Hyaluron as food supplement

“If hyaluronic acid is going to work, it has to come out of a needle.” In several places on my blog or even on Twitter, I have written this sentence in the past. This is because it is my firm belief that only hyaluron administered directly by injection has a positive effect. I think little of hyaluron in skin creams (although they have a certain justification in it) and even less of hyaluron as a dietary supplement.

The wave of new dietary supplements with hyaluron, be they tablets, coated tablets, drinks or whatever, makes promises that are untenable based on current knowledge. And while with products for humans one still smiles about some advertising statements, they become completely grotesque with articles such as cat food.

Why does the body need hyaluron?

First the facts: Hyaluronic acid is an important endogenous substance whose primary property is its ability to bind large amounts of water. Hyaluron therefore has important functions in skin, organs and joints. The eyeballs, for example, consist largely of hyaluron. The (young) skin owes its elasticity and firmness to the collagen and elastin fibers of the connective tissue. Hyaluronic acid is a major component of connective tissue and provides firmness by filling the spaces between the fibers with moisture deposits. When “skin hydration” is mentioned, hyaluron is always indirectly mentioned.

Age-related loss of hyaluron

With increasing age, there is a significant decrease in the body’s own hyaluron production and thus a loss of depots in the tissue. Together with the loss of collagen and fatty tissue, which also progresses, there is a loss of volume, which not only has a negative effect on the elasticity and firmness of the skin, but also changes the overall shape of the face. The youthful “V” increasingly becomes an age-related “O”. However, the reduced production of hyaluron does not only affect the skin. The functionality and health of the joints can also be affected. For good reason, orthopedists therefore inject hyaluron into affected joints in the hope of alleviating arthritic conditions by replenishing hyaluron reserves. Here, too, the statement quoted at the beginning has so far been valid that only hyaluron administered directly by injection achieves a positive effect.

Hyaluron as a food supplement

Now, however, the industry has jumped on the hyaluronic bandwagon, offering hyaluronic acid as a dietary supplement, whether in the form of capsules, powders, tablets or drinks, in addition to the wrinkle creams and face masks that have been available for years. Since beauty is a lucrative market, the offers usually focused on promises such as “for young skin” or “reduction of wrinkles”, as we already know from many kinds of wrinkle creams. Such products advertise a positive effect on the joints, at least indirectly, by pointing out on the packaging text that taking hyaluronic acid is also beneficial for the health of the joints as well as for their functional efficiency.

Cat food with hyaluron?

Recently, the promises no longer refer only to humans. Pet food manufacturers have apparently also recognized the sales-promoting effect of hyaluron and write it in large letters on their packaging. There it provides then for a shining fur and possibly still much more. What is to be held of it? First of all, you have to know that hyaluronic acid is a complex sugar molecule, a so-called polysaccharide. Both the human and animal body digests such polysaccharides only indirectly, by breaking them down enzymatically and then presenting them as single sugars. This is what the body does, for example, with lactose, which as a disaccharide has a much simpler structure than hyaluronan.

How hyaluron is digested

For most polysaccharides, on the other hand, the body has no corresponding enzyme that could break down a complex sugar molecule into its simple components. Plant starch, for example, not unlike hyaluron in terms of structure and complexity, cannot be digested by the body. For a long time, it was therefore considered to be completely “indigestible”. It was only important for nutrition as a “dietary fiber”. Only in recent years 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 current research, the same must be true for hyaluron. The body does not have its own enzyme to break down hyaluron 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 of the hyaluron into fatty acids. But then they are available as fatty acids (to a small extent), but not as hyaluron. In other words, it is currently completely unclear how hyaluron could be digested as hyaluron.

Would low molecular weight hyaluronan still be of use?

However, let’s assume that there was indeed a way for hyaluron to pass through the digestive tract as hyaluron. According to all that is known about the anatomy and physiology of the digestive tract, the hyaluron molecules for this should not exceed a certain size (one speaks of “molecular weight”). It is true that there is still no definite knowledge of exactly how small a molecule must be in order to be able to pass through the intestinal wall. But it is certain that it is too small for a hyaluronan molecule of this size to still have many of its positive properties, above all the ability to bind a great deal of water. Against this background, it currently seems absolutely unlikely that hyaluron supplementation with food would have any positive effect in the body. Against this background, advertising promises to the contrary must be dismissed as unproven claims.

No pardon from authorities and courts

No wonder, therefore, that the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has repeatedly rejected applications from manufacturers to be allowed to advertise their hyaluronan products with health claims. Likewise, manufacturers who nevertheless advertised with it were condemned by courts. As far as I am concerned, my credo continues to be: “The only hyaluron that is any good comes from a hypodermic needle!