Bone health and calcium have become inextricably linked, so much so that when it comes to thinking about supporting strong, healthy bones, many people don’t think beyond calcium.
It’s true that calcium is important for bones; but most people are unaware that other nutrients are needed too. And these are not just in the category of ‘would like to have’ these are ‘absolutely essential to have’. Some of these are also quite surprising…
Vitamin C helps to build strong bones
Perhaps most surprising is the vital role that vitamin C plays in building strong, healthy bones. It is well known that a deficiency of vitamin C causes scurvy; fortunately, a disease which is rare nowadays. Historically, scurvy commonly affected sailors, out at sea for extended periods and without access to fresh vitamin C-rich foods such as fruits and vegetables. Symptoms of scurvy include shortness of breath, lethargy, bleeding gums, loosening of teeth, skin changes with roughness and easy bruising and emotional changes.
Another key and less well known symptom of scurvy however is bone pain which is an indication of just how important vitamin C is for strong, healthy bones. In fact, musculoskeletal symptoms are present in approximately 80% of scurvy cases. This is because vitamin C is crucial for collagen production, and collagen is an important component of bones. Bones with scurvy lack collagen, and instead of the bone being smooth and solid, it looks like a sponge with lots of tiny holes and is more porous. “Vitamin C depletion is responsible for structural collagen alterations, defective osteoid matrix formation, and increased bone resorption. Trabecular and cortical osteoporosis is common”1
Most people would benefit from extra dietary vitamin C
Although vitamin C deficiency to the point of causing scurvy is rare, anyone with a very restricted diet or suffering from malnutrition can be at risk. Also vulnerable are babies and children in the first few years of life, or at later stages of rapid growth; and older adults are at higher risk too. And although vitamin C deficiency is rare, suboptimal intakes are very common in those consuming a traditional Western diet. In addition, fruit and vegetable crops which should represent good sources of vitamin C, nowadays contain much lower levels. This further compounds the problem of low dietary intakes. The simple takeaway is that most people would benefit from adding extra vitamin C into their diets, for bone health and much more.
Best dietary sources of vitamin C:2
✓ Acerola cherry
✓ Sweet red pepper
✓ Kiwi fruit
1. Fain O, Musculoskeletal manifestations of scurvy. Joint Bone Spine. 2005 Mar; 72 (2): 124-8
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