Hyaluronic acid supplements are dietary supplements, usually in pill or capsule form but sometimes also in a drinkable or injectable liquid, that people take to help improve joint health. The human body produces this acid all on its own, and it serves as something of a natural cushion for the bones and joints. As people age, though, levels tend to decrease; certain medical conditions and problems, particularly arthritis, can also cause this cushioning to dry up. Supplementation is one way to help the body improve its stores, and in so doing help ease the pain of inflammation and swelling in the joints. Different manufacturers tend to have slightly different processes when it comes to how the supplements are made, and there are also usually a number of different concentrations available. It is possible to take too much, and the effects of overdose can be profound. As such, people who are interested in supplementing are usually advised to consult with a doctor or other medical practitioner first to talk through the risks and benefits on a more personalized level.
Understanding Hyaluronic Acid Generally
Hyaluronic acid, also known as hyaluronan, is produced naturally by the body and found in areas with connective tissues and cartilage. It is a gel-like substance composed of glucosamine and glucuronic acid. Hyaluronic acid is responsible for cushioning and lubricating the joints. Hyaluronan is also thought to fight the degenerative effects of aging because of its anti-inflammatory properties. This acid decreases in the body with age. Individuals take hyaluronic acid supplements with hopes of combating the degenerative effects of aging or joint disorders on the body.
Why It’s So Important
This acid is the primary component of synovial fluid, which is naturally found around the joints and provides them with lubrication and cushioning. Hyaluronan is thought to increase the viscosity of synovial fluid, which makes it a more effective lubricant. High concentrations of hyaluronic acid are also found in the eyes, skin, and heart.
Benefits of Supplementation
Supplements containing this acid are often used to treat ailments related to joint problems, like osteoarthritis and temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ). They work through replacing some of the cushioning and lubrication lost with age or certain ailments. Supplements may also be used to treat fractures, hernias, glaucoma, and detached retinas. Most joint uses require the supplements to be ingested orally, but the acid can sometimes be used topically, as well, usually to treat wounds or scars.
How Supplements Are Made
Hyaluronic acid used in supplements is either natural or synthetic. Natural hyaluronan is found most accessibly in rooster combs, which are the large pieces of red skin on top of the bird's head. This form is thought to be more desirable than lab-created versions because it is organic, though animal rights activists often question the ethical implications of harvest. Rooster-derived acid also tends to be more expensive than options created from scratch.
Basic Usage Guidelines
Researchers often analogize hyaluronic acid to some of the more prolific hormones in the body, particularly estrogen and testosterone. The body has optimal levels at which all of these compounds are the most effective, and it is important to keep them at their normal levels to maintain optimal health. Although too little can be damaging, too much is also not desirable. Among other things, studies have shown a link between increased levels of hyaluronic acid and certain types of cancer. This applies both to supplements taken orally and those used topically, though oral encounters — particularly capsules — typically provide the most risk of over-consumption.
Another important factor to consider when choosing the right supplement is molecular weight. Hyaluronan has an extremely high molecular weight that is effective when injected, but when taken can make it impossible for the body to absorb. Selecting a supplement that is less that 50,000 Daltons is usually best to assure that the body will absorb it.
Cautions and Common Risks
In most places hyaluronic acid supplements aren’t considered medications, and as such they aren’t normally regulated by governments or other agencies. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but can mean that there are can be wide discrepancies between products and manufacturers in terms of quality, concentration, and other things.
When shopping for hyaluronic acid supplements it is important to read labels. Some manufacturers list the amounts of the acid mixture that is contained in each capsule or dose, though this is not usually an accurate indicator of the precise quantity of active hyaluronan in the supplement. Most experts recommend looking for products that list the amount of hyaluronic acid per dose or serving, and asking a doctor or pharmacist for recommendations.