Maintain muscle strength

Posted on: 02 December 2009 by Mark O'haire

A diet rich in vitamins C and E may help maintain muscle strength and prevent falls.

Muscle strength is important as the years creep up on us, and not just so you can open the new jar of marmalade. It’s sad but true that the strength of our muscles starts to wane in our 40s, and the decline gathers speed once we reach our 60s. Those weaker muscles put us at greater risk of falls, which can themselves have far-reaching effects on our health.

It isn’t all bad news though. While you may not be able to reach the strength levels you had as an 18-year-old, there are, says Dr Anne Newman of the University of Pittsburgh, strategies that may slow down your loss of muscle strength.

Dr Newman is part of a team that has carried out research into the potential benefits of antioxidants in this area. For the study they asked over 2,000 men and women in their 70s about their long-term eating habits. They also measured the strength of the participants’ grip at the start of the study and again, two years later.

What they found was a 'significant positive link' between dietary intake of vitamins C and E and the change in muscle strength. It isn’t clear yet whether these particular vitamins help us to hold on to muscle strength, or if they’re an indication that the people involved were eating a healthy diet. "Since they’re 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," says Dr Newman.

The average daily dietary intakes of vitamins C and E in the study were 144 milligrams and 11 milligrams, respectively. "For vitamin E at least, our cohort's intake was on average a little lower than the recommended daily allowance," Dr Newman explained. "So while it's possible to get enough of this micro-nutrient in the diet, you have to pay attention and be sure to include foods rich in that vitamin."

On the other hand, don’t get too gung-ho and start taking high-dose supplements of these vitamins. "In clinical trials with very high doses of antioxidants, you don't see any benefits and in some cases, they're potentially harmful," said Dr Newman.

Where to get your vitamins C and E?

After some vitamin C?

Stock up on these fruit and veg; Apples, Blackcurrants, Blueberries and other berries, Broccoli, Citrus fruits, Kiwi fruit, Peppers, Spinach, Strawberries, Sweet Potatoes, Tomatoes.

You’ll find vitamin E in these:

Apples, Avocados, Bananas, Beans, Brussels sprouts, Hazelnuts, Lettuce, Onions, Spinach, Sweet Potatoes, Vegetable oils - Olive and Sunflower.

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