Vitamin C for Bone Health: Is Osteoporosis the New Scurvy?
Scurvy, a condition of vitamin C deficiency that traditionally results in gum disease, skin hemorrhages and anemia, was a common disease of early sailors who spent months at sea without restocking their rations. Left without fresh fruits and vegetables, these sailors became deficient, and it wasn’t until citrus fruits were provided on ships that people were able to survive long voyages without perishing from scurvy.
This type of scurvy is an example of acute, severe depletion of vitamin C. But what effects could a chronic, suboptimal level of vitamin C in the body have?
Osteoporosis Vs. Vitamin C
Recently, I read an article about osteoporosis being the new scurvy, and it caught my attention. The body uses vitamin C in many different ways — to form collagen and make skin, tendons, ligaments, and blood vessels. Vitamin C is also used to repair and maintain cartilage, bones, and teeth, and the immune system uses it to help prevent infections and heal wounds. So, it stands to reason that long-term suboptimal levels of vitamin C could play a role in the development of osteoporosis.
Osteoporosis, a condition of thinning and weakened bones, is widespread, particularly among people ages 65 and over — approximately 10 million Americans have osteoporosis, 8 million of whom are women, with tens of millions more at high risk of developing it due to low bone mass.
As we age, starting around age 30, our bones slowly start to weaken and lose mineral density, which can lead to bones breaking easily as we get older. While genetics and hormonal changes due to aging contribute to decreasing bone density, following a healthy lifestyle that includes proper nutrition and physical activity is the best way to keep your bones strong.
Our bones are living tissue made up mostly of minerals for strength and rigidity — primarily, calcium phosphate — and proteins that provide a flexible framework — largely, collagen. Calcium intake (along with vitamins D, K, and C) throughout life is key for bone growth and maintenance. In the push-pull process between bone growth and bone breakdown / resorption by the body, vitamin C decreases bone resorption and inflammation while increasing bone synthesis.
Humans, unlike many animals, cannot make vitamin C in our own bodies, and therefore we must consume it in our diets or through supplementation. Heating many foods destroys vitamin C, including in commercially pasteurized milk. Adding raw and lightly cooked vegetables and fruit to your diet is very important to ensure adequate levels of vitamin C. One of my favorite prescriptive dishes for osteoporosis is leafy greens lightly sautéed in oil (add a squeeze of lemon for an extra boost of vitamin C!).
My favorite vitamin C containing foods include:
- Herbs like parsley and cilantro
- These tasty herbs can be added to smoothies, grain salads, or as a garnish in soups or stews. They are excellent detoxifiers and support the liver. This delicious pumpkin seed dressing provides a good dose of parsley.
- Leafy greens like kale, collards, bok choy, and dandelion
- These powerhouse vegetables can be lightly sautéed or blanched (less than 2 minutes to preserve vitamin C) or added to the end of miso soup. Get my recipes for miso soup and sautéed dandelions with leeks.
- Fresh lemon juice
- Added to salad dressings, a glass of warm water, or simply squeezed over greens, lemons are an essential ingredient in my kitchen.
- They can be eaten raw as a snack, dessert, or added to a salad or atop morning porridge.
- My favorite detoxifier! It can be steamed, added to stir fry, eaten raw, or blanched and added to a raw salad. Learn how to quickly blanch vegetables.
- More foods that provide important nutrients for your bones: https://www.nof.org/patients/treatment/nutrition/
A well-balanced diet featuring a variety of colorful plants is the best way to make sure you are getting all the nutrients you need for optimal bone health. Supplements are also an option for people with gastrointestinal problems that hinder nutrient absorption.
Vitality now also offers intravenous (IV) therapy, and we can infuse vitamin C directly into your body.
If you are unsure of your health and nutrient status, schedule a consultation at Vitality, where we can provide specialized nutrient testing and develop a plan that will keep you — and your bones — healthy and strong for life.