We’re All Connected

Connective tissue is vital for the health of our organs. Learn to support it naturally.


| January/February 2004



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The glue that holds us together, connective tissue is remarkable for its tensile strength and for its sheer versatility. Far left, this electron micrograph shows bony lamellae in the human thigh bone, magnified 2,000 times.

Prof. P. Motta/Dept. of Anatomy/University, “La Sapienza,” Rome/SPL/Custom Medical Stock Photo

Right now, as I’m using my computer keyboard, it’s connective tissue — the ligaments, tendons and smooth cartilage of the joint surfaces — that gives my wrists and hands the strength and flexibility to perform this complex task.

Connective tissue is literally the stuff that holds our bodies together, the “extra-cellular matrix” within which the cells lie. Other names for this tissue are “basement membrane” and “ground substance,” reflecting its foundational quality. Connective tissue is found throughout the body — in all of the organs, in cartilage, bones, tendons, ligaments, and in the loose areolar tissue that forms sheaths around muscles, nerves and blood vessels. Our bodies wouldn’t be much without connective tissue, so it makes sense to do what we can to nourish and support this under- appreciated wonder.

The most abundant constituent of connective tissue is collagen, of which there are more than 18 different varieties. Elastin, fibrillin and proteoglycans are other important components. Connective tissue is synthesized by a fascinating self-assembly process that involves the formation of long strands of polypeptides that fold into a triple-helix conformation with many cross-linkages. This structure gives connective tissue its tensile strength and elasticity.

In the healthy body there is very little metabolic turnover of connective tissue. For this reason, it may take time for injured connective tissue to heal. When connective tissues break down, the process is initiated by enzymes known as collagenases; they work by cleaving one area of the triple helix, causing the whole thing to unravel. Bone is an exception to the slow turnover rate of connective tissue. Healthy bone is constantly remodeling itself. In growing children, this process can be dramatic and rapid.

 

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