NUTRITION
December 30, 2009

Diet Slows Muscle Loss

Diet may help reduce frailty. Those who had plenty of vitamins C and E had greater strength than those who didn't.

The well−known antioxidants, vitamins C and E, may play a role in preventing the loss of muscle that naturally accompanies old age, a new study reports. Muscle loss can increase one’s risk of becoming frail, falling, and, in more severe cases, becoming disabled – but the researchers say there are several measures one can take to slow down the process.

“Muscle strength is really a marker of aging," Anne Newman of the University of Pittsburgh said in an interview. Muscle strength starts declining when people are in their 40s, but it decreases dramatically after age 60."

[T]he more vitamins C and E the participants consumed, the more their grip strength increased over the course of the study. However... it’s not clear whether it was the vitamins themselves or a generally healthier diet that was associated with the increased strength.

The researchers, who have been studying the various factors involved in preventing muscle loss for some time, wished to determine what role micronutrients might play in the process. They studied over 2,000 male and female participants who were in their 70s, and asked them questions about their eating habits over the years. To measure the muscle strength of the participants, the researchers also had them do grip tests at the beginning and at the end of the two−year study.

Newman and her team found that the more vitamins C and E the participants consumed, the more their grip strength increased over the course of the study. However, because the study only identified a correlation between the vitamins and muscle strength, rather than cause and effect, it’s not clear whether it was the vitamins themselves or a generally healthier diet that was associated with the increased strength. Newman suggests that "[s]ince [vitamins C and E] are in the food, they could be directly related, or they could be marking diets high in fruits and vegetables and low in sodium — all of which would have beneficial effects.”

But Newman adds that the findings offer “another reason for doctors to encourage patients to eat a balanced diet, rich in fruits and vegetables." Getting the right amount of vitamins in the diet can be tricky, as the team found was the case with vitamin E – the participants in the current study consumed just under the FDA’s recommended daily allowance. On the other hand, balance really is key: Newman says that over−consuming vitamins poses a whole other set of problems, as even antioxidants can be harmful if taken in high doses.

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