On Nutrition by Ed Blonz

Oral Supplement for Wrinkles: Will It Help?

DEAR DR. BLONZ: I am hoping to learn more about hyaluronic acid as a dietary supplement for wrinkles. I heard that it helps replenish water in the skin that is lost in the aging process. I know it is used medically -- injected into joints to help those with arthritis -- but until recently, I hadn’t heard anything about it being taken orally. It is expensive, so I would greatly appreciate any information you could give. -- S.F., Tucson, Arizona

DEAR S.F.: While not a medical doctor or aesthetician, I can provide some background on hyaluronic acid and those claims associated with its use as a dietary supplement.

We all age, and it’s a process I have come to accept and respect. This could be my personal spin, born of the inevitability of aging, but I have found that getting older provides ongoing opportunities to grow and gain wisdom from life’s experiences -- and to share and learn from others.

However, those physical manifestations of aging are another issue. Perhaps it is a control issue, as this is one thing over which we ultimately have little. Some choose to mitigate the march of time through lifelong efforts that involve healthful eating and staying physically and mentally active. I embrace this application of the “use it or lose it” philosophy.

Getting back to your specific question, one of the most visible signs of aging is the shrinkage factor: the loss of tissue volume. This is most noticeable in the skin, our largest organ, and particularly with the face. Habitual muscular movements tend to become more evident in various folds and wrinkles. Aside from plastic surgery, there are popular treatments involving injections to change the face’s age-affected muscle contours or fill in wrinkles and folds. These short-term cosmetic changes have grown in popularity. One of the substances used is hyaluronic acid, a compound that is actually produced in our bodies. This substance is present in soft tissue such as skin and cartilage, as well as in the fluids in our eyes and in the synovial fluid that lubricates joints. The physical structure of hyaluronic acid gives it a water-holding, gel-like lubricant quality to perform its tasks. As you mention, physicians sometimes administer hyaluronic acid via injection directly into joints having problems. (For more, see b.link/cnf4c.)

The issue you raise is not about the hyaluronic acid made by the body to suit its own needs, or the compound purposefully injected for a direct effect. Your question involves the taking of this substance as a dietary supplement. The missing link is the notion that hyaluronic acid taken orally will be absorbed intact and then travel to the intended location to provide the desired anti-wrinkle effect. It is a claim that relies more on marketing than science.

When a substance is injected, what happens does not automatically translate to a similar effect when taken as a dietary supplement. There is no convincing evidence or reason to believe that hyaluronic acid, taken orally, will have a significant anti-wrinkle ability. The existence of such claims -- even alongside testimonials, which can be of dubious origin -- does not make them valid. Without convincing evidence or scientific logic, it makes sense to save your money.

Send questions to: “On Nutrition,” Ed Blonz, c/o Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO, 64106. Send email inquiries to questions@blonz.com. Due to the volume of mail, personal replies cannot be provided.