Hyaluronic Acid: History, Chemical Structure, and its Benefits for the Body

What is Hyaluronic Acid?

Hyaluronic Acid (HA), also known as hyaluronan or hyaluronate, is a carbohydrate, more specifically a mucopolysaccharide occurring naturally throughout the human body. It can be several thousands of sugars (carbohydrates) long. When not bound to other molecules, it binds to water giving it a stiff viscous quality similar to “Jello”. This viscous Gel is one of the most heavily researched substances in medicine today with thousands of trials mostly in the fields of orthopedics and eye surgery. Its function in the body is, amongst other things, to bind water and to lubricate movable parts of the body, such as joints and muscles. Its consistency and tissue-friendliness allows it to be beneficial in skin-care products as an excellent moisturizer. Because HA is one of the most hydrophilic (water-loving) molecules in nature with numerous benefits for the human body it can be described as "nature's moisturizer".

Hyaluronic Acid Benefits for the Body?

If we compare the joints of the human body to an automobile engine, the joint fluid in the body mimics the oil in a car engine. At regular intervals we replace the oil in our car engines because the heat and friction breakdowns the oils viscosity. The oil becomes thinner and less able to protect the metal surfaces from excessive wear. Hyaluronic acid benefits our joints in the same way. As we age the viscosity of the joint fluid lessens. HA helps to maintain normal joint cushioning.

What is Hyaluronic Acid's Chemical Structure?

It is naturally produced in the human body and is chemically classified as a Glycosaminoglycan. In the body, hyaluronic acid always presents itself as a large high molecular weight molecule. The molecule is made up of a repetitive sequence of two modified simple sugars, one called glucuronic acid and the other N acetyl glucosamine. These compounds are both negatively charged and when put together, they repel producing an exceptionally long stretched out molecule (high molecular weight). HA molecules that are long and large in size produce a high viscosity (lubrication) effect which resists compression and allows our joints and skin to bear weight.

When was Hyaluronic Acid discovered?

HA was first used commercially in 1942 when Endre Balazs applied for a patent to use it as a substitute for egg white in bakery products. Its discovery was very unique. No other molecule had ever been discovered that has such unique properties to the human body. Balazs went on to become the leading expert on HA, and made the majority of discoveries concerning hyaluronic acid benefits.