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Aging | Vitamin C: Part of the Formula for Healthy Bones

Vitamin C: Part of the Formula for Healthy Bones

Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that can help keep the body’s immune system strong, reduce inflammation, and support the formation of collagen, an important protein in connective tissue. Now research suggests that vitamin C may also prevent changes in the body that lead to age-related bone loss.

Significant bone loss, called osteoporosis, is a common condition that affects more than ten million people in the US. A person loses bone density from the natural process of aging, as a side effect from medications, or as a result of certain medical conditions. When bone density is lost, bones become weaker and more susceptible to fractures.

Osteoporosis occurs most commonly in women but also affects men. It can be difficult to treat, so the impact of nutrition and other prevention and treatment options that may keep bones healthy should be fully explored.

Vitamin C may prevent bone loss in senior men

The Journal of Nutrition published a study showing the association of vitamin C and bone loss in participants of the Framingham Osteoporosis Study. Among men who never smoked, higher vitamin C intake (from both diet and supplements) was associated with greater bone mineral density of the hip. In contrast, higher vitamin C intake did not protect against bone loss in male smokers; to the contrary, higher vitamin C intake was associated with lower bone density in that group. No association was seen between vitamin C and bone density among women in this study.

The authors warn that the interaction between nutrition and health is complex. Vitamin C may protect bone health by combining with other important nutrients found in a healthy diet. “Fruit- and vegetable-specific antioxidants may play a role in osteoporosis prevention or treatment,” said Shivani Sahni and her colleagues from Tufts University in Boston, Massachusetts. “Hence, more studies are required to clarify the role of fruit- and vegetable-specific antioxidants such as vitamin C in the prevention of osteoporosis.”

The negative association between vitamin C intake and bone density among male smokers was unexpected and difficult to explain. Smoking depletes vitamin C, and other studies have shown that increasing vitamin C intake improves overall health in smokers.

Tips for adding vitamin C to the diet

• Vitamin C can be found in a variety of fruits and vegetables and especially in citrus fruits such as oranges and grapefruits, and vegetables such as tomatoes and broccoli.

• The recommended daily allowance of vitamin C in healthy adults is 75 mg per day for women and 90 mg per day for men and higher amounts may be required for pregnant women or women who are breast-feeding.

• People who smoke may require an additional 35 mg per day of vitamin C compared with nonsmokers.

• Talk with your doctor about whether or not you would benefit from vitamin C supplements based on your current health needs.

(J Nutr 2008;138:1931–8)

Jane Hart, MD, board-certified in internal medicine, serves in a variety of professional roles including consultant, journalist, and educator. Dr. Hart, a Clinical Instructor at Case Medical School in Cleveland, Ohio, writes extensively about health and wellness and a variety of other topics for nationally recognized organizations, Web sites, and print publications. Sought out for her expertise in the areas of integrative and preventive medicine, she is frequently quoted by national and local media. Dr. Hart is a professional lecturer for healthcare professionals, consumers, and youth and is a regular corporate speaker.

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The health information contained in this site is not intended as medical advice and should not be considered a substitute for appropriate medical care. Any products mentioned in studies cited in Healthnotes articles are not necessarily endorsed by Bastyr. As with any product, consult with a natural health practitioner to discuss what may be best for you.

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