Collagen, Vitamin C & Astaxanthin: Recipe for Maximum Joint Health

Summer's here, and many of us are outdoors exercising more than ever! For some of us, this might mean an increase in soreness, achiness, or outright pain in joints that are slower to adapt to the increased stress. What can we do to support our joints?

Most of us are familiar with the most common joint health supplements: glucosamine, MSM, omega-3 fatty acids, and turmeric, to name a few. These supplements can be very helpful in supporting joint mobility and relief from pain caused by inflammation. Less well-known are two supplements that may be considered the “backbone” of our joints: vitamin C and collagen.

Collagen and Joint Health. Collagen is the most important protein in connective tissue, skin and bones; you have more collagen in your body than any other type of protein. Collagen is essential for skin, hair, nail, bone and joint health. Collagen is stronger than steel wire, and together with an elastic-like substance called elastin makes up the connective tissue that holds you together!

Collagen makes up 30% of bone, 75% of skin, and up to 90% of tendons and ligaments. Starting at age 21, collagen production begins to diminish. By age 40, individuals lose approximately 1% of their collagen every year. The damaging effect on bones and joints can be clinically measured.

So how does collagen impact your joints? The joints in your body that can move are called synovial joints, and the connective tissue that holds them together and lubricates your cartilage is called synovial fluid. Both the joint and the fluid are made of connective tissue, which is in turn formed from collagen.

The best way to support collagen in the body is to consume it! Collagen is mostly found in the tendons, hide and “odd bits”/tougher cuts of beef that contain a lot of connective tissue. These are the parts of animals that our ancestors ate, but that we typically throw away today.

Many people today eat collagen in the form of gelatin. In other words, people rarely eat skin and tendons raw; they cook them. Cooking collagen transforms it into gelatin--it’s the gooey, sticky, gelatinous substance that forms when we stick our chicken soup into the refrigerator for a while.

There are an increasing number of studies showing that taking collagen in the form of gelatin or collagen supplements can benefit a wide variety of degenerative joint issues. Here’s one study that demonstrates the benefit over a 70-day period in improving osteoarthritic symptoms with regular consumption of collagen.

Some of the best sources of collagen include bone broths, gelatin derived from beef hide, and collagen supplements. There are a wide variety of collagen supplements now available. At DCA we carry a line of high quality products, including Collagen peptides and Matcha Collagen by Vital Proteins, Arthroben by Designs for Health, and RegeneMax by Xymogen.

Antioxidants and Joint Health. Many people are less familiar with the importance of supporting joint injury recovery and joint health maintenance with daily antioxidant supplementation. What are antioxidants? Antioxidants are critical biological compounds that fight pollutants causing free radical damage in the body, thus decreasing the body’s inflammatory response. It is chronic inflammation in the body that contributes greatly to joint degeneration, pain, and reduced mobility. In this article we will look at two potent sources of antioxidants: vitamin C and astaxanthin.

Vitamin C and Joint Health. We just learned that collagen is the most abundant protein in the body, and that it comprises our bones, skin, connective tissue, and synovial fluid (for joint mobility). What many people don’t know is that vitamin C is essential to the production of collagen. This means that without vitamin C, you would literally fall apart!

Most animals biologically produce vitamin C in high amounts, usually between 3000 and 10,000 mg/day. Humans, on the other hand, do not product vitamin C--we must consume it daily through our foods and or vitamin supplements. The recommended RDA for vitamin C is 90 mg for men and 75 mg for women! This is roughly 100 times less than what animals naturally produce! We can usually get the bare minimum of what we require to prevent a dietary deficiency through the foods we eat. However this is no where close to what our bodies actually need for maximum health. So what amount should we be consuming? The answer lies in our mammalian friends: 3,000mg/day when healthy, and up to 10,000mg/day when sick.

What else do we know about vitamin C? It is one of the most potent anti-infectious agents in the body, and a critical antioxidant. This becomes significantly important when we are trying to reduce or prevent the development or progression of arthritic inflammation. The synovial fluid in your joints isn’t just a lubricant; it is antibacterial, and your body uses it to fend off diseases like arthritis. Thus, adequate intake of vitamin C is critical for the prevention of degenerative joint disease.

I am sometimes asked which type of vitamin C I recommend. I personally prefer to get my nutrition from food sources as far as possible. Sourcing your vitamin C from raw whole food compounds high in naturally occurring bioflavanoids brings you as close as possible to vitamin C straight from nature, such as Garden of Life's Raw Vitamin C. Another quality source is C Guard by Perque (available online), a blend of four mineral ascorbates that are easily absorbed. Available as a powder, the Perque product is easy to consume in higher quantities.

Astaxanthin: Nature's Most Powerful Antioxidant. As long as we are talking about antioxidants and the reduction of inflammation, if you haven’t heard of astaxanthin you are missing out on an important opportunity to protect your joint health and maximize recovery from injury without the use of anti-inflammatory medications!

Astaxanthin is a naturally occurring carotenoid--the class of compounds that give foods their vibrant color, and act as powerful antioxidants in the body. In fact astaxanthin--most abundantly found in marine microalgae, krill, shellfish and salmon--is now thought to be the most powerful antioxidant on the planet.

As far as free radical scavenging goes, astaxanthin is 65 times more powerful than vitamin C, 14 times more powerful than vitamin E, and 54 times more powerful than beta-carotene (found in carrots). Significant to joint health and in particular to synovial fluid, astaxanthin is soluble in lipids (fat molecules) so it incorporates into cell membranes.

In fact, there have been a number of very promising clinical studies testing astaxanthin and its effect on four common inflammatory joint complaints, including tennis elbow, carpal tunnel syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis (RA), and post-exercise joint soreness.

Tennis Elbow: A study by the Health Research and Studies Center involved giving tennis elbow sufferers an eight-week course of astaxanthin. The treatment group showed a 93 percent improvement in grip strength, as well as decreased pain.

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome: A study by the above group found eight weeks of astaxanthin supplementation resulted in significant pain reduction, both in terms of severity and duration, leaving researchers concluding that astaxanthin might be a viable alternative to surgery.

Rheumatoid Arthritis: After receiving astaxanthin for only eight weeks, RA sufferers showed a 35 percent improvement in pain levels, as well as a 40 percent improvement in their ability to perform daily activities. The study was reported in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition in October 2002.

Post-exercise joint soreness: In 2001, Dr. Andrew Fry of the University of Memphis studied the effects of astaxanthin on healthy people who trained with weights and who would typically experience exercise-induced joint soreness. He gave young male subjects astaxanthin for three weeks, while they performed strenuous workouts, and then evaluated them for knee pain. The placebo group experienced post-training knee soreness, lasting up to 48 hours after their workouts. But the treatment group showed no increase whatsoever in knee joint soreness following workouts.

To learn more about astaxanthin and its extraordinary effect on keeping inflammation down, here is an excellent article.