As you age, your body naturally decreases its production of certain vitamins and other "youthful" compounds like hyaluronic acid, which is tied to healthy joints and supple, hydrated skin. Although you can't completely stop this natural aging process, there are things you can do to slow down the loss of hyaluronic acid and retain what you do have. Of course, as with most things, your diet and lifestyle play a major role in your hyaluronic acid status.
What Is Hyaluronic Acid?
Hyaluronic acid is classified as a glycosaminoglycan, or GAG, which is a substance that binds to the proteins collagen and elastin to help form cartilage, an important connective tissue in your body. Because hyaluronic acid is a part of every cell and tissue in your body (although 50 percent of the total hyaluronic acid in your body is found in your skin), it has a wide range of functions. Hyaluronic acid helps:
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- Keep cartilage in the joints strong and flexible
- Lubricate the joints
- Deliver nutrients to cells
- Carry toxins out of cells
- Lock moisture into the skin, promoting a youthful appearance
Your body naturally makes hyaluronic acid, but as you age, the amount that your body produces drops. Although decreased hyaluronic acid is a byproduct of the natural aging process, some factors can accelerate the rate at which it's destroyed.
What Destroys Hyaluronic Acid?
Hyaluronic acid production drops due to two types of factors: intrinsic and extrinsic. Intrinsic factors are those that occur within the body. They're natural and, while you may be able to slow them, you typically can't stop them completely. In the case of hyaluronic acid, intrinsic destruction has to do with hormones. As you age, estrogen levels and testosterone levels go down, which results in a loss of hyaluronic acid and skin moisture.
Hyaluronic acid can also be destroyed by extrinsic factors, which are those that occur outside of the body and that you can control. One of the most significant extrinsic factors is exposure to the sun. According to a report published in Dermato Endocrinology in July 2012, hyaluronic acid starts to break down with just five minutes of exposure to the ultraviolet, or UV, rays of the sun.
Food Sources of Hyaluronic Acid
Hyaluronic acid isn't available in any foods in significant amounts, according to a report published in the International Journal of Research in Chemistry and Environment in October 2012. However, there are certain minerals that are involved in the creation of hyaluronic acid and increasing the amounts of these nutrients that you get from your diet may help boost the hyaluronic acid your body produces.
A lack of magnesium in the diet, or a magnesium deficiency, can cause low levels of hyaluronic acid. Because of this, it's important to make sure you're getting enough magnesium every day. Depending on your age, you'll need 310 to 420 milligrams of magnesium per day, but keep in mind that only about 30 to 40 percent of the magnesium you eat is absorbed. Sources of magnesium include:
- Peanuts/peanut butter
- Black beans
- Kidney beans
- White potatoes
- Brown rice
Get Enough Zinc
A diet that's too low in zinc is also associated with decreased hyaluronic acid, so try to get 8 milligrams per day if you're a woman and 11 milligrams per day if you're a man. You can boost hyaluronic acid in your body naturally by including plenty of food sources of zinc, according to the National Institutes of Health. These include:
- Chicken (dark meat)
- Pumpkin seeds
While whole-grain breads, fortified cereals and beans are high in zinc, the NIH reports that they also contain compounds called phytates, which block the absorption of the mineral. Because of this, animal foods are typically better sources of bioavailable zinc.
Stay Out of the Sun
In addition to boosting your dietary intake of the minerals that help your body naturally produce hyaluronic acid on its own, it's also extremely beneficial to avoid the extrinsic factors that cause its breakdown.
Since the sun can start to destroy hyaluronic acid within minutes, it's best to avoid direct and prolonged exposure as much as possible. Of course, it's unrealistic to think that you'll never be out in the sun, but when you are, protect yourself by using non-toxic sunscreens and wearing protective clothing and hats that block the UV rays and minimize the damage they cause.
Read more: The Safest and Healthiest Sunscreens
Consider Hyaluronic Acid Supplements
Because hyaluronic acid is destroyed by the sun (which you can't avoid completely) and there aren't direct dietary sources of the compound, there's been an increase in availability of hyaluronic acid in supplemental form; and research shows that taking hyaluronic acid in these higher-dose, supplemental forms may benefit you in several ways.
One study published in the Journal of Photochemistry and Photobiology in March 2015 found that supplementing with hyaluronic acid two times a day for four weeks helped increase levels of the compound in the blood and decreased the signs of sun damage by improving skin's hydration and elasticity.
Another study published in Nutrition Journal in July 2014 found that participants with extremely dry skin who consumed 120 to 240 milligrams of hyaluronic acid daily for six weeks experienced such significant increases in skin moisture that it improved the quality of their lives.
If aging skin is your main concern, you can also buy skincare products infused with hyaluronic acid (or just pure hyaluronic acid without any other ingredients) and use that topically to help pull moisture back into your skin. This may help plump up the skin and decrease fine lines and wrinkles, giving you a more youthful appearance.
Read more: 21 Anti-Aging Foods
Hyaluronic Supplements and Your Joints
But it's not just about your skin; taking hyaluronic acid supplements may also help your joints. One study published in Expert Opinion on Biological Therapy reported that supplementing with hyaluronic acid helps alleviate symptoms in people with mild to moderate osteoarthritis.
Researchers from another study, published in Clinical and Translational Medicine in February 2018, backed up these findings by calling hyaluronic acid a "potential bright spot" and stating that supplementation (both oral and intravenous) can help reduce the symptoms of osteoarthritis by decreasing inflammation, lubricating the joints and protecting the cartilage.
- National Institutes of Health: Office of Dietary Supplements: "Magnesium"
- National Institutes of Health: Office of Dietary Supplements: "Zinc"
- Journal of Photochemistry and Photobiology: "A Dietary Supplement Improves Facial Photoaging and Skin Sebum, Hydration and Tonicity Modulating Serum Fibronectin, Neutrophil Elastase 2, Hyaluronic Acid and Carbonylated Proteins"
- Dermato Endocrinology: "Hyaluronic Acid: A Key Molecule in Skin Aging"
- International Journal of Research in Chemistry and Environment: "A Review on Hyaluronic Acid"
- Nutrition Journal: "Ingested Hyaluronan Moisturizes Dry Skin"
- Expert Opinion on Biological Therapy: "Knee Osteoarthritis: Hyaluronic Acid, Platelet-Rich Plasma or Both in Association?"
- Clinical and Translational Medicine: "Recent Advances in Hyaluronic Acid Based Therapy for Osteoarthritis"