Tendons and ligaments are both connective tissues. Although they play different roles in the body, their structures are similar. This means the supplements for ligaments and tendons are often similar, as are the foods that support their health.
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There are a variety of foods and supplements for ligaments and tendons, including vitamins C and D, specific amino acids and polyunsaturated fatty acids.
Tendons Versus Ligaments
Tendons and ligaments are both types of fibrous connective tissues. Tendons attach muscles to bones or other bodily structures, like your eye socket. Similarly, ligaments link structures in your body together and help maintain their stability. However, these tissues mainly link bone to bone and are commonly found around the joints.
When you injure your tendons or ligaments, you've usually experienced a sprain or strain. Such injuries often occur after trips and falls. Typically, they'll be accompanied by pain, swelling and other markers of inflammation. However, it's also possible for more serious injuries to occur.
If ligaments and tendons are torn, the injury may be accompanied by intense muscle cramping, movement-related difficulties and other issues. In serious cases, surgical intervention may be required, such as in cases of athletes with ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) knee injuries.
Unfortunately, it's not only physical injuries that can cause ligament and tendon issues. According to the chapter "Do Dietary Factors Influence Tendon Metabolism?" from the book Metabolic Influences on Risk for Tendon Disorders, published in January 2016, secondary tendon-related issues can be caused by immune system, metabolic, gastrointestinal and endocrine disorders.
Ligament and tendon issues may also be related to infections or tumors. Fortunately, regardless of the severity of the issue, certain foods and supplements can help support ligament and tendon health.
Supplements for Ligaments and Tendons
Many different parts of the body, like your skin, cartilage and connective tissues, are dependent on collagen. According to a January 2017 study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, tendons and ligaments, which are both types of connective tissues, are composed of a collagen-based matrix.
Both of these connective tissues contain various types of collagen but are primarily made of collagen type 1. However, according to a March 2013 study in the journal Biology of Sport, tendons have less of this collagen compared to ligaments. Tendons contain 60 to 80 percent collagen type I, while ligaments contain around 95 percent.
Any supplements or foods used to promote ligament and tendon healing must consequently support collagen synthesis and repair. Fortunately, a wide variety of vitamin, mineral and dietary supplements are involved in collagen synthesis.
According to "Do Dietary Factors Influence Tendon Metabolism?" various amino acids, like leucine, glycine, proline and cysteine, are involved in the synthesis of collagen, while antioxidants can delay the aging of collagen. Essential nutrients like polyunsaturated fatty acids, vitamin C and vitamin D can support wound healing in connective tissues. Vitamin C and vitamin D can also prevent collagen-related health issues and modulate collagen synthesis.
These supplements alone are unlikely to heal damaged tendons and ligaments. However, they can be helpful and support the other treatments your doctor may recommend. Many of them may also be useful as muscle repair supplements.
In addition, some very small studies, like an eight-person, January 2017 study in the_ American Journal of Clinical Nutrition_, have shown that gelatin supplementation can increase levels of glycine, proline, hydroxyproline and hydroxylysine in the blood. This, in turn, can improve collagen synthesis. However, these supplements for ligaments and musculoskeletal tissues were taken to prevent injuries, rather than treat existing ones.
Foods for Ligaments and Tendons
The best ligament and tendon foods contain the same nutrients found in supplements. For instance, many such foods are rich in polyunsaturated fatty acids, like omega-3 and omega-6 fats.
In general, diets richer in unsaturated fats are considered to be healthier than those rich in saturated fats because saturated fats can be bad for your heart. "Do Dietary Factors Influence Tendon Metabolism?" reports that saturated fat consumption may also negatively affect the health of your tendons.
According to the Food and Drug Administration, nuts, seeds, seafood products and many vegetable oils (like corn, soybean and sunflower oils) are rich in essential polyunsaturated fats. These essential fats also have other benefits: They can help lower your blood pressure and triglyceride levels, control your blood sugar and reduce your risk for diabetes.
Seafood also contains vitamin D, another important nutrient for connective tissues. In addition to supporting the healing process, this nutrient is thought to reduce inflammation in ligaments. These effects are less well-studied in tendons, however. Vitamin D can also be found naturally in foods like mushrooms, and in fortified milk, soy and grain products.
According to an October 2012 review in the_ Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery_, vitamins C and E can also help reduce inflammation in ligaments. Vitamin C, also known as ascorbic acid, can be found in a variety of fruits and vegetables, including peppers, spinach, currants, guava, orange and lemon. Vitamin E is also found in certain vegetables and fruits, like spinach, mango and broccoli, but is richer in nuts and seeds.
Amino acids are perhaps the easiest nutrients to obtain. Leucine, glycine, proline and cysteine can all be found in protein-rich foods like meat, eggs, dairy and seafood. You can also find these amino acids in plant-based products like spirulina, nuts and seeds.
If you're consuming all of these foods, you're also likely to be consuming antioxidants. Antioxidants can help remove harmful reactive oxygen species from your body, supporting tendon health.
Antioxidants are best obtained through the consumption of plant-based products, particularly fruits and vegetables. Products rich in polyphenols are also thought to be particularly useful as muscle repair foods. A March 2019 study in the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism reported that polyphenol-rich foods, like Montmorency cherries, can help reduce muscle soreness and inflammation.
- International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism: "Nutrition for the Prevention and Treatment of Injuries in Track and Field Athletes"
- MyFoodData: "200 Foods Highest in Cystine"
- MyFoodData: "200 Foods Highest in Proline"
- MyFoodData: "200 Foods Highest in Glycine"
- MyFoodData: "200 Foods Highest in Leucine"
- NIH: "Vitamin E Fact Sheet for Health Professionals"
- MyFoodData: "200 Foods Highest in Vitamin C"
- The Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery: "Rehabilitation After Anterior Cruciate Ligament Reconstruction"
- Do Dietary Factors Influence Tendon Metabolism?: "Metabolic Influences on Risk for Tendon Disorders"
- MyFoodData: "200 Foods Highest in Vitamin D"
- MedlinePlus: "Facts About Polyunsaturated Fats"
- FDA: "Monounsaturated and Polyunsaturated Fat"
- American Heart Association: "Saturated Fat"
- American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: "Vitamin C–Enriched Gelatin Supplementation Before Intermittent Activity Augments Collagen Synthesis"
- Biology of Sport: "The +1245g/T Polymorphisms in the Collagen Type I Alpha 1 (col1a1) Gene in Polish Skiers with Anterior Cruciate Ligament Injury"
- MedlinePlus: "Tendon vs. Ligament"