Tending to your tendons and ligaments may not be at the top of your “selfcare” priority list. But these structural connective tissues are necessary to keep our bodies moving efficiently—they enable us to sit, stand, walk, and perform virtually all physical activity. Weak or injured tendons and ligaments can be disabling and may lead to chronic pain, making it important to nourish them before problems arise. This becomes especially important as we age.
Tendons and ligaments are strong, flexible connective tissues that are an essential part of the musculoskeletal system. While they are related in composition—mostly collagen, with small amounts of elastin and other proteins—and ultimately work as a team, they have different functions in the body. Tendons connect muscle to bone, allowing muscle contractions to move your skeleton, while ligaments connect bone to bone, forming and stabilizing joints and keeping your skeleton intact. The Achilles tendon is one of the more commonly known tendons and the ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) is a well-known (and commonly injured) ligament.
Tendon and ligament injuries are common in athletes and active people, in older adults, and in those who regularly perform activities that require repetitive movement, including work-related activity. Tendons are especially prone to injuries due to overuse, resulting in inflammation and weakening of the tendons. Heard of tennis elbow? That’s actually a case of tendonitis, which is inflammation and irritation of a tendon in the elbow, and rarely is it actually caused by playing tennis.
Collagen, the major component of these connective tissues, begins to degenerate and stiffen as we age. Additionally, tendons and ligaments have a poor blood supply, making existing injuries harder to heal, leading to decreased strength in those tissues and chronic pain.[i] Because the integrity of these connective tissues decline with age, leading to weakened tendons and ligaments and potentially an injury and/or chronic pain, it is important to support them with good nutrition and a few choice supplements.
Collagen. Collagen is the main structural protein that makes up all human connective tissue, including tendons and ligaments, and helps keep these tissues strong. As we age, collagen production slows and existing collagen can deteriorate, causing tendons and ligaments to weaken. A diet high in quality protein will provide the building blocks the body requires to make collagen, including the amino acids proline and lysine.[ii] Additionally, collagen supplements have been shown to stimulate collagen production, helping to maintain healthy tendons and ligaments.[iii]
Dark green vegetables are also excellent examples of food containing collagen producing agents. Add drak green leafy veggies such as spinach, cabbage and kale to your diet every day. They are packed with an antioxidant called lutein. You need 10 mg to get results – which equates to about 4oz. of spinach or 2oz. of kale. Also Soy products such as soymik and cheese contain an element known as genistein. The presence of genistein gives soy products their collagen production qualities, as well as helping to block enzymes that tend to break down collagen. Just about any soy product contains enough genistein to be helpful, including soy products that have been developed as substitutes for meat products.
Oestrogen, derived from plants, is vital to making healthy collagen. Lots of foods contain plant oestrogens (phytoestrogens) that can help replace the effects of lost oestrogen. Try hummus, nuts, soy and pinto beans.
Lycopenesl Red fruits and vegetables also are excellent sources to up the collagen content of foods in the diet. The presence of lycopenesl in these types of foods helps to act as antioxidants, which in turn increases collagen production. Try adding red peppers, beets, and fresh or stewed tomatoes to the diet. Also include sweet potatoes, carrots and more.
Vitamin C. Vitamin C is required to convert the amino acids proline and lysine into collagen[iv]; in fact, vitamin C plays such an essential role in collagen production that a deficiency can weaken the tendons and ligaments.[v] The vitamin also reduces inflammation due to injury or overuse. In a human cell model of tendonitis, a proprietary combination of collagen and vitamin C suppressed a number of pro-inflammatory compounds and promoted healing.[vi] Good sources are green pepper (higher vit C content when cooked), dark green leafy veg like broccoli and sprouts, guava, papaya, kiwi fruit and oranges.
Anthocyanidins. The anthocyanidins found in dark-colored fruits such as cherries and blueberries, and in grape seed extract and Pycnogenol®supplements, have been shown to help the collagen fibers link together in a way that strengthens the connective tissue matrix.[vii]
Hyaluronic Acid. Hyaluronic acid is a component of tendons and ligaments and has been shown to stimulate collagen production.[viii] It is also comprises the synovial fluid that surrounds certain tendons, helping to keep them lubricated and moving smoothly.[ix] Researchers recently discovered that a thin layer of “skin” made of epithelial cells covers the tendons;[x] because hyaluronic acid is a major component of connective and epithelial tissues, it is thought to help maintain the integrity of this tendon “skin.” An animal model of tendon injury found that hyaluronic acid significantly speeded healing.[xi] Hyaluronic acid or hyaluronate is available in capsules or injectables and found in glucosamine supplements. Beans help your body produce hyaluronic acid. Aim for at least two tablespoons of beans each day – broad or butter beans make a great substitute for mashed potatoes.
Gelatin. Gelatin-rich foods have long been a part of traditional diets—cultures around the world commonly consume all parts of animals, including the gelatin-rich cartilage and bones. Consuming gelatin has been shown to increase collagen proteins in the blood,[xii] helping to build the structure of both tendons and ligaments. One easy way to introduce more gelatin into your diet is to regularly make and consume bone broth, a savory broth made by simmering bones in water. (Ever made homemade chicken broth from a chicken carcass? That’s one type of bone broth.) Or consider taking a gelatin supplement.
Although caring for your tendons and ligaments may not occur to you until you are already suffering from pain or an injury, maintaining the health of these important connective tissues may just save you from an injury in the first place. A healthy natural foods diet along with a few choice supplements will help nourish these connective tissues, keeping them healthy and strong, and keep you moving smoothly through life.
Article adapted from: Lidsy Wilson, Healthy Hotline, naturalgrocers.com; Kim Jones, 9 ways to keep collagen healthy, The Mirror.CO.UK; Verdungal, How to increase collagen from eating the right foods, Heathcentral.com.
[iii] Wilson, L. “Structural Integrity: Collagen for joint and skin health” Health Hotline, Feb 2012
[vi] Shakibaei M, Buhrmann C, Mobasheri A. “Anti-inflammatory and anti-catabolic effects of Tendoactive® on human tenocytes in vitro.” Histoland Histopathol 26, 1173-1185, 2011.
[viii] Bruce A. Mast, Robert F. Diegelmann, et al. “Hyaluronic Acid Modulates Proliferation, Collagen and Protein Synthesis of Cultured Fetal Fibroblasts.” Matrix Vol. 13/1993, pp. 441-446
[x] Susan H. Taylor, Sarah Al-Youha, Tom Van Agtmael, et al. “Tendon Is Covered by a Basement Membrane Epithelium That Is Required for Cell Retention and the Prevention of Adhesion Formation.” PLoS ONE; 2011 January
[xi] Thijs de Wit, Dennis de Putter, Wendy M. Tra, et al. “Auto-crosslinked hyaluronic acid gel accelerates healing of rabbit flexor tendons in vivo.” J Orthop Res 27:408–415, 2009
[xii] Koji I, Takanori H, et al. “Identification of Food-Derived Collagen Peptides in Human Blood after Oral Ingestion of Gelatin Hydrolysates.” J Agric and Food Chem, 2005, 53 (16), pp 6531-6536