Supporting Our Joints – Key Components for Healthy Cartilage
Lisa Murray, RDN, LD
Is there any part of the body that receives more outright physical abuse than our joints? We take our joints for granted. Whether we are sitting, standing, walking, playing sports, or even just typing on our devices – joints (and the cartilage that supports them) make all our movement possible.
Cartilage: The Key to Joint Function
Cartilage is the resilient, smooth and flexible connective tissue that covers and cushions the ends of bones and forms the joints. It is an important structural component of joints in the arms, legs, hands, feet, rib cage, and intervertebral discs. Additionally it helps form the structure of the ear, nose and bronchial tubes.
Not as hard and rigid as bone, but stiffer and less flexible than muscle, cartilage has a unique structure suited to its function, which is to provide a strong, smooth, lubricated, wear-resistant surface where bones connect so they can move without friction.
Maintaining the Cartilage Matrix
Cartilage is a matrix of glycosaminoglycans (GAGs), proteoglycans, and collagen fibers. Glucosamine is one of the primary raw materials the body uses to assemble glycosaminoglycan. Chondroitin is a proteoglycan. Both glucosamine and chondroitin are key elements that support the building and maintenance of the cartilage matrix, making it no surprise that many joint health supplements contain both.
Adding Collagen Support
The cartilage cells, called chondrocytes, excrete collagen fibers which are necessary to help build more cartilage. For collagen production to occur however, cells need access to the right amino acids, along with Vitamin C.
Glycine and proline are the most abundant amino acids in cartilage collagen which is also known as “collagen II”. Along with bone broth and gelatin, collagen II supplementation provides those two amino acids (glycine and proline) that are required by the chondrocytes to make the type of collagen that becomes incorporated into the joint cartilage matrix.
Hydrating Joints with Hyaluronic Acid
Cartilage does not contain blood vessels (it is avascular) or nerves (it is aneural). Cartilage, like all other tissue in the body, depends on certain nutrients, in order to grow, heal and repair. Due to the lack of blood supply, cartilage tends to grow more slowly than other tissues and has a limited capacity for healing and repair.
Nutrition is supplied to the cartilage cells by diffusion from the fluid in the joint space. Movement generates this fluid flow, which assists the diffusion of nutrients into the chondrocytes. Hyaluronic acid (HA) is a glycosaminoglycan (GAG) found in extracellular matrix throughout the body and its function in the synovial fluid of the joint space is to hydrate and provide lubrication. Endogenous HA production declines with age, which affects our bodies’ ability to maintain adequate joint lubrication.
Putting it All Together
We now know that chondroitin, within the cartilage matrix, contributes to joint lubrication and hydration by attracting and binding hyaluronic acid. Glucosamine, chondroitin, collagen and hyaluronic acid together help support the body’s continual process of building and maintaining healthy joint structure and function.
Movement is necessary for cartilage health, and exercise is good, but lifelong participation in athletics or injury can take a toll on cartilage and joints. Carrying too much extra weight, putting constant pressure on the joints over time can also take a toll.
The great news is that these supplements mentioned can be combined and incorporated into a daily nutrition plan that supports the maintenance of cartilage and healthy joints.