Muscle and strength begin to diminish as people head into their 50s. It’s a slow and gradual process, but unless kept in check this loss of muscle can lead to a variety of health issues over time. One way to keep muscle tissue strong — in addition to exercise, of course — is to make sure you are getting enough vitamin C in your diet, a recent study finds.

“It's a big problem, because [losing muscle mass] can lead to frailty and other poor outcomes such as sarcopenia, physical disability, type-2 diabetes, reduced quality of life and death,” Ailsa Welch, one of the members of a team of researchers from University of East Anglia's Norwich Medical School and Cambridge University that looked at whether vitamin C could help older adults retain muscle mass, explained.

Vitamin C appears to be important for muscle health in older men and women and may be useful for preventing age-related muscle loss.

“We know that Vitamin C consumption is linked with skeletal muscle mass,” she explained. “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.”

More than 13,000 people between the ages of 42 and 82 took part in the study. Their muscle mass was calculated, and their vitamin C intakes were estimated based on a seven-day food diary. Blood samples were also taken to determine the amount of vitamin C in participants’ blood.

The results showed that people who had the highest amounts of vitamin C in their diet and blood had the highest skeletal muscle mass, compared to those with those who had the lowest levels of vitamin C. “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,” said researcher, Richard Hayhoe, also from UEA's Norwich Medical School.

“We found that nearly 60 per cent of men and 50 per cent of women participants were not consuming as much Vitamin C as they should,” Hayhoe added. “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.”

This means improving your intake of vitamin C is pretty painless. It is readily available in tomatoes, citrus fruits and many vegetables. It is better to get your vitamin C from foods rather than supplements because of the additional nutrients and fiber those foods bring to one’s diet.

The study is published in The Journal of Nutrition.