HA is a glucosaminoglycan extracellular matrix constituent that occurs naturally in the human body up until the age of 30, after which levels start to decrease. This decrease is understood to play a large role in the ageing process.
Since joint and skin health both tend to deteriorate with age, HA may be included in oral formulations aimed at people seeking to relieve joint pain or help prevent wrinkles.
Traditionally, HA is derived from rooster combs and bovine sources. Fenchem's Hyamax, however, is produced through microbial fermentation, which the company said means it is "totally free from allergens and viruses".
There is currently a trend towards introducing vegetarian forms of ingredients in recent years, which may have come about as a result of animal food scares such as BSE and avian flu.
Although the industry consensus is that there is no evidence to support such viruses being present in supplement ingredients, nonetheless consumers are seeking the reassurance of products containing no animal derivatives.
DSM Nutritional Products, for instance, has a portfolio of non-animal alternatives to popular ingredients, and Cargill has brought to market vegetarian glucosamine hydrocholoride from fungus (glucosamine, also a joint health ingredient, is usually derived from shrimp).
Fenchem recently introduced the ingredient in the US market, but spokesperson Junny Liu told NutraIngredients.com that it is "striving to expand to the European market".
Other suppliers are offering oral HA in the supplements sector including SourceOne, BioCell and SoftGel.
Although some of these do market their ingredients for joint health, Fenchem claims that the majority of the HA-containing supplements on the market are cosmeceuticals, and that joint health is a relatively new area.
Until now, HA has been more commonly available in injectable grade, it said, but this is an invasive and less convenient delivery method, that is effective over a comparatively short time frame.
Fenchem is also planning some studies to compare the absorption and efficacy of different molecular weights of HA for joint health. Human and animal trials are planned, but Liu would not share details of the design at the present time.
The studies will take place at a private lab in the US, in collaboration with some other companies active in this area.
The initial aim, said Liu, is to boost the scientific backing for current clients' products. She hopes the findings will also trickle down to consumers, guiding them to seek out products containing the most efficient molecular weight.