Unfortunately, back pain is all too prevalent in our fast paced society. If we ourselves are lucky enough not to suffer from some form of back pain, we surely have a friend or family member who experiences it to a certain degree. The severity and type of pain will vary, and it could anything from day to day aches, pains and stiffness, herniated (also known as ruptured or slipped) disks, spasms, surgeries and more. According to Anasuya Batliner, Holistic Nutritionist and Massage Therapist, “back pain is one of the most common health problems in the United States, with 7 million new cases occurring each year, ranking second amongst reasons people visit the doctor.”
The Bottom Line: Back Pain Is Nothing To Ignore
Back pain and subsequent problems can stem from a host of problems, including poor posture, repetitive injury, sudden impact, and obesity which can all put pressure on and break down cartilage.
Our back is a network of tissues, which work together in protecting the spinal cord. According to Batliner, on its own the spinal cord could barely support 5 pounds, however there are many muscles and ligaments working together to give it strength. Our vertebrae are the bones stacked on top of each other, each divided by discs, made of cartilage, which (ideally) allow us to withstand compression. Cartilage is largely made up of water (65-80%), which gives it its pliability.
Of course, this is a very basic run-down of the back structure, however when talking about cartilage in particular, here enters the great importance of nutrition. When we are nutrient deficient, the nucleus of the discs in our back can lose their ability to maintain water, which is necessary for healthy, normal movement and stability. With time, the nucleus hardens, and any sudden or unusual movements can set us up for injury (often in the form of a slipped disk, as discussed above.
Ironically, while obesity is rampant in the US, so is malnutrition. People are eating foods filled with empty calories (void of nutrients) and this along with various other conditions and diseases can cause and/or exacerbate back pain. The Standard American Diet (SAD), is rich in trans fats, refined sugar and flour, inflammatory substances like coffee, alcohol, tobacco, and pharmaceuticals. All of these can lead to the degeneration of cartilage and bones.
Contrary to popular belief, consumption of commercial (non-organic, pasteurized vs. whole, organic, and even raw) milk, can actually lead to calcium deficiency and deteriorating bone health. This is for another article, but has to do with commercial milk being fortified with synthesized D vitamins, which can interfere with calcium metabolism. The key to supporting and healing your pack pain via nutrition, is an anti-inflammatory diet.
Dietary Causes of Back Pain:
- Overeating and obesity
- Lack of movement
- Under eating, which leads to low blood sugar and increases pain sensitivity
- Nutrient deficiencies
- Hormonal imbalances, which can lead to chronic pain due to depression and anxiety.
Key Nutrients To Consider
- Vitamin A from liver, yams, sweet potatoes, spinach, carrots, collard greens, chard, kale and winter squash.
- B vitamins from nutritional yeast, raw nuts and seeds, egg yolks and asparagus.
- Vitamin E from raw nuts and seeds (especially sunflower seeds and almonds), spinach, chard, mustard greens and papaya fruit.
- Vitamin C from collard greens, broccoli, onions, kale, mustard greens, parsley, bell peppers, grapefruit, lemons, papaya, oranges, chard and beet greens.
- Essential fatty acids (EFA’s) from wild, deep sea fish and ground flax seeds.
- Calcium from organic dairy (especially raw) along with sesame seeds, leafy greens and blackstrap molasses.
- Magnesium from dark, leafy greens (such as kale, chard, etc), pumpkin seeds, salmon, halibut and almonds.
- Zinc from oysters, pumpkin seeds and nutritional yeast (aka brewers yeast, and great sprinkled over popcorn or salads).
Also, consider supplementing with omega 3 fatty acids, as they have been shown to be an excellent alternative to NSAIDs (non steroidal anti inflammatory drugs, such as advil), which can have nasty consequences over time.
Last but certainly not least are the foods that most cause inflammation, and should definitely be eliminated if you are aiming to lessen back pain. These include refined sugar and carbohydrates, sodas, artificial and trans-fats, vegetable and seed oils (such as canola), and excessive coffee and alcohol consumption.
Nutrition is only one contributor to back pain, but it is definitely a change you can make starting today. As with many chronic conditions, inflammation is often the root cause, and making diet and lifestyle changes to address and cool inflammation can make a world of difference. Whether you already suffer from back pain (or any chronic pain), or are simply wanting to act preventatively, now is the time.
As Nora Gedgaudas in her book Primal Body, Primal Mind so rightly asserts, ”No one will ever be more invested in your mental or physical health than you.”