints due to the decreasing production of the acid as they grow older.47

Q: Is hyaluronic acid good for your skin?

A: A hyaluronic acid cream or moisturizer may promote skin health, but it may draw water from the deeper layers of your skin if you live in a dry climate.48

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