Supplements that Work - Helping Connective Tissue Heal

Connective Tissue Healing

Supplements Can Heal & Restore your Health

You love training. You work out hard, effecting and destroying millions of muscle cells and fibers as each set continues. Sometimes, often, you suffer small injuries. Occasionally they are serious. So, what do you do when muscle tears, immobility and pain keeps you out of the gym depressed at home watching your muscles fade away? Take over-the-counter pain killers? No! Doing so could well make the problem worse. There is a better way.

Collagen and Ground Substance

Connective tissue is a metamembrane, which binds, contains, divides and gives shape to the body. It surrounds every muscle (fascia), covers each bone (periosteum) and connects muscle and bone at joints in the form of tendons, ligaments, bursae and cartilage.

The protein collagen (whose thin white fibers make up these cables, sheets, nets and cords) is the most abundant protein in the body. Collagen provides a continuous latticework that joins every bodypart into one complex framework and laces all structures into place.

All connective tissue is in an active state of flux. The basis for all other forms of connective tissue is a transparent fluid called ground substance. This vicious gel, much like raw egg whites in appearance and consistency, surrounds cells throughout the body. It is distinct from other intercellular fluids, such as plasma, which seeps from the capillaries. Specialized cells, the fibroblasts, exude the ground substance.

This amorphous fluid consists primarily of water and of repeating carbohydrate chains known as glycosaminoglycans o (GAGs). These compounds constantly change their arrangements (larger ones tend to be dense and viscid, while smaller ones are less dense). Ground substance acts as a cement to hold collagen fibrils as a matrix to organize cells and as a lubricant and shock absorber for the joints. Ground substance forms the fluid environment in which collagen fibers provide the support system and give ligaments, tendons and cartilage their tensile strength, resiliency and structural integrity.

Collagen fibers are composed of super-long linked proteins also synthesized in the fibroblasts. Such fibers can be arranged randomly crisscrossed, stacked in alternating layers like plywood, spun into webs, or packed into tight parallel formations. Each different arrangement serves a unique purpose.

Dense connective tissue, such as ligaments and tendons, has more bundles of collagen fibrils zigzagging through and less ground substance. Still, it is somewhat gelatinous when healthy so it can soften, flex and stretch when subjected to exercise. Regular use keeps connective tissue moist and resilient. Disuse allows it to dry and wither.

Proteoglycans and Glycosaminoglycans

Chondroitin, keratin, dermatan and hyaluronate are common components of ground substance. These GAGs rarely exist in a free state or in isolation. Instead, they are found assembled around core proteins to form proteoglycans, macromolecule complexes of proteins and carbohydrates.

Proteoglycans intermingle with collagen fibrils. The large size of proteoglycans and their formation into supramolecular aggregates immobilize them within the collagen networks. As water is drawn into the mesh, the connective tissue (a fiber-reinforced composite solid) is stiffened as it swells.

Proteoglycans complement the role of collagen in making the matrix strong and resilient. They work synergistically to maintain the structural integrity and special biomechanical properties of connective tissue.

Stress and Strain in the Chain Gangs

As the body ages, collagen fibers pack more tightly and bond more firmly together in areas of compression and strain such as the spine and knees. Chronic stress causes connective tissue to shorten, rigidity, bunch up, adhere and lose mobility. This unwanted gluing and bonding is a major factor in the stiffness and reduction of elasticity associated with repeated strain and poorly healed injuries.

Hormones have a powerful effect upon connective tissue. Growth hormone (secreted by the pituitary gland) directly stimulates the fibroblasts to step up production of ground substance and collagen. With muscle growth, extra connective tissue is necessary to structure and contain the increased bulk. It is also required to build up the fascia and tendons to withstand the greater tensional forces, which larger muscles can deliver. Growth hormone is also significant in wound healing, where rapid production of collagen is needed to repair damage (a disorganized collagen clump becomes scar tissue).

Cortisol from the adrenal cortex has an opposite effect - it inhibits activity in the fibroblasts. A chronically high Cortisol level may stress and weaken the entire network of connective tissue and expose it to pathological invasions, facilitating the spread of infection.

Since connective tissue runs through the body like a continuous fabric, pressure applied to one spot will reverberate and exert corresponding pressures elsewhere through the structure. If the pressure is excessive, acute pain announces imminent tissue tearing and destruction. Even in the absence of actual damage, pain creates a reflex neuromuscular contractile response, which reverses the desired process of softening and lengthening.

Nutrition plays an important role also. The average half-life of GAG chains is believed to be as short as two and a half days. Very little GAG is excreted though. Virtually all of the degraded material is reassembled and recycled.

Areas of severely damaged connective tissue show increased manufacture of ill-formed or immature GAGs. Vitamin C deficiency is one factor that may decrease such healing and also impair collagen formation.

Nutrients going into the active cells (such as fibroblasts and chondroblasts) and the waste products coming out have to pass through the ground substance. Therefore, any detrimental variations in the chemical composition or physical properties of the GAGs can cause harm.

A Supplemental Solution

As a person ages, his ability to manufacture or restore connective tissue decreases. The abundance and activity of certain key enzymes is greatly reduced.

Normally, a smooth superficial level of ground substance masks an underlying orderly network of collagen fibrils. In un-healthy tissue a demasking of the fibrils can be seen. The arrangements of fiber structures become less orderly and aligned, and occasionally fibers are broken or torn.

As proteoglycans wear away, the ground substance loses much of its water-retaining character and its shock-absorbing quality. Several studies suggest that altered glycosamine metabolism plays a critical part in these developments.

Glucosamine is a preferred precursor for GAG biosynthesis. Glucosamine also inhibits degradation of proteoglycans and aids in the rebuilding of damaged tissue. The body's normal source of glucosamine is the enzymatic combination of glucose and glutamine.

Many times, those suffering from connective tissue trauma will take over-the-counter pain killers to ease the discomfort. Such analgesic treatments quickly suppress the most disturbing symptoms, but ultimately worsen the condition by inhibiting connective tissue repair and actually accelerating any progressive degeneration or destruction already underway Such drugs frequently cause an upset stomach and, with prolonged used, poisoning of the liver and kidneys.

Orally ingested glucosamine, however, stimulates the protective mechanism of the intestinal lining. Glucosamine sulfate is well tolerated and free of side effects. There are no indications of complications when taken in tandem with other drugs, so supplementation may be continued as long as is necessary or desirable.

Glucosamine sulfate, taken at the recommended dosage (500 mg three times daily), has demonstrated almost complete bio availability with an absorption rate close to 90 percent. It is selectively incorporated into connective tissue to aid in reconstruction and functional restoration. Cracks are sealed over and inegularities smoothed out.

Glucosamine takes a while to produce dramatically observable results (two to four weeks), but its benefits are more obvious the longer it is used. By effectively addressing the root of the problem, glucosamine indirectly decreases pain as it increases mobility.

What form of glucosamine supplementation is best? The published research involved only glucosamine sulfate. It is a small, simple, easily absorbed molecule proven to migrate where it's most needed. Sulfur is also an essential nutrient and pivotal component.

Other compounds, which contain some glucosamine, include N-acetylglucosamine and chondroitin sulfate. The molecules in these formulas are hundreds of times larger, heavier and more complex than glucosamine sulfate. Consequently, their absorption rate is drastically lower. Furthermore, there is no history of clinical studies or favorable usage for other compounds (including glucosamine hydrochloride).

Glucosamine sulfate is a clear favorite, winning out easily over other products. Numerous suppliers small and large can be found through mail order or at health-food stores for this most desirable supplement in promoting and preserving healthy connective tissue.

Related Articles