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Hyaluronic acid (HA) is a glycosaminoglycan (GAG), which is a substance that attaches to collagen and elastin to form cartilage. HA not only helps keep the cartilage that cushions joints strong and flexible, but also helps increase supplies of joint-lubricating synovial fluid.
Research has shown hyaluronic acid to be an effective treatment for both rheumatoid and osteoarthritis, particularly in its injectible form (the only form to date that has been approved for medical use by the FDA). In one study, over 80 percent of participants had significant relief of their painful arthritic symptoms immediately after treatment with HA injections. Pain relief lasted anywhere from nine to 12 months, after which time more injections were needed to maintain results.
Hyaluronic acid is present in every tissue of the body, and it performs many important functions. It helps deliver nutrients to and carry toxins from cells that do not have a blood supply, such as those found in cartilage; without adequate amounts of HA, the joints will become brittle and deteriorate. Not only does it keep joints lubricated, but hyaluronic acid also encourages water retention in other bodily tissues. It is found in large concentrations in the extracellular matrix (ECM), which is the fluid-filled space between cells. HA locks moisture into the ECM, keeping collagen and elastin moist and promoting a youthful appearance.
Hyaluronic acid is gaining popularity in the cosmetic and medical industries. Cosmetic products containing hyaluronic acid claim to hydrate the skin, allowing it to appear smoother and more radiant. Clinical studies have shown that it also helps wounds heal more quickly, and can reduce the appearance of both old and new scars. Injectible hyaluronic acid fillers, such as Restylane, are being to lessen the appearance of lines, sagging and depressions in the skin caused by acne scars or injury.
HA eventually breaks down and is absorbed in the body, so both cosmetic and medical applications are not permanent. In most cases, the hyaluronic acid augmentation usually lasts between 6-9 months. Repeat treatments will be necessary.
Hyaluronic acid is available by injection, but you can also find many oral supplements at health food stores, pharmacies, and online distributorships. Studies show improvement in for most participants after only 2 to 4 months of oral supplementation, and some patients are able to decrease their dose after the desired results are achieved.
There have been no serious side effects associated with HA, although some people find that their skin is irritated at the injection site, and there have been rare reports of oral supplements causing rashes and skin irritation as well.
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