Natural Foods Merchandiser

Enter the matrix of joint health

While manufacturers continue to tack on an increasing number of ingredients—including frankincense, curcumin and vitamin D—in order to cover all the bases of joint health, some suppliers are delivering compounds derived from sources that have a number of joint-aiding complexes in them—with hyaluronic acid being a common theme. Hyaluronic acid is seen as an important component of synovial (joint) fluid, where it behaves as a viscous liquid to cushion the joints, thus allowing a soft and smooth movement of the joint.

Curiously, these ingredients all seem to be derived from barnyard animals. (Is it fair to ask: Who dug around the barnyard and came up with these apps?)

One new entrant to the field is natural eggshell membrane (NEM), supplied by ESM Technologies. The name says much—it’s derived from eggshells, and it contains naturally occurring glycosaminoglycans (GAGs) and proteins, including chondroitin, hyaluronic acid and collagen. These GAGs maintain healthy articular cartilage (the tissue that covers the ends of bones that meet to form joints) and the surrounding synovium (a thin layer of tissue). The company is aggressively publishing research to back its efficacy, with two studies published in 2009 alone.

In one double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical study carried out with 67 patients, half received 50 mg a day of NEM; the other 33 received a placebo for eight weeks. Patients in the treatment group experienced a 16 percent pain reduction and an average 13 percent reduction in joint stiffness compared to the placebo group, with one-fourth of these patients experiencing a more than 50 percent reduction in stiffness in only 10 days. No side effects were reported by study participants.

In another 2009 study, two 30-day open-label pilot studies were conducted to evaluate 500 mg a day of NEM as a treatment for general joint and connective tissue disorders. Results showed NEM produced an average 25 percent reduction in pain (both studies) and an average 28 percent increase in flexibility (study 1) in only seven days. No side effects were reported.

The results are interesting not only for their quick treatment time but also for the amount of NEM needed. Compared to glucosamine, which studies show requires 1,500 mg a day for roughly six weeks, formulators and retailers should like that NEM requires one-third the dosage, with positive results in less than two weeks.

In late 2009, ESM entered into an agreement with Novus International, which previously had played exclusively in the animal-nutrition world. Novus is helping with NEM distribution in some international markets, and has select distribution rights in the U.S.

Another ingredient that houses a multitude of GAGs and proteins is collagen, derived from the cockscombs of roosters. Collagen is the main protein present in joints and is the key to flexible and strong tissues.

One company, BioCell Technology, went through the trouble of conducting toxicity studies on its BioCell Collagen II ingredient, which contains collagen type II (the main component in cartilage), chondroitin sulfate and hyaluronic acid. In this acute oral-toxicity study, five male and five female rats were given a single dose of 5,000 mg per kg of body weight and observed for 14 days. No gross pathological lesions were observed in any of the animals at the end of the study. In another study, 80 rats were separated into four groups and given either 0, 30, 300 or 1,000 mg of BioCell Collagen II per kg of body weight per day for 90 days. There were no significant changes in body weight or in microscopic examination of body tissues.

In-house studies show BioCell Collagen II has significant peak absorption and steady-state bioavailability in normal volunteer subjects, which is notable because hyaluronic acid can have troublesome absorption issues due to its large molecular size. In a 36-hour peak absorption study using a single dose, BioCell Collagen II significantly increased hyaluronic acid levels in the blood in four hours and peaked at a level 7,000 percent above control in 12 hours.

Collagen is generally recognized as safe and is marketed to new-product development formulators of vitamin waters, nutricosmetics, beauty-supplement drinks, fortified foods and juices, joint-support beverages, chewable dietary supplements and more.

A 2009 study went so far as to compare undenatured, or structurally unaltered, type II collagen (supplied by InterHealth Nutraceuticals) to standard-bearers glucosamine and chondroitin. For 90 days, 52 adults took either 40 mg of undenatured type II collagen (UC-II) or the standard 1,500 mg of glucosamine and 1,200 mg of chondroitin. Both treatments reduced joint pain and stiffness—by 14 percent in the glucosamine/chondroitin group and by 33 percent in the UC-II group.

Todd Runestad is the science editor for Functional Ingredients magazine.

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