Vitamin C could help older adults retain muscle mass

Older people who eat plenty of vitamin C, commonly found in citrus fruits, berries, and vegetables, have the best skeletal muscle mass, according to new research by the University of East Anglia published in The Journal of Nutrition.

For the study, the research team studied data from more than 13,000 people aged between 42 and 82 years old, who are taking part in the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC) Norfolk Study. They calculated their skeletal muscle mass and analyzed their vitamin C intakes from a seven-day food diary. They also examined the amount of vitamin C in their blood.

People tend to lose skeletal muscle mass as they get older, leading to conditions like sarcopenia, frailty, and reduced quality of life. According to the researchers, people can lose up to 50 percent of their muscle mass, and this loss is thought to affect more than 50 million people worldwide.

The researchers 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. Additionally, nearly 60 percent of male and 50 percent of female participants were not recommended amounts of vitamin C, according to the study.

"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,” said Richard Hayhoe, BSc, PGDip, MPH, PhD, MRSPH, in a statement. “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.”