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!

10 Responses to "Nutrition for Healthy Connective Tissue"
  1. Todd Smith says:

    Having Issues with my knees, back, hips and connective tissues.

    Taking BP meds, Amlodipine Besylate. Issues have developed after a few month’s of being on that. Knee pain, ciattica, weak tissues, shoulder separation.

    Do you know of any issues associated with that?

    Any other natural BP lowering advise?

  2. Elizabeth says:

    Thank you for the very helpful information! I am very physically active and eat pretty healthy but I am very prone to tendon and ligament issues. I hydrate well, take electrolytes, eat mostly an organic and whole food regime, stretch well, and do take supplements although I try as much as possible to get nutrition through diet. I am wondering about adding in any supplements to get more of the above nutrients as I am not a huge eater and although I have made bone broth and used it in recipes I can’t imagine making enough to consume each day! Nor are the powdered forms very appealing. I would like to add a consistent source of collagen to my diet. I am also wondering about taking a trace mineral. Thank you!

  3. Elizabeth Fletcher says:

    Thank you for this Helen

    I have EDS, diagnosed 2 1/2 years ago, and have been doing so much of what you are suggesting that it gives me hope. After so many years of steady health decline prior to diagnoses (I am 56 ), hope is a much needed commodity. I have taken your 9v9 challenge every time it is offered, and am finding my health is now slowly improving.

    I would love to take your Gallbladder Cleanse course, but given the know it is currently too early in my recovery, as I still have multiple food sensitivities. Hopefully you will be running this course again in about 6 months.

    Thank you again for this excellent and helpful article.

    Elizabeth

  4. Harold A. Minerve says:

    I am an MD. 44 years. This article was informative. I do believe in a lot of the Holistic approach to the treatment of diseases. I was raised in the SDA religion and they stress the Holistic treatment of disease. I have a lot of patient’s with joint and connective tissue problems. I am trying to introduce many of them to natural treatments and get them away from the pain medicine spiral.
    I will get back in a couple of months. I will try some of the above and see what they think.
    I will try some myself.
    ham.

  5. Julie says:

    Hello Helen,
    Thank you, this is great information!! I was given a fluoroquinolone (ear drop) which compromised my tendons to a scary extent, and could take months to return to normal. Achilles tendon rupture is associated with this very toxic medicine. I will use the foods you suggested to try to detox my tendons. Where can one get “skate oil”?
    Please let me know if you have any further suggestions/ information re: tendon detox/ liver detox. Warm regards,
    Julie

    • Erika says:

      Hi, Julie. I also had a reaction to the flouroquinolone Cipro. How are you doing now? My reaction was two months ago. My tendons hurt bad when they flare. Are you fairing better? I hope you are

  6. Trenay says:

    This article was so helpful thank u for detailed and informative info

  7. Julie says:

    Is the store bought chondroitin and glucosamine of good quality to replace missing components for tendon growth and repair, or are food sources far superior?

  8. F Fratino says:

    Hi! Are you familiar with Loeys Dietz Syndrome? It’s a connective tissue disorders. We are in Montreal, Quebec Canada and looking for a nutritionist.
    Do you do phone consult? Thank you.

  9. Paul Smith says:

    My wife has rib cartilage injury from a really bad cough……what about equisetum??

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