Healthy Aging

Connective Tissue Support, from Skin to Joint

How connective tissue nutrients support many aspects of health

Many of us have experienced the tough, rubbery cartilage found at the end of a chicken drumstick and thought little, if anything, of its nutritive value. Yet the nutrients found in cartilage – namely collagen and proteoglycans – have much to offer us with respect to joint and skin health.

Joint health

The articular cartilage, which covers the ends of our bones where they come together to form joints, contains high amounts of type II collagen and proteoglycans. The combination of collagen and proteoglycans make this cartilage both elastic and durable, properties that allow it to withstand large forces of compression, absorb the energy associated with activity, and prevent damage to the bones.[1] While collagen adds structure to our joints, proteoglycans aid in their lubrication and flexibility.[2],[3] Our bodies have limited ability, however, to repair and replace cartilage, making joint ailments more likely to occur as we age.[4]

Our bodies have minimal ability to repair and replace cartilage, making joint ailments more likely to occur as we age.

Thankfully, collagen and proteoglycans derived from cartilage may be of service in restoring joint strength and mobility and may also reduce discomfort and pain. A recent study found that supplementing 5 mg of salmon cartilage-derived proteoglycans daily led to significant improvements in those with knee pain. Not only did the participants report lower levels of pain after supplementing with proteoglycans, but their blood levels of high-sensitivity C-reactive protein (hs-CRP), an inflammatory marker, were also significantly reduced.[5] Inflammation is well known to play a role in arthritis of an inflammatory nature (such as rheumatoid arthritis),[6] but is also associated with the joint changes of osteoarthritis.[7]

In a similar study, healthy adults with knee pain not only experienced less pain, but also enjoyed improved range of joint motion after taking 10 mg of proteoglycans daily for 12 weeks.[8] Yet another study found that 10mg of proteoglycans taken daily for 16 weeks decreased blood markers of collagen degradation as compared to placebo.[9]

A combination of type II collagen and proteoglycans has also been shown to confer significant benefit. In healthy adults experiencing rigidity of the knee, a daily dose of 50 mg of salmon nasal cartilage (containing type II collagen and proteoglycans) improved osteoarthritis index scores and subjective pain.[10]

Skin health

At first glance our skin doesn’t seem to have much in common with the cartilage in our knuckles and knees (nor with the cartilage at the end of that chicken drumstick, for that matter), yet both are connective tissue, dependent upon collagen and proteoglycans for their health and function.

Proteoglycans work in large part by retaining moisture within the tissue, thus nourishing the cells. Like our joints, the proteoglycans in the skin help it to return to its original form after stretching, namely through hydration and swelling.[11] This moisturizing effect on the skin improves not only its strength, but also its cosmetic tone, elasticity, and appearance. With aging and sun exposure, however, the composition of proteoglycans in the skin changes, thus compromising skin integrity, hydration, and wound healing.[12],[13],[14] The loss of skin elasticity seen with age can also lead to hanging or “flabby” skin.

Proteoglycans work in part by retaining moisture within the tissue, thus nourishing the cells.

Skin appearance and tissue quality have also been shown to improve with proteoglycan supplementation. As compared to placebo, men and women taking 5 mg of proteoglycans daily for two weeks were found to have significantly increased skin elasticity and recovery after deformation.[15] Those in the proteoglycan group also enjoyed fewer wrinkles, less visible facial pores, fewer blotches, and decreased skin looseness.

Although it’s clear that both collagen and proteoglycans are essential for connective tissue support, it can be challenging to find collagen products that also contain proteoglycans. The hunt for a combination product may be well worth the effort, however, as the above studies suggest.

 

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