“If hyaluronic acid is to work, it has to come out of a syringe”. I have expressed this opinion in several places in my blog or on Scial Media in the past. Because it is my firm conviction that only hyaluronic acid administered directly by filler injection has a positive effect. I think little of hyaluronic acid in skin creams (although they have a certain justification there) and even less of hyaluronic acid as a food supplement.
The wave of new food supplements with hyaluronic acid, be it tablets, dragées, drinks or whatever, makes promises that are untenable according to the current state of knowledge. And while one can still smile at some advertising claims for human products, they become completely grotesque with consumer products such as pet food containing hyaluronic acid for the improved well-being of cats and dogs.
Why does the body need Hyaluronic acid?
Facts first: Hyaluronic acid is an important substance produced naturally in the body, whose main property is its ability to bind large amounts of water. Hyaluronic acid therefore has essential functions in the skin, organs, and joints. The eyeballs, for example, consist largely of hyaluronic acid. The (young) skin owes its elasticity and firmness to the collagen and elastin fibres of the connective tissue. Hyaluronic acid is a major component of connective tissue and provides firmness by filling the spaces between the fibres with moisture deposits. When we talk about “skin hydration”, we are always indirectly talking about hyaluronic acid.
Age-related loss of hyaluronic Acid
With increasing age, there is a significant decrease in the body’s own hyaluronic acid production. And as a consequence, a loss of depots in the tissue. As collagen and fatty tissue decrease with ageing, too, the aggregate loss of tissue volume becomes significant. Significant enough, that it will not only have a negative effect on the elasticity and firmness of the skin, but also change the overall shape of the face. The youthful “V” increasingly resembles an “O” in the aged face. However, the reduced production of hyaluronic acid does not only affect the skin. The functionality and health of the joints can also be impacted. For good reason, orthopaedists therefore inject hyaluronic acid into affected joints in the hope of alleviating arthritic suffering by replenishing the hyaluronic acid reserves. Here, too, the sentence quoted at the beginning of this article has so far held up as valid, namely that only hyaluronic acid administered directly by injection achieves a positive effect.
HyaluronIC acid food supplements
Now, however, industry has jumped onto the hyaluronic acid bandwagon. In addition to wrinkle creams and face masks that have been available for years, hyaluronic acid as a dietary supplement can now also be found on supermarket shelves. Be it in the form of capsules, powders, tablets, or drinks. Since beauty is a lucrative market, the offers usually focused on promises such as “for young skin” or “smoothing of wrinkles”, as we already know from myriads of wrinkle creams. Such products advertise a positive effect on the joints, at least indirectly, by stating on the packaging that the intake of hyaluronic acid is also beneficial for the health of the joints as well as for their functional efficiency.
Cat Food with Hyaluronic acid?
Since recently, the promises no longer only target humans. Pet food manufacturers have apparently also recognized the sales-promoting effect and put “Contains x% Hyaluronic Acid” in large letters on their packaging. What is to be thought of this?
First, you have to know that hyaluronic acid is a complex sugar molecule, a so-called polysaccharide. Both the human and animal body digests such multiple sugars only indirectly by breaking them down enzymatically. Only thereafter are polysaccharides present in a form that the body can digest, as single sugars. This is what the body does with milk sugar, for example, which is a disaccharide with a much simpler structure than hyaluronic acid. And you know how important “lactose-free” dairy products have become by now, as many people have problems digesting already a disaccharide like lactose. So, what do you think will happen when it comes to a really complex sugar-molecule like hyaluronic acid?
How Hyaluronic acid is digested
For most polysaccharides, the body does not have a corresponding enzyme that could break down a complex sugar molecule into its simple components. Plant starch, for example, similar to hyaluronic acid in terms of structure and complexity, cannot be digested by the body. For a long time, it was therefore considered completely “indigestible”. It was only essential for nutrition as a “dietary fibre”. Only recently has it been known that bacteria in the large intestine can break down starch to a small extent and convert it into short-chain fatty acids. Which are then also digested by the human body.
According to latest research, the same must be considered true for hyaluronic acid. The body has no enzyme of its own to break down hyaluronic acid in food into its components, which would be simple and small enough to digest. It may well be that bacteria in the large intestine break down some hyaluronic acid into fatty acids. But then they are available to the body as fatty acids (in small amounts), but not as hyaluronic acid. In other words, it is currently completely unclear how hyaluronic acid could be digested AS hyaluronic acid.
Would much simpler hA-molecules still be beneficial?
But let’s assume that there really is a way for hyaluronic acid to pass through the digestive tract as hyaluronic acid. According to everything that is known about the anatomy and physiology of the digestive tract, the hyaluronic acid molecules should not exceed a certain size (scientifically referred to as “molecular weight”). It is true that there is still no reliable knowledge about how small a molecule needs to be to pass through the intestinal wall. But it certainly is minimal. And if a hyaluronic acid molecule could fit this size, would it still retain its properties, above all the ability to bind a lot of water? Against this background, it seems unlikely that hyaluronic acid supplementation with food would have any positive effect in the body. And advertising promises must be dismissed as unproven claims.
No pardon from authorities and courts
It is therefore not surprising that the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has repeatedly rejected applications from manufacturers to be allowed to advertise their hyaluronic acid supplements with health claims. Likewise, manufacturers who made health claims in their advertising were condemned by the courts.
As far as I am concerned, my credo therefore is hammered into stone: “If hyaluronic acid is to have a cosmetic benefit, it needs to come out of a syringe!”