The more drinks with vitamin C in your diet, the more muscle mass you have. British epidemiologists at Norwich School of Medicine stumbled upon this association in a study of 13,000 men and women. The results were published in an article titled “Lower levels of dietary and circulating vitamin C in middle-aged and older men and women are associated with lower skeletal muscle mass” in The Journal of Nutrition this August .
The researchers used data from more than 10,000 men and women aged 42-82 who participated in the European Prospective Study on Cancer and Nutrition. However, they knew lean mass (body mass without fat, which consists mainly of muscle mass) in all study participants.
Sarcopenia and Drinks with Vitamin C
Sarcopenia is characterized by a progressive loss of skeletal muscle mass and strength. Increasing age is a recognized risk factor for developing sarcopenia, with the disease affecting> 50 million people over the age of 50 worldwide.
The etiology of sarcopenia is multifactorial, with several contributing mechanisms, including:
- endocrine causes,
- age-related changes in circulating cytokines,
- production of reactive oxygen species (ROS),
- physical inactivity,
- low protein intake.
ROS, which are produced during oxidative metabolism in muscles and as a result of age-related mitochondrial dysfunction, induce cell damage in muscles, as well as an age-related increase in circulating concentrations of inflammatory cytokines.
Vitamin C, a water-soluble vitamin that we obtain from fruits and vegetables, has several mechanical functions related to skeletal muscle metabolism and physiology that may prevent age-related muscle loss.
The mechanisms of vitamin C in skeletal muscle physiology include the synthesis of carnitine and collagen. Recent animal studies have further developed the role of vitamin C deficiency (1-4).
Since vitamin C is an electron donor, it can reduce oxidative damage to muscles as well as decrease the concentration of inflammatory cytokines in the circulation [5, 6].
Vitamin C deficiency, known as scurvy, is defined by circulating concentrations of ascorbic acid <11.4 μmol / l. Moreover, data from validation studies indicate that these circulating concentrations are suitable biomarkers of dietary vitamin C in epidemiological studies.
Despite the knowledge of the mechanisms by which vitamin C may affect skeletal muscle physiology during aging, the importance of drinks with vitamin C in relation to skeletal muscle mass has not been extensively studied.
Given the relevance of vitamin C to skeletal muscle physiology and the lack of previous research on the importance of vitamin C for the sarcopenic risk factor for skeletal muscle mass, the aim of this study was to investigate the association of dietary and plasma vitamin C with lean body mass in a large general population of middle-aged and older men and women.
Vitamin C intake
The researchers measured the participants’ intake of vitamin C, and then divided them into 5 groups of approximately the same size, depending on the level of intake. These groups are called quintiles.
Only the 2 quintiles with the highest intakes used 80-90 milligrams of vitamin C per day or more.
According to the EFSA (European Food Safety Agency), men and women need 90 and 80 milligrams of vitamin C per day, respectively.
60% of study participants did not meet these requirements.
Interestingly, the difference between the lowest intake quintile and the highest intake quintile is equal to the amount of vitamin C contained in one orange.
An analysis of dietary data for our study cohort showed that for both men and women, fruits, vegetables, potatoes, and fruit juices contribute most to vitamin C intake. The study participants who consumed more drinks with vitamin C were found to have more lean body mass.
Vitamin C Status
In addition to the intake level, the researchers also measured the concentration of vitamin C in the blood of the study participants and divided their population into two groups – the group with sufficient amounts of vitamin C (more than 50 μmol of vitamin C per liter) and the group with low amounts of vitamin C (less than 50 μmol of vitamin C per liter).
And again, researchers found a link between lean mass and vitamin C. Lean mass was bigger in the healthy group by a few percent.
Overall, these results indicate that consuming a diet high in vitamin C has the potential to protect skeletal muscle health during aging and thus provide reinforcement of the benefits of following healthy dietary recommendations by consuming adequate amounts of fruits and vegetables.
However, further research is needed, including longitudinal analysis (looking at changes over time) and interventional studies to examine the long-term effects of increased dietary vitamin C intake or supplementation on skeletal muscle health during aging.
“This study showed significant positive associations between both diet and circulating vitamin C and skeletal muscle performance in a large cohort of free-living middle-aged and older women,” the researchers say.
“These results indicate that ensuring an adequate dietary intake of vitamin C while promoting a diet rich in fruits and vegetables can help reduce age-related loss of skeletal muscle and thus provide broad public health benefits.“
- Takisawa S, Funakoshi T, Yatsu T, Nagata K, Aigaki T, Machida S, Ishigami A. Vitamin C deficiency causes muscle atrophy and a deterioration in physical performance. Sci Rep. 2019;9:4702.
- Ryan MJ, Dudash HJ, Docherty M, Geronilla KB, Baker BA, Haff GG, Cutlip RG, Alway SE. Vitamin E and C supplementation reduces oxidative stress, improves antioxidant enzymes, and positive muscle work in chronically loaded muscles of aged rats. Exp Gerontol. 2010;45:882–95.
- Chapman MA, Meza R, Lieber RL. Skeletal muscle fibroblasts in health and disease. Differentiation. 2016;92:108–15.
- Rebouche CJ. Ascorbic acid and carnitine biosynthesis. Am J Clin Nutr. 1991;54:1147S–52S.
- Dalle S, Rossmeislova L, Koppo K. The role of inflammation in age-related sarcopenia. Front Physiol. 2017;8:1045.
- Cerullo F, Gambassi G, Cesari M. Rationale for antioxidant supplementation in sarcopenia. J Aging Res. 2012:316943.
- Lower Dietary and Circulating Vitamin C in Middle- and Older-Aged Men and Women Are Associated with Lower Estimated Skeletal Muscle Mass Lucy N Lewis, Richard P G Hayhoe, Angela A Mulligan, Robert N Luben, Kay-Tee Khaw, Ailsa A Welch. The Journal of Nutrition, nxaa221.
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