Nutrition for Healthy Connective Tissue

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Connective tissue is the stuff that supports, connects or separates tissues and organs of the body. It makes up your bones, joints, tendons, ligaments, cartilage, fascia, keeps our skin looking supple and beautiful and so much more!

Of course everyone benefits from eating to nourish connective tissue, however emphasis on eating for connective tissue integrity is particularly important for:

  • Athletes,
  • Dancers,
  • People going through major stages of growth (infants, children, teenagers, pregnant women),
  • People with connective tissue diseases such as Ehlers-Danlos syndromes (EDS)
  • People with chronic inflammatory conditions
  • Anyone with physically demanding lifestyles.

Nourishing your connective tissue will assist in preventing excessive tissue degradation, and consequent injuries, arthropathies (joint conditions), such as osteoarthritis, prolapses, stretch marks and wrinkles!

What is connective tissue made of?

Connective tissue is comprised of 2 major protein compounds, collagen and elastin. Collagen is the main component of connective tissue and is the cement that holds everything together. Elastin, just as the name suggests, has the capability to stretch and spring back into shape and as such is part of ligaments and skin.
Both collagen and elastin are easily damaged by inflammation. Inflammatory damage can potentially result in a number of different outcomes, ranging from wrinkles to auto-immune connective tissue diseases like rheumatoid arthritis and lupus.

So whether you have an illness affecting your connective tissue, a physically demanding life, or you just want to maintain your strikingly good looks, connective tissue support is for you! Let’s look at what ingredients are required for building and repairing healthy connective tissue.

Nutrients required for collagen and connective tissue formation and integrity:

NutrientFunctionSource
CollagenThe main protein of connective tissueBone broths
Grass fed gelatin
GlucosamineMain precursor to producing GAGs (along with B1, B2, B3, B5, Mg, K, Lipoic acid, glutamine)Bone broths
Shells of shellfish (think crispy prawn tails!)
ChondroitinImportant structural component of cartilage - gives it that bounce / resistance to compression.Skate Liver Oil
Artichokes help in production of chondroitin sulfate (high in glucuronic acid)
SulfateCombines with chondroitin to make up cartilage. Required for the process of sulfation, to produce Glucosamine sulfate and chondroitin sulfate which help facilitate cartilage repair and collagen production. (Other nutrients required for proper sulfation include: Mg, B12, B6, B9)Broccoli
Cauliflower
Garlic
Cabbage
Onions
Mustard
Eggs, whey protein (both high in cysteine, which contains high sulfate)
MSM powder (biologically available source
Epsom salt baths
GAGs (glycosaminoglycans)Required to build connective tissue.Bone broths
BioflavonoidsParticularly anthocyanidins (these phytonutrients help link collagen fibres together in a way that strengthens the matrix of the connective tissue); Catechins (prevent the breakdown of collagen).Anthocyanidins: Acai, Blueberries, blackberries, cranberries, black currants, cherries, spirulina, cinnamon, red grapes, egg plant, red cabbage, red onions. Catechins: Green tea, acai, raw peaches, apricots, plums, nectarines, cherries, raw cacao,
Vitamin CRequired to convert lysine and proline into hydroxylysine and hydroxyproline Ð the forms used to build collagen.ÊUnpasteurised fermented veggies, Papaya, Camu camu, Gubinje, Capsicum, Strawberries, Broccoli, Pineapple, Kiwifruit, Oranges
Superoxide dismutase (SOD)Reduces joint tissue inflammationSpirulina
ZincRequired for protein synthesis Ð the production of connective tissue such as cartilage, bone. Required for the antioxidant SOD.Oysters
Lamb
Grass fed beef
Scallops
Sesame seeds
Pumpkin seeds
Prawns
CopperRequired to produce SOD (see zinc). Required for cross-linking and maturation of collagen.Sesame seeds
Cashews
Sunflower seeds
Cacao
Avocado
ManganeseRequired to produce SOD (see zinc), for formation of cartilage, bone, ligaments, tendons, fascia.Mussels, Hazelnuts, Cloves, Spinach, Pineapple, Pumpkin seeds, Kale
GlycineMajor component of collagenBone broth, Gelatin, Pork skin and Pork Hocks, beef, chicken, lamb, fish, crustaceans
ProlineMajor component of collagenBone broth, Gelatin, Cabbage, Egg whites, Asparagus, Avocado, Broccoli
LysineMajor component of collagen and elastinChicken, Turkey, Fish, Crustaceans, Pork
GlutamineIncreases plasma Human Growth Hormone by stimulating the pituitary gland (which then increase muscle growth).Cabbage, especially when fermented (eg. Sauerkraut), Beef, chicken, Fish, Eggs, Beetroot, Spinach, Parsley
Glucuronic acidComponent of ChondroitinGlobe artichokes
Hyaluronic acid (HA)Stimulates growth of connective tissue. Acts as a lubricant in joints and as a glue, improving the integrity of connective tissue.Echinacea stimulates the production of HA by stimulating fibroblast activity.Ê Echinacea also inhibits the enzyme hyaluronidase Ð an enzyme which breaks down HA.
Proteolytic enzymesTo break down scar tissueNattokinase (in Natto), Bromelain (in pineapple), Papain (in papaya)

Stress, Sleep and Connective Tissue

As with all areas of health, connective tissue integrity is not just nutrient dependant. Factors such as stress, lack of sleep and exposure to environmental toxins also affect our connective tissue. For example, stress affects hormone levels, resulting in increased cortisol, decreased insulin sensitivity, decreased glucose absorption into cells and therefore an inability to make glucosamine (due to inability to make enough glycosaminoglycans (GAGs) – an important building block of connective tissue).

Detoxification and Connective Tissue

The liver detox pathway glucoronidation requires a lot of glucaronic acid (an amino acid which is a major component of chondroitin) to complete the job of detoxifying drugs, hormones (esp cortisol and oestrogen) and pollutants. If the liver is using up most your glucuronic acid for detoxification processes, then there won’t be much left to produce chondroitin.

Similarly, sulfation, is another important liver detoxification pathway, primarily responsible for detoxifying hormones and some drugs (such as NSAIDs like aspirin). As the name suggests, this pathway requires a lot of sulfur molecules. So again, if the majority of your sulfur is going to detoxification then you won’t as much left to bind to glucosamine and chondroitin to repair cartilage.

So it’s important to detoxify and nourish. Nourish with nutrients that are required to carry out dual process of detoxification and tissue building, and minimising your exposure to harmful chemicals.

Our two largest sources of toxin exposure are our food choices (if we are eating the standard western diet complete with processed foods and additives) and our own homes, due to the types and numbers of personal care and household cleaning products that are used on a daily basis. Take a minute to think about how many toxins you absorb in your home or your workplace. What brands of body care and household cleaning products are you using? Do you wear perfumes, cologne or aftershave? (I use essential oils instead). Are you using plastic to store food/water in? Do you use Teflon to cook with? By reducing your chemical exposure, you are lessening the toxic burden on your liver, leaving you with more nutrients to nourish and protect your connective tissue.

Foods to include

The following foods are rich in the nutrients required for healthy connective tissue. Be sure to include them in your diet and feel the difference:

  • Bone broths (1-4 cups / day)
  • Good quality protein from good quality (ideally organic grass fed and grass finished) meats and eggs
  • Good quality seafood (mussels, fish, oysters, sardines etc)
  • Loads of veggies
  • Unpasteurised, raw fermented veggies
  • Kombucha (a fermented tea that makes the glucuronic detox pathway more effective)
  • Heaps of berries
  • Healthy fats (fish, grass fed beef, extra virgin cold pressed flax oil / meal, eggs, avocado, nuts, seeds, coconut, cold pressed EV olive oil, skate liver oil, high vitamin cod liver oil)
  • Plenty of clean drinking water (I use www.waterscoaustralia.com.au – you can get 15% off by using discount code HelenP2017).

As with all things health related, there’s no one single magic bullet. It’s multifaceted. The wonderful thing about a holistic approach to supporting your connective tissue it that you will reap many other benefits as a result of a nutrient dense, low-tox, quality sleep, stress managed lifestyle!

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