Early in the village of Yazuri Hara, just two hours away from Tokyo, Hiroshi Sakamoto starts his day. At a time when most people would want an extra hour under the covers, he’s up, ready for the next five hours of farmwork. He isn’t the only one.
Many of his peers are starting their days too. Even at 86 years old, he’s not an outlier among his peers. Known as the Village of Long Life, 10% of Yuzuri Hara’s residents are 85 or older. That’s a higher average than anywhere in North America or Japan.
For all of its people living vibrant lives well into old age, Yazuri Hara isn’t too different from other villages in many ways. Sakamoto still smokes more than a pack of cigarettes a day. Takahashi, a 93–year–old resident, works under the sun but doesn’t see much need for sunblock or cream.
His skin is still soft and Sakamoto is still physically fit enough to farm his fields daily. For all of its quarks and ordinary features, there is something researchers believe might be unique about Yuzuri Hara 一 the diet.
The secret ingredient
Unlike most Japanese regions, rice isn’t much of a staple in the Village of Long Life. Yazuri Hara residents enjoy a diet of satsumaimo, konyaku, satoimo, and imoji 一 all varieties of white and sweet potatoes. It’s a diet rich in diverse carbohydrates, each one a source of vital nutrients.
However, these staples all share a compound that may be the key to the village’s nickname: starch. Having studied the local lifestyle extensively, town doctor Dr. Toyosuke Komori writes that the low–iron, vegetable diet could stimulate the production of an important substance.
One of the most well-studied substances in skincare, to be exact: hyaluronic acid (HA).
What is hyaluronic acid?
Also known as hyaluronan, hyaluronic acid is a clear, gooey compound produced by our bodies. As a naturally-made substance, it plays a key role in eye, skin, and tissue health. Its powerful properties and versatility make it one of the most important ingredients in many leading skin care products.
But while we find it often in creams and other topicals, Yazuri Hara locals may just have the perfect diet to boost its natural production. When Dr. Komori describes its effects, he doesn’t talk about the conditions he normally treats. In the Village of Long Life, the most fascinating medical conditions are the ones he almost never comes across locally.
“I’ve never seen anyone suffer from skin cancer here,” he says. He describes a patient in her 90s as having “spotless skin”. These findings were partly what kicked off pharmaceutical research into hyaluronic acid in Japan.
Japanese companies provided 1000 people with test supplements, and the results spoke for themselves.
Our relationship to hyaluronic acid
Of the 1000 people given hyaluronic acid in pill form, half reported having better eyesight and smoother skin. Many noted they were less fatigued too, indicating that the benefits aren’t only skin-deep.
In the US, the Food and Drug Administration approved another hyaluronic acid product. This one was an injection, tested specifically for treating osteoarthritis. Sports medicine specialist and orthopedist, Dr. Irving Raphael, highlights what it could mean for treating joint pain.
The injection was designed to coat joint surfaces in hyaluronic acid. As an elastic and natural lubricant, the body already uses it to lower friction and absorb shock in the joints. Like many pains associated with aging, it's the slowing production of HA we tend to feel over time.
Hyaluronic acid and quality of life
While further tests offer plenty of insights to orthopedics and physicians, medical researchers in these fields are still exploring its full effects. When it comes to skin health, though, dermatologists have been studying this incredible compound for decades.
When it comes to providing a higher quality of life, skincare is where hyaluronic acid truly shines. Supplements and beauty products have been developed to get maximum benefits when applied directly to the skin.
Crucially, hyaluronic acid is a major component of the skin. Half of all the hyaluronan in our bodies is stored there. But what health and wellness benefits does it offer specifically?
Supple, glowing skin
Like collagen, hyaluronic acid is responsible for giving the tissue cells structure and elasticity. At a molecular level, this keeps tissue stretchy and strong enough to withstand the natural forces of moving. When we take a step back, the result is supple, plump skin with a healthy glow.
While Tadanao Takahashi might provide an outlier example of these effects in action, sunscreen is still recommended. Hyaluronic acid production slows down with age, but UV radiation can accelerate the aging process prematurely.
Hyaluronan also plays a major role in reducing visible signs of premature aging. It's amazing at retaining moisture in the skin, giving the surface that full, plump appearance. This can reduce the appearance of wrinkles and fine lines.
Despite being stored throughout the body, hyaluronic acid concentrates on damaged areas. Damage sites on the skin contain higher levels of the compound, which is key to effective wound healing.
Hyaluronic acid reduces inflammation around the area, boosting circulation in the area for speedy repair. Its antibacterial properties help to ward off infection on the wound itself, and the overall effect reduces pain throughout the area.
By promoting all of these cell functions when they’re needed most, hyaluronic acid is vital for better healing. Even with nothing to repair, the elasticity it offers our cells helps them withstand damage proactively.
Supplement your skincare with the right hyaluronic acid cream
Moisture retention isn’t just good for smoothing wrinkles, either. The epidermis, the outermost layer of skin, loses water quicker in winter. The drier, colder climate “leech” moisture from the surface, drying out skin faster than normal.
Without enough moisture, cell functions slow down. HA, like the one found in our Hygieia Hyaluronic Acid Face Cream, revitalizes your skin and restores its natural moisture barrier. Nourishing and packed with essential ingredients, it’s the perfect vegan product to add to your daily skincare routine.