Tendons and Ligaments
Tendons and ligaments are strong, flexible connective tissues that are an essential part of the musculoskeletal system. While they are related in composition—mostly collagen, with small amounts of elastin and other proteins—and ultimately work as a team, they have different functions in the body. Tendons connect muscle to bone, allowing muscle contractions to move your skeleton, while ligaments connect bone to bone, forming and stabilizing joints and keeping your skeleton intact.
Tendon and ligament injuries are common in athletes and active people, in older adults, and in those who regularly perform activities that require repetitive movement, including work-related activity. Tendons are especially prone to injuries due to overuse, resulting in inflammation and weakening of the tendons. Heard of tennis elbow? That’s actually a case of tendonitis, which is inflammation and irritation of a tendon in the elbow, and rarely is it actually caused by playing tennis.
Collagen, the major component of these connective tissues, begins to degenerate and stiffen as we age. Additionally, tendons and ligaments have a poor blood supply, making existing injuries harder to heal, leading to decreased strength in those tissues and chronic pain. Because the integrity of these connective tissues decline with age, leading to weakened tendons and ligaments and potentially an injury and/or chronic pain, it is important to support them with good nutrition and a few choice supplements.
Inflammation. Regular use of dietary supplements containing fish oil, glucosamine and chondroitin has been linked to the reduction of inflammation. It has been observed that the reduction in the levels C-Reactive Proteins, an established marker of inflammation, is similar to levels observed with statins.
Collagen. Collagen is the main structural protein that makes up all human connective tissue, including tendons and ligaments, and helps keep these tissues strong. As we age, collagen production slows and existing collagen can deteriorate, causing tendons and ligaments to weaken. A diet high in quality protein will provide the building blocks the body requires to make collagen. Collagen production has also been found to upregulate with higher levels of glucosamine sulfate and glucosamine potassium in synovial fluid.
Vitamin C. Vitamin C is required to convert the amino acids into collagen; in fact, vitamin C plays such an essential role in collagen production that a deficiency can weaken the tendons and ligaments. The vitamin also reduces inflammation due to injury or overuse. In a human cell model of tendonitis, a proprietary combination of collagen and vitamin C suppressed a number of pro-inflammatory compounds and promoted healing.
Hyaluronic Acid. Hyaluronic acid is a component of tendons and ligaments and has been shown to stimulate collagen production. It is also comprises the synovial fluid that surrounds certain tendons, helping to keep them lubricated and moving smoothly. Researchers recently discovered that a thin layer of “skin” made of epithelial cells covers the tendons; because hyaluronic acid is a major component of connective and epithelial tissues, it is thought to help maintain the integrity of this tendon “skin.” An animal model of tendon injury found that hyaluronic acid significantly speeded healing. Hyaluronic Acid has a half life of approximately 3 days so it is important that the body continually replenish itself with Hyaluronic Acid. Glucosamine HCl and N-Acetyl D-Glucosamine together stimulate the bodies production of Hyaluronic Acid.
Gelatin. Gelatin-rich foods have long been a part of traditional diets—cultures around the world commonly consume all parts of animals, including the gelatin-rich cartilage and bones. Consuming gelatin has been shown to increase collagen proteins in the blood, helping to build the structure of both tendons and ligaments. One easy way to introduce more gelatin into your diet is to regularly make and consume bone broth, a savory broth made by simmering bones in water.
Although caring for your tendons and ligaments may not occur to you until you are already suffering from pain or an injury, maintaining the health of these important connective tissues may just save you from an injury in the first place. A healthy natural foods diet along with a few choice supplements will help nourish these connective tissues, keeping them healthy and strong, and keep you moving smoothly through life.