In the beauty world, hyaluronic acid (HA) is injected into facial folds to plump wrinkles and minimize their appearance. But its potential benefits reach much deeper than that. A substance that's naturally present in our bodies, HA is a key internal lubricant and shock absorber that helps to maintain the structure and function of all cells. It also has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory qualities.
"The fact that hyaluronic acid is so important in so many aspects of health makes it particularly unfortunate that levels of it decline with advancing age," says Chris Meletis, ND, a naturopathic physician and author of The HA Anti-Aging Answer. Luckily, he adds, "supplementation can make up for age-related deficiencies."
Hyaluronic acid supplements, says Meletis, can help reduce signs of skin aging; improve healing from dental extractions and wounds; prevent or reduce gingivitis, dry mouth, and canker sores; and relieve dry eye and floaters (small moving spots in the field of vision). As a key natural component of the synovial fluid that lubricates joints, HA can also prevent or relieve joint pain.
Hyaluronic acid naturally keeps our skin moist and plumped up, giving it a youthful appearance. It also reduces the inflammation that breaks down collagen, which supports the structure of skin. As we age, declining levels of HA contribute to dry, sagging skin, as well as fine lines and wrinkles, but these can be reduced with proper supplementation.
A study published in Aesthetic Dermatology tested 60 mg of HA, taken twice daily for four weeks, on 35 people with rough, dry skin. Compared to a placebo, the supplement increased skin moisture, produced smoother skin, and reduced wrinkles.
The best beauty benefits, says Meletis, come from a two-pronged approach: using topical products that contain HA and also taking supplements. Try combining 30 mg daily in a lozenge with twice daily application of a topical product.
Relieving Joint Pain
For osteoarthritis of the knee, HA injections-usually referred to as "intra-articular" use-are a medically recognized treatment. HA supplements, however, may be a less invasive option.
A Japanese study of 43 people with osteoarthritis of the knee compared a supplement containing 60 mg of HA, taken daily for 16 weeks, and a placebo. Each treatment was further tested with and without exercise. (The supplement also contained propolis extract, which is anti-inflammatory.) The results, published in Experimental and Therapeutic Medicine, showed that hyaluronic acid was effective in reducing pain and degradation of joint cartilage, and improving function. It worked even better when combined with exercise.
In their conclusion, the researchers noted, "In general, oral administration of HA may have an advantage over intra-articular HA injection, as it can circumvent potential complications at the injection site and the discomfort associated with repeated injections."
Another Japanese study, published in The Scientific World Journal, compared 200 mg daily of HA with a placebo among 60 people with osteoarthritis of the knee. Participants performed daily exercises to strengthen their quadriceps muscles, and after 12 months, those taking hyaluronic acid improved significantly compared to those taking the placebo-especially if they were under age 70.
In a study published in Nutrition Journal, researchers in Miami, Fla., tested 80 mg daily of HA against a placebo on 20 people with osteoarthritis. After eight weeks, those taking the supplement had significantly less pain and were better able to function socially.
How to Benefit
The size of hyaluronic acid molecules varies among different products, and that can make a difference in efficacy. According to a study that was published in the Journal of Applied Nutrition, "Only one type of HA matches what is normally present in the human body-high molecular weight, purified (protein-free) HA."
Hyaluronic acid is available in lozenges, liquid, capsules, skin serums, creams, lotions, shampoos, conditioners, and even in supplements for pets. Some products are derived from chicken combs, while others are produced by fermentation.
Lozenges, containing a fermented form, typically contain 60 mg of HA per lozenge. A common maintenance dose is 30 mg, taken as half a lozenge daily or one lozenge every two days. To treat chronic problems, one lozenge (60 mg) may be taken twice daily. In liquids and capsules, concentrations and strengths differ, so follow product directions.
Allow lozenges to dissolve in the mouth, or swish liquid hyaluronic acid around so that it permeates oral tissues. For best absorption, don't eat or drink anything for about 30 minutes afterwards. Apply topical HA products to cleansed skin twice daily, morning and evening.
Doctor's BestBest Hyaluronic Acid delivers 100 mg of HA plus chondroitin sulfate and BioCell Collagen II for synergistic support of skin and joints.
HyalogicSynthovial Seven Plus liquid HA formula is easily absorbed, and includes the added antioxidants resveratrol and grape seed extract.
Nature's WayHydraplenish works as an internal mositurizer for skin and joints with a hydrating combination of HA and BioCell Collagen II.
Better Nutrition contributing editor Vera Tweed is the former editor in chief of GreatLife magazine and the author of numerous books, including Hormone Harmony and the User's Guide to Carnitine and Acetyl-L-Carnitine.