Bendy bodies – Nutrition tips for joint hypermobility

A woman doing a yoga pose on a grassy field.

Is it easy for you or your child to do the splits or advanced yoga poses? Are you double-jointed? This extraordinary suppleness and range of movement may be down to having hypermobile joints. There are great positives to having a bendy body and this natural innate flexibility can potentially enhance performance in activities like yoga and gymnastics.

However, sometimes hypermobility can set you up for a wide range of health difficulties including increased risk of dislocations, discomfort and pain and even wider-reaching issues such as gut issues and fatigue. This blog explores the link between hypermobility and the high prevalence amongst the neurodivergent population and shares some nutrition tips on how to help manage any complications arising from having hypermobility.

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The difficulties associated with hypermobility

As well as hyperflexible joints, hypermobility often comes along with other distinct bodily signs including delicate blood vessels, easy bruising and soft or stretchy skin. Frequent and marked scarring as well as poor wound healing can also be indicative of this condition. These hyper-flexible joints can also increase susceptibility to sports injuries and dislocations and sometimes because of this, contact sports are discouraged.

In young children, hypermobility can be identified from low muscle tone, floppy legs or arms and many hypermobile kids sit most comfortably with their legs in a W shape. Hypermobility can be one of the reasons your child was a “bum shuffler” and never crawled, or that they hated tummy time when they were tiny.

Hypermobility can also affect fine motor skills, including difficulties with the pincer grip in writing, using scissors or doing up buttons, which is common amongst kids with developmental co-ordination disorders such as Dyspraxia.

It is thought that people who experience these other signs and symptoms of hypermobility inherit genetic variations in the way they produce collagen, elastin and fibrillin, three parts of our connective tissue matrix that knits our skin, joints, cartilage and muscles together. Think of these as the scaffolding that provides structure within the body and also provides strength and elasticity to the skin. When you have weakness in this connective tissue matrix, then this is when symptoms can start to show.

The Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome connection

Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (EDS) is a group of inherited disorders primarily affecting connective tissues. There are thirteen types of Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, most of which are very rare and Hypermobile Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (hEDS) is the most common type.

Like hypermobility, key symptoms of Hypermobile Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome include extraordinarily flexible joints as well as delicate, stretchy skin. Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome is usually more systemic and can affect multiple body systems, not just joints, and can include problems like cardiovascular complications.

Other common symptoms experienced by individuals with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome include exhaustion, gastric issues such as gastroparesis, constipation and reflux as well as heart valve issues and urinary incontinence. They are also more prone to hernias and prolapse. Postural tachycardia syndrome (PoTS) which leads to dizziness or faster heart rate upon standing is also common in people with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome.

The hypermobility and neurodivergence link

Many people with a neurodivergent brain, including those with autism, ADHD, sensory processing disorder, dyslexia and dyspraxia find that they also have joint hypermobility and it is now estimated that neurodivergent folk are over twice as likely to have unusually flexible joints and associated symptoms than the neurotypical population.

This may be one of the reasons why so many people with neurodivergence often experience chronic pain, slow gut motility and symptoms of dysautonomia such as an abnormally fast or slow heart rate, anxiety, excessive sweating or not being able to sweat at all, chronic fatigue and lethargy, shortness of breath, thirstiness, trouble swallowing and headaches.

While the exact reasons for the higher prevalence of hypermobility and Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome in neurodivergent populations are not entirely clear, theories suggest that there are some shared genetics as well as some overlapping neurometabolic factors. Research suggests that they also share some of the same inflammatory pathways. More investigation is needed to ascertain the why so many people with neurological differences also have joint hypermobility or Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome.

Diet and supplements for support

Besides medical intervention and physical therapies, dietary changes and certain supplements can support individuals with hypermobility or Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome to help manage the pain, inflammation and mobility. Here are a few dietary changes to consider:

  • A deficiency in vitamin B9 (folate) may well be an important piece of the puzzle when it comes to hypermobility according to research published in 2023. Often people with a folate deficiency, paradoxically have high levels of folate in their blood due to carrying a genetic SNP called MTHFR which hampers the methylation of synthetic folic acid into the useable form that in turn nourishes the collagen. This means it remains it stays in the blood and does not get utilised in the cells where all the magic happens. Around 60% of the global population carry a variation of this MTHFR gene and those people are not always hypermobile. Therefore prioritise eating salad leaves, green vegetables, eggs and pulses which are naturally rich in natural folate and consider topping up with folate supplements in the form of methyl tetrahydrofolate or calcium l folinate.
  • Consider incorporating more vitamin C into the diet, which is essential for the production of collagen, a protein that helps maintain the integrity of skin, blood vessels and connective tissues. Foods rich in vitamin C include citrus fruits, kiwi fruits, berries as well as red peppers and parsley.
  • Magnesium can assist with muscle and nerve function and foods abundant in magnesium include nuts, seeds, green veg and dark chocolate.
  • Palmitoylethanolamide (PEA) is a fatty acid compound that has been shown to have anti-inflammatory effects and may help with pain management. Egg yolks, peanuts, alfalfa seeds and organ meats such as liver naturally contain PEA.
  • Quercetin, a plant pigment with potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects, can support the health of delicate blood vessels. Apples, red onions, red peppers and pea shoots are rich in quercetin.
  • Turmeric’s active ingredient, curcumin, has well-documented anti-inflammatory properties and can help when there is pain present. Add turmeric to curries and dhals or turmeric lattes.
  • Finally, Omega-3 fatty acids, found in foods like oily fish such as salmon, mackerel and sardines as well as walnuts, flaxseeds, chia seeds and hemp seeds can help with joint health and reduce inflammation.

Round up

I hope my nutrition tips help you to support your connective tissue and to keep you strong and pain-free, whether you are neurodivergent or not. With the right knowledge and support, people with hypermobility and Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome can lead fulfilling, active and healthy lives without being held back by the plethora of symptoms that can come alongside.

If you need any additional 1 to 1 support and would like to further support with your hypermobility or associated symptoms, then please get in touch with our NatureDoc clinical team.

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