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Food (and Beverages) for Achy Joints

Glucosamine, chondroitin and other palliative ingredients don't have to be delivered via pills.

By Dave Fusaro, Editor in Chief

joint healthThere are more than 600 causes of achy joints, states a medical website. For the 79 million or so baby boomers, the main cause is … well … the fact that you're a baby boomer and not a millennial.

Maybe our work itself wasn't as back-breakingly hard as that of our parents or grandparents – nobody I know worked in the Civilian Conservation Corps — but we did play harder. Whether that meant school or organized sports, racquetball at the health club or late-night, over-40 men's hockey league, our joints and associated connective tissue have been stretched, twisted and ground down over the years. Now they're letting us know.

Joint pain and inflammation can be caused by rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, repetitive stress injuries, wear and tear and injuries. There's big money in medically treating those problems, but also great potential in providing palliative remedies. While many of those come in pill form (did you remember to take your glucosamine chondroitin?), this is one more area in which the delivery mechanism can be foods and beverages – although, admittedly, joint care lags behind food applications for treating cholesterol, diabetes and digestive health, among others.

Glucosamine chondroitin is a good place to start, because it's widely used, has ardent followers but cannot make an official health claim. At the Experimental Biology meeting in April, 24, Martin Lotz and Beatriz Carames from The Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, Calif., reported on preclinical research exploring the mechanistic action of glucosamine in cellular health. Glucosamine activated autophagy in cell culture and in animal models. Autophagy is a critical mechanism in maintaining cellular health in joints and other tissues throughout the body.

"This preliminary research indicates glucosamine may help to support healthy aging in the joints via activation of autophagy, one of the main cellular ‘housekeeping' mechanisms," said Jennifer van de Ligt, senior manager of Cargill Nutrition, Scientific and Regulatory Affairs (www.cargill.com), Wayzata, Minn. Funding for the research was provided by Cargill, which produces the Regenasure brand of glucosamine.

More research is needed, she said, but the preliminary findings provide important foundational data for Cargill in its effort to help understand glucosamine's potential mechanism of action.

Cargill sells Regenasure glucosamine to a number of food processing customers, but cannot name them. One exception is Joint Juice, which encourages customers (including spokesman Joe Montana) to drink a daily dose of glucosamine via 8-oz.bottles, powder mixes and gel shots.

Cargill has incorporated Regenasure into prototypical beverages, bars, cereals and dairy products.

In addition to glucosamine, Fortitech Inc. (www.fortitech.com), Schenectady, N.Y., lists as top-tier joint nutrients chondroitin sulfate and omega-3 fatty acids. The former is an important structural component of cartilage. A "Strategic Nutrition for Bone and Joint Health" whitepaper notes the Glucosamine/Chondroitin Arthritis Intervention Trial (GAIT), a large randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled intervention study in patients with knee osteoarthritis, reported that patients taking 400mg chondroitin sulfate three times per day had a significant improvement in knee joint swelling."

On the latter ingredient, the paper notes "significant interest [and research findings] in using omega-3 long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids, such as are found in fish oil (EPA and DHA), in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis."

Fortitech also reports interesting research into vitamin K, eggshell membrane and methylsulfonylmethane (MSM), the last of which often is used in capsules in combination with glucosamine and chondroitin. Fortitech, too, has created premix prototypes, from cereals bars to ice cream, incorporating those ingredients.

"Healthy joints require supporting for connective tissue, synovial fluid and for the bone that provides the joint structure," says Rodger Jonas, director of national sales for PL Thomas & Co. (www.plthomas.com), Morristown, N.J.

Jonas says one of the more interesting and newest ingredients is a boswellic acid extract his company brands 5-Loxin. "In human studies, 5-Loxin is proven to promote joint health and function and protect against collagen degradation, an important component of connective tissues," he says.

Boswellia is a genus of flowering trees and shrubs that grow in tropical forests. Its fragrant resin has many pharmacological uses particularly as anti-inflammatories, reports Wikipedia, and the Biblical incense frankincense probably was an extract.

There are a couple of boswellia acids, but acetyl-11-keto-β-boswellic acid (AKBA) apparently is the most active, says Jonas. 5-Loxin is standardized to 30 percent AKBA, higher than other boswellic acid fractions. 5-Loxin inhibits an enzyme called 5-lipoxygenase. 5-Lox inhibitors follow a distinctly different pathway than Cox-2 inhibitors, and while both are involved in the breakdown of arachidonic acid, 5-Lox inhibitors do not exhibit the potentially negative effects that have been associated with Cox-2 inhibitors. And 5-Loxin is a selective, non-redox 5-Loxinhibitor, which means that its action is very targeted, not affecting other systems.

A similar PL Thomas product, also based on AKBA and a boswellic acid extract, is ApresFlex. Kind of a next-generation boswellia extract, ApresFlex mixes AKBA with another, proprietary boswellia extract, resulting in improved bioavailability and bioactivity of the AKBA while the proprietary extract exhibits 5-Lox inhibition. Together, the synergism exceeds the expected benefit of the individual ingredients.