Your mother was right: eating fruits and vegetables is good for you. But some new research suggests her advice is good for a very long time, even into old age. VOA's Rose Hoban reports.
It appears that older men who eat fruits and vegetables can delay the onset of brittle bone disease known as osteoporosis.
For years, doctors focused on studying osteoporosis in women only. But men are living longer than in the past, and as they age, their bones also can get brittle and break easily. Tufts University researcher Katherine Tucker explains there are parts of the body where bone loss is a particular problem.
"We want to prevent hip fractures," she says. "And the spine is another area that is really at risk of spinal compression and loss ... that reduces height over time."
Many doctors recommend people eat foods that include calcium to keep their bones strong. But in an earlier study, Tucker found that people who ate lots of fruits and vegetables had stronger bones over time than people who didn't eat fruits and vegetables regularly.
"The fruits and vegetables provide molecules which help reduce acidity in the blood, which helps reduce bone resorption," Tucker says. Resorption means the breaking down of bone cells to release calcium into the blood.
In this follow-up study, Tucker and her colleagues recruited men whose average age was about 75 years old. Over a period of four years, the researchers used a bone scanner to make regular measurements of the men's hips, spines and forearms. Tucker also had the men keep detailed information about what they ate. In particular, she asked about vitamin C, because vitamin C seems to slow down bone resorption.
"We were able to see that vitamin C was quite protective against bone loss over four years," Tucker says. "It was most significant in men who also had either low calcium or low vitamin E intake."
Tucker says low amounts of calcium in the blood is an obvious risk factor for osteoporosis. But she says it also seems vitamin C is protective for people at risk. Tucker says when people have low levels of vitamin E in their bodies, it seems like higher levels of vitamin C also make up that lack.
Vitamin C is found commonly in many fruits and vegetables. But Tucker says the men with the strongest bones also had taken vitamin C supplements.
"We found that the total vitamin C was what really mattered," she says. "But in this case, in order to see the protection from vitamin C, it was at a level that was mainly achieved from supplements."
Tucker is continuing research on which nutrients can keep bones strong, long after mother has stopped telling you to eat your vegetables.
Her study is published in the Journal of Nutrition.