The Anti-Aging Benefits of Hyaluronic Acid

It smooths wrinkles, cushions joints, and may even hold the key to a longer life.
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It smooths wrinkles, cushions joints, and may even hold the key to a longer life

We’re up to our crows’ feet in get-young-fast claims, so it’s hard to drum up enthusiasm when another one comes along. But every once in a while, a product shows up with some science behind its claims. This may be the case with hyaluronic acid. Also known as glycosaminoglycan, this naturally occurring lubricating fluid may help fight wrinkles, for real—and soothe your achy joints and help you live longer, to boot.

In the body, hyaluronic acid is a major component of connective tissues, found in the skin, cartilage, joints, and eyes. Its primary function in the body is to lubricate the joints, and it’s also a natural support structure of the dermis.

“Unfortunately, the levels of this critical nutrient decline greatly with age,” says Nicholas Perricone, MD, a clinical dermatologist and author of The Perricone Promise: Look Younger, Live Longer in Three Easy Steps. “By the time we reach 50 years of age, our bodies are producing about 50 percent less hyaluronic acid than they did in youth. This decline in hyaluronic acid production is a major contributing factor to joint ailments such as arthritis, as well as wrinkled, sagging skin.”

1. Reduce Wrinkles

Hyaluronic acid is no strange, exotic berry or unheard-of extract from a tropical island; it’s actually a well-researched compound that has been used and approved for years for various medical procedures. More recently, the FDA approved hyaluronic acid (Restylane) for cosmetic applications; injected in gel form, it acts as a filler to remove wrinkles. In the skin, hyaluronic acid fills the space between collagen and elastin fibers, delivering nutrients and hydrating skin by trapping water, and
acting as a cushioning agent.

2. Ease Arthritis

As a supplement, hyaluronic acid is said to relieve joint pain and symptoms of arthritis. The theory is that as we age, the body produces less hyaluronic acid, which lubricates the cartilage between joints. As a result, joints become stiff and movement is awkward and painful. Hyaluronic acid supplements are said to restore lost hyaluronic acid to the body, cushioning joints and easing movement. Hyaluronic acid injections are approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat osteoarthritis.

3. Increase Longevity

The hyaluronic acid story got a big boost in November 2000, when ABC News’ Connie Chung reported on a Japanese village called Yuzuri Hara, about two
hours outside of Tokyo. According to the story, says Perricone, villagers in Yuzuri Hara have a reputation for extraordinary longevity, and many of them live well
into their 90s.

Not only do they live longer, said the ABC news story, they also stay healthy, and are rarely plagued by health woes common to Americans, like heart disease. Interestingly, said the story, their skin appears smooth and supple, in spite of their habits of frequent sun exposure and cigarette smoking.

Local doctors attributed the villagers’ health and youthfulness to their diet, which consists primarily of starchy tubers such as potatoes, sweet potatoes, imoji (a potato root), and konyako (a gelatinous concoction made from root vegetables). “The doctors believe these starches improve the natural generation of hyaluronic acid,” says Perricone. So compelling was the villagers’ youthfulness, pharmaceutical and research companies began developing a supplemental form of hyaluronic acid, he says.

Where to find it

Hyaluronic acid may be sold as a single ingredient in capsules or as a liquid or powder. It may also appear in combination with other ingredients, mainly MSM and vitamin C, or as an ingredient in joint care supplements. Some manufacturers extend their claims to include relief from a broad variety of ailments, ranging from hair growth and improved sleep to enhanced sexual energy and stabilized emotions. Dosages range from 20 mg daily to up to 200 mg daily in divided doses. Additionally, topical hyaluronic acid preparations show great promise.

• As a topical. Applied directly to the skin, hyaluronic acid helps smooth and hydrate wrinkles by drawing water into the skin and causing a temporary swelling that puffs out fine lines, says Kenneth Beer, MD, a board certified cosmetic dermatologist, professor at University of Miami, and author of Palm Beach Perfect Skin. Topical hyaluronic acid is most commonly found in face and eye lotions, creams and serums; it’s often combined with vitamin C to increase the absorption of this powerful antioxidant into the skin. It’s also used in topical lotions and ointments for arthritis and joint pain, often in the company of MSM, buckthorn, and other botanicals. The effect is temporary, only lasting a few days, warns Beer—but that’s good enough for most of us.

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