Hyaluronic Acid Could Be The Secret To Reversing The Effects Of Aging
Of all the signs of advancing age, two of the least pleasant are more wrinkles and less supple joints. But bad knees and aging skin share something else as well: They both seem to respond to a most unlikely-sounding remedy, a substance found in rooster combs (and in some vegetables and in the human body) called hyaluronic acid (HA). “This substance is a lot like egg white, only not quite as thick,” says Jason Theodosakis, physician and coauthor of The Arthritis Cure. “In joints, it works to ease movement and absorb impact.” In faces, it gives skin volume and shape.
But not all varieties work equally well, and some of the claims made for HA are more credible than others. Hyaluronic acid comes in supplement, cream, and injectable form. Some people say that in addition to cushioning joints and filling in wrinkles, the pill form, in particular, can also help you live longer.
Alas, the evidence for this appealing idea is rather sketchy. In fact, according to Theodosakis, the idea burst onto the scene when a village in Japan was discovered where people lived to an unusually old age, and some speculated it might be due to the HA-rich vegetables they ate. But the theory was just that, and has never been proven.
Even where HA does hold solid promise—for knees and wrinkles—experts agree that you’ll get more bang for your buck with the injectable varieties than with creams. Those inclined toward less invasive approaches may be disappointed by that caveat, but there’s good reason to believe the shots may have some distinct advantages for arthritis and aging skin. Here’s what they are.
Hyaluronic acid became big news several years ago when the FDA approved it for treating arthritis of the knee. Its claim to fame is that it seems to do something conventional arthritis treatments do not: It bolsters the joint’s natural cushioning. Most other treatments—medicinal ones, at least—target the inflammation that occurs (and causes pain) when the bones of the joint rub against each other. Even cortisone shots work the same way.
“With osteoarthritis, the fluid in the knee that normally provides cushion and support thins out,” says Dennis Wen, a physician and associate professor of family and community medicine at University of Missouri Columbia Medical School. “HA appears to add thickness to that fluid and therefore helps the knee move with less friction and pain.”
Still, that doesn’t mean all knee pain sufferers should get HA shots. Theodosakis says that people who do well with the arthritis supplements glucosamine and chondroitin don’t seem to derive any further benefit from HA. So the best candidates are people who have pretty much exhausted traditional arthritis remedies, don’t respond to supplements, and want to avoid surgery (though even some potential HA users may first need to have surgery to clean out any loose bits of cartilage or bone chips that may be causing trouble).
One missing piece of the puzzle is why the pain relief seems to last much longer than the HA actually stays in your knee. (The HA disappears within days, or even hours, but the pain stays away for six to 12 months, says Theodosakis.) But overall, about half of sufferers respond well to the treatment.
And the good news is that unlike with many other types of arthritis therapy, you’ll find out quickly whether this one works for you. “If it’s going to help, you should start to feel better within a couple of weeks,” says Theodosakis.
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