Retaining muscle mass as people age is a critical quality of life issue tied directly to nutrition. Researchers from the University of East Anglia in England discovered the seniors they studied who had the highest levels of vitamin C circulating in their bloodstream also had the highest levels of muscle mass.
Scientists say people over the age of 50 lose one percent or more of muscle mass per year. The loss of skeletal muscle mass as a result of aging is called sarcopenia and it makes people frail and more susceptible to falls and a loss of mobility. The results of the study published in the Journal of Nutrition offers hope for people looking to retain muscle as they age because simple dietary changes can make a big difference.
"We know that vitamin C consumption is linked with skeletal muscle mass,” Ailsa Welch, from UEA's Norwich Medical School said. “But until now, few studies have investigated the importance of Vitamin C intake for older people. We wanted to find out whether people eating more Vitamin C had more muscle mass than other people."
Welch went on to describe vitamin C’s impact by saying, “It helps defend the cells and tissues that make up the body from potentially harmful free radical substances. Unopposed, these free radicals can contribute to the destruction of muscle, thus speeding up age-related decline."
Welch and her colleagues studied data from more than 13,000 people between the ages of 42-82 who participated in the EPIC (European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition) Norfolk Study. Participants were asked to complete a seven-day food diary and had the levels of vitamin C in their blood checked. They also had their skeletal muscle mass calculated.
"We studied a large sample of older Norfolk residents and found that people with the highest amounts of vitamin C in their diet or blood had the greatest estimated skeletal muscle mass, compared to those with the lowest amounts,” said Dr. Richard Hayhoe, from UEA's Norwich Medical School. "We are very excited by our findings as they suggest that dietary vitamin C is important for muscle health in older men and women and may be useful for preventing age-related muscle loss.
Researchers said nearly 60 percent of men and 50 percent of the women in the study were not reaching the daily recommendations for vitamin C set forth by the European Food Safety Agency.
“This is particularly significant as Vitamin C is readily available in fruits and vegetables, or supplements, so improving intake of this vitamin is relatively straightforward,” Dr. Hayhoe said. "We're not talking about people needing mega-doses. Eating a citrus fruit, such as an orange, each day and having a vegetable side to a meal will be sufficient for most people."