How vitamin C can save your muscles from shrinking

You hear a lot about maintaining your bone mass as you get older… but what about your muscle mass?

Once you’re over 50, you lose about 1 percent of your muscle mass per year. And this loss of muscle can become a big problem. Not only can it lead to frailty and reduced quality of life, but it’s also even linked to a higher risk of physical disability and type-2 diabetes.

So how do you prevent your muscle mass from slipping away with age?

The answer may be simpler than you’d think… more vitamin C.

Vitamin C preserves skeletal muscle mass

A new study from researchers at the University of East Anglia (UEA) in the U.K. found that older adults who get lots of vitamin C in their diet have the best skeletal muscle mass (muscle mass attached to bone).

Researchers looked at data from more than 13,000 people between 42 and 82 years old. Their skeletal muscle mass was calculated, and their vitamin C intake was gauged through a food diary as well as blood tests.

After crunching all the numbers, researchers determined that people with the highest amount of vitamin C in their diet and/or blood had the best skeletal muscle mass. Why would vitamin C help people maintain more muscle mass?

Researchers say it’s because vitamin C’s antioxidant properties help defend cells and tissues from free radicals, which can damage muscle and speed up age-related muscle loss.

“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 study researcher Dr. Richard Hayhoe.

You should be very excited about their findings, too, because it means you have a simple (and delicious way) to save your muscles…

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Save your muscles with these vitamin C-rich foods

Researchers made a point of saying that you don’t need mega-doses of vitamin C to protect your muscles as you age… a simple orange will do. Here are some other healthy vitamin C-filled foods that can keep your muscle mass intact:

  • Cantaloupe
  • Citrus fruits and juices (like oranges and grapefruits)
  • Kiwi
  • Mango
  • Papaya
  • Pineapple
  • Berries (strawberries, raspberries, blueberries and cranberries)
  • Watermelon
  • Cruciferous vegetables (like broccoli, Brussels sprouts and cauliflower)
  • Green and red peppers
  • Leafy greens (like spinach, cabbage and turnip greens)
  • Sweet and white potatoes
  • Tomatoes and tomato juice
  • Winter squash

Getting lots of vitamin C from whole foods is by far your healthiest option. But unfortunately, a lot of people in the U.S. struggle to get enough vitamin C through food alone. Severe vitamin C deficiency (which can cause scurvy) is rare. But some research shows that close to 50 percent of Americans fall short of meeting the average vitamin C requirements (65 to 90 milligrams per day) through their diet alone.

If you suspect you fall short, you may want to consider supplementing just to be safe. You can get enough vitamin C from a high-quality multivitamin or you can stick to a supplement that only contains vitamin C depending on your needs and goals. Whatever you do, don’t skimp on this essential vitamin or else your muscles could suffer the consequences.


How vitamin C could help over 50s retain muscle mass — EurekAlert!

Vitamin C — MedlinePlus.

Foods, fortificants, and supplements: Where do Americans get their nutrients? — Journal of Nutrition.

Jenny Smiechowski

By Jenny Smiechowski

Jenny Smiechowski is a Chicago-based freelance writer who specializes in health, nutrition and the environment. Her work has appeared in online and print publications like Chicagoland Gardening magazine, Organic Lifestyle Magazine, BetterLife Magazine,, and