In this post, I’ll address the specific nutrients your body needs to maintain healthy connective tissue.
As always, a nutrient dense diet goes a long way toward promoting and maintaining health. Specific nutrient supplementation takes this one step farther, and provides your body with the exact nutrients and natural medicines that specifically target the make up of our connective tissues - namely cartilage, tendons and ligaments.
You can add joint health to the long list of the ways vitamin C helps our health. Vitamin C acts as a catalyst in the manufacture of collagen, one of the main connective tissue proteins. Vitamin C is used to ‘connect’ two amino acids, proline and lysine to form the backbone of collagen. A good example of how important vitamin C is in the production of collagen is scurvy -the disease most noted by bleeding gums and loose teeth. A long time ago it was discovered that scurvy is really a condition caused by vitamin C deficiency.
In scurvy, the gums and teeth aren’t the only tissues affected. Other symptoms include joint pain and dysfunction as the tendons and ligaments weaken. Blood vessels break down too (they are made of a special type of collagen) and this leads to bleeding and bruising. And of course the teeth weaken and can fall out as the connective tissues surrounding them can’t hold up.
These symptoms occur as the connective tissue throughout the body begins breaking down without adequate vitamin C to maintain and rebuild connective tissue. Remember, our bodies are constantly remaking themselves - tissues break down with wear and tear and are rebuilt on an ongoing basis.
And while I use the drastic example of scurvy, its easily avoided today with the widespread availability of fresh fruits that contain vitamin C. Remember though that vitamin C is used in many processes throughout the body and states of functional deficiency can certainly occur. This is why its important to not only consume foods rich in vitamin C on an ongoing basis, but supplementing with as little as 1,000 mg daily can ensure there’s enough to go around.
A naturally occurring mineral, sulfur is best known for its “rotten egg” smell. If you’ve ever been to a hot spring, you can often smell it. Not to be confused with natural gas, which is artificially scented with the distinctive rotten egg smell to warn of a gas leak, sulfur dioxide gas isn’t flammable.
It’s the third most common mineral in your body, and carries out many functions. One of sulfur’s most important roles is to maintain the bonds in the proteins in our bodies. And, the way in which proteins are bonded together dictates their function. You can think of sulfur as having an equally important role in our connective tissue as vitamin C.
Sulfur is readily available in our diets, especially in proteins (animal products). Sulfur is also found in the popular supplement MSM, or methylsulfonylmethane. MSM can then be found in grains, cow milk, fruits and veggies.
Besides helping with protein integrity, sulfur is also thought to slow the transmission of pain signals in our bodies. This is part of why hot springs are so popular, as they are rich in sulfur and people that bathe in them claim that their pain is relieved from doing so.
MSM and another sulfur-based supplement, DMSO are also taken for pain relief. MSM is typically very safe to take, however DMSO can interact with prescription drugs and can cause several side effects.
For joint pain support and relief, consider taking up to 3,000 milligrams in divided doses throughout the day (1,000 mg three times daily).
Protein is one of the three main macronutrients. The other two are fat and carbohydrate. While it may sound obvious that I’m telling you to eat enough protein, you’d be surprised at the amount of people I see in clinic who don’t eat a well rounded vegetarian or vegan diet, and wind up with joint pain that’s been relieved by increasing their protein intake!
Protein supplies our bodies with the amino acids that we in turn use to manufacture connective tissue. Connective tissue in particular is a highly metabolic tissue. In our joints, cartilage, tendons and ligaments have a poor blood supply and are therefore typically more prone to higher wear and tear and turnover. If we don’t supply our bodies with enough protein, our connective tissues are among the first areas to suffer.
Making sure you get adequate protein each day is important for everyone, but especially for active and athletic people!
If you search the web, you’re bound to find that daily protein intake amounts vary quite a bit. I’ll stick to the basics and tell you that the average adult needs at least 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight, endurance athletes need about 1.2 to 1.4 grams per kilogram, and power athletes need 1.2 to 1.7 grams per kilogram each day.
I would argue that anyone eating an omnivorous diet does not need more protein for connective tissue health. I emphasize connective tissue health, because there are other situations where someone who already eats animal products may need more protein, but that’s beyond the scope of this blog.
This info is based more on our vegetarian/vegan athletes who may be at risk of inadequate protein intake. Contrary to popular opinion, plant foods have plenty of protein in them and a person who conscientiously eats a vegetarian or vegan diet can easily get the above recommended amounts of protein.
Glucosamine Sulfate is necessary for the synthesis of several different compounds that help build the connective tissue in our tendons, ligaments, cartilage, synovial fluid (the fluid that bathes our joints) and other connective tissues throughout the body. Glucosamine is unique in that it stimulates chondrocytes, the cells that make up our cartilage and synovium (the layer of connective tissue that lines our joints).
Glucosamine has been studied and found to slow and even stop the development of osteoarthritis, a condition in which the cartilage in our joints wears out. It also has a mild anti-inflammatory effect.
Glucosamine sulfate is generally considered to be more effective than glucosamine hydrocholride, because the sulfate form contain sulfur - which you just learned about!
Glucosamine will help you stay flexible by keeping joint surfaces healthy. As joint pain increases over time, we tend to move them less and they, along with the tendons and ligaments that span them, become stiff and unhealthy with disuse. So keeping the joint itself in good shape is a key aspect of being able to maintain flexibility.
Glucosamine sulfate should be taken in doses of at least 1,500 mg daily, with an additional 500 mg for every 50 pounds over 200 pounds in body weight. Joint Formula contains 1,500 mg glucosamine sulfate, along with key anti-inflammatory botanical medicines (Boswellia, Bromelain, Curcumin, Devil’s Club and Ginger) as well as joint supportive nutrients (copper, manganese, zinc and vitamin C).
Supplying our bodies with ample amounts of these joint-specific nutrients can help you maintain flexibility, and keep the joints themselves in good shape.
Vitamin C and glucosamine sulfate (in Joint Formula) are common supplements that should be part of a regular supplement regimen. Sulfur, while typically plentiful in most diets, may be a useful supplement if your joints are painful. Vegetarians and vegans with joint issues should pay close attention to their protein intake to assure they’re getting enough to support the connective tissue proteins.