by Kimberly Day
Ponce de Leon searched for it in the 16th century. Alexander the Great set out to discover its secrets. It has been revered in Ethiopia, the Middle East, India, Israel, Cuba, Spain and the Caribbean. There is even an archaeological park named for it in St. Augustine, Florida.
It is the Fountain of Youth.
You can understand its allure. To be able to revert your body back to a state of youthful health. No aching joints, decreased inflammation, fewer wrinkles, smoother skin, more zest in your life.
But what if those same health-giving, youthful benefits could be found not in mystical waters but a very real nutrient? Get ready to discover hyaluronic acid.
Understanding Hyaluronic Acid
Hyaluronic acid (HA) is a glycosaminoglycan (GAG) found throughout your body, primarily concentrated in the fluids of the eyes and joints. It is also abundant in your skin. In fact, HA is one of the main components of the extracellular matrix, the key component in all of your connective tissues, including collagen and cartilage.
While HA is involved in many body processes, its key roles include wound repair, cell regeneration and lubrication of joints and skin.1 It is also instrumental in helping your skin retain moisture.
As such, it’s no surprise that researchers have long studied the benefits of hyaluronic acid for everything from joint concerns and easing inflammation to eye health and cosmetic use. Whether you are talking about feeling better or looking better, it seems the answer may be found in hyaluronic acid.
According to a lab study, hyaluronic acid appears to ease the inflammation response.2 Researchers took human skin cells and connective tissue cells from mice and added ethanol to them to produce an inflammatory response. They then added hyaluronic acid to determine if HA could reduce the inflammatory response.
After 24 hours, researchers found that the HA reduced the amount of inflammatory compounds released due to the ethanol in the human skin cells as well as the mouse tissue.
Taking the idea of easing inflammation to the next logical conclusion, researchers looked at HA injections in the treatment of osteoarthritis. In one randomized, multicenter, placebo-controlled study published in February 2012, researchers tested the effects of Gel-200 (a HA injectable product) on 379 people with arthritis in their knees.3
After 13 weeks, researchers found the effectiveness of a single injection of HA was statistically significant from week three to week 13, as determined by the Western Ontario and McMaster University Osteoarthritis Index, physical function and physician evaluation.
Similarly, a meta-analysis published in April 2012 reviewed all prospective studies about the use of injectable HA in several joints, including the ankle, hip, shoulder, sacroiliac (found on either side of the sacrum), facet joints (between the vertebrae), toes, fingers and temporomandibular joint (found in the jaw; it is more commonly referred to as TMJ).4
They learned that not only are HA injections effective in treating osteoarthritis in these various joints, but they could not find evidence that HA worked any better or worse than other pharmaceutical treatments, including corticosteroids.
Another area that researchers are exploring for hyaluronic acid is gingivitis. This inflammatory gum condition is often marked by tender or bleeding gums and is commonly caused by plaque build-up.
To test HA’s effectiveness in treating gingivitis, researchers divided 130 children into three groups:
- Group 1 (chronic gingivitis)—treated with basic oral care;
- Group 2 (chronic gingivitis)—treated with basic oral care plus hyaluronic acid application;
- Group 3 (healthy gums)—no treatment.5
Researchers found that while basic oral care did reduce plaque accumulation and bleeding, there was a more significant reduction in inflammation of the gums in the hyaluronic acid group. They concluded, “The use of hyaluronic acid together with the basic treatment can markedly improve the treatment effect.”
HA Speeds Wound Healing
Hyaluronic acid’s benefits extend to external use as well. In fact, there is great research on the use of topical HA to treat wounds and skin ulcers, as well as reduce the appearance of wrinkles.
One study in particular looked at the use of a HA-treated fibrin sheet to speed wound healing in rabbit skin.6 They found that, after 14 days, not only was the rate of the healing process increased in those sites treated with the HA sheets, but the general appearance, most notably of sebaceous glands and hair follicles, was particularly impressive. Researchers concluded, “HA with fibrin can create an effective wound care matrix, which promotes water retention and wound healing potential.”
These results were supported by a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study published in March 2012, which examined the effectiveness of hyaluronic acid in the treatment of leg ulcers.7 Researchers divided 89 patients into two groups. The first group received gauze treated with HA while the other group received gauze wrapping treated with a placebo.
Forty-five days into the 60-day study period, researchers noted that the ulcers had significantly reduced in size (73 percent) in the HA group, as compared to just 46 percent in the control group. By day 60, 38 percent of the HA group enjoyed healed ulcers, compared to 16 percent in the control group.
Additionally, pain intensity was significantly lower in the HA group. Best of all, the HA treatment was well tolerated with no documented side effects. Based on this, researchers concluded that HA was significantly more effective in treating leg ulcers in terms of wound size reduction, healing rate and pain management.
When it comes to reducing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, hyaluronic acid also shines. According to one randomized, placebo-controlled study of 76 women between the ages of 30 and 60, HA may just be a woman’s (and man’s!) best friend.8
Researchers divided the women into two groups. One group received a cream containing 0.1 percent HA while the other group received a placebo cream.
After applying the cream to the skin around their eyes twice a day for 60 days, those in the HA group enjoyed significant improvement in skin hydration and overall elasticity as compared to the control group. Additionally, the hyaluronic acid group demonstrated significant reduction in wrinkle depth as well.
Put a Little HA Into Your Life
Hyaluronic acid appears to be a great choice for reducing the inflammatory response, easing joint pain, improving oral care, supporting wound healing and even reducing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. And while it’s not quite the Fountain of Youth, HA can help you look and feel years younger than the calendar may suggest.
There are several ways you can reap the HA benefits. First, if joint pain is your concern, you can work with your health care practitioner to explore the use of HA injections.
You can also take hyaluronic acid in lozenge form. A slow-dissolving product not only helps to support oral health, but works systemically to keep all the tissues in your body in peak condition. Look for a HA lozenge that contains at least 30 mg of hyaluronic acid.
Finally, there are many topical HA products on the market that can be used on the face, hands or body. If choosing a serum, look for a product that is just water and hyaluronic acid. Ideally, it should not contain any preservative, fragrance, etc.
You can also find HA lotions. Your best bet are those that contain bio-identical hyaluronic acid blended into natural oils. And, like the serum, it too should be free of parabens and other synthetic ingredients.
1. Volpi N, et al. Curr Med Chem. 2009;16(14):1718-1745.
2. Neuman, MG t al. J Pharm Pharm Sci. 2011;14(3):425-37.
3. Strand, V et al. Osteoarthritis Cartilage. 2012 Feb 1. [Epub ahead of print.]
4. Colen, S et al. BioDrugs. 2012 Apr 1;26(2):101-12.
5. Igic, M et al. Vojnosanit Pregl. 2011 Dec;68(12):1021-5.
6. Anilkumar, TV et al. Biologicals. 2011 Mar;39(2):81-8.
7. Humbert, P et al. Int Wound J. 2012 Mar 8. [Epub ahead of print.]
8. Pavicic, T et al. J Drugs Dermatol. 2011 Sep 1;10(9):990-1000.