Millions of people are plagued by back problems. According to recent statistics, 80 percent of the American population will suffer back pain during their lifetime, especially as they age.
Americans spend at least $50 billion annually on treating back pain. In 2017, back pain was the main cause of disability worldwide and was the leading reason for workers’ compensation claims and lost work hours and productivity.
What Causes Back Pain?
Risk factors for chronic spinal pain vary, including psychological factors such as stress, anxiety, and depression, and lifestyle factors such as decreased physical activity, obesity, chronic inflammation, poor sleep habits, and low vitamin D levels.
Back pain can range from a muscle aching to a shooting, burning, or stabbing sensation. In addition, the pain may radiate down your leg or worsen with bending, twisting, lifting, standing, or walking.
Medical science believes back pain has several causes. These include a strain possibly due to poor posture or incorrect lifting; an injury such as a sprain, pinched nerve, or cracked vertebrae; and an infection or disease due to inflammation, such as arthritis and osteoporosis.
In addition to correcting your posture, watching what you eat can go a long way in helping you with your back pain.
Inflammation and Your Back
Chronic inflammation develops over time. Exposure to pollution, chemicals, and allergens that cause allergies, as well as eating the wrong foods, can all lead to chronic inflammation. Adopting a healthy diet and active lifestyle can reduce and reverse the chronic inflammation that can cause back pain.
Numerous studies have indicated that chronic back pain can be helped through diet. Considerable back pain can be due to inflammation. Scientific research suggests foods rich in antioxidants can have an anti-inflammatory effect that helps to soothe and prevent painful flare-ups. According to Fred Tabung, a nutritionist at the Harvard School of Public Health, many of the micronutrients your immune system requires to function at a high level are found in a diet comprised of healthy whole foods.
Another study published in the journal Pain Reports examined the correlation between diet and spinal pain. It found that individuals with spinal pain consumed significantly less protein, fruit, whole grains, and dairy, and more sodium, saturated fat, and added sugars.
There’s also emerging evidence indicating the importance of the gut-brain axis in developing chronic pain. Diet quality and added sugars are some of the most critical influencers of gut microbiota composition.
What to Eat for Back Pain
Creating an anti-inflammatory diet with foods that help you maintain good nutrition is essential in managing back pain. The types of food you eat can affect how much inflammation you have. An anti-inflammatory diet means a healthy mix of plant-based foods, including olive oil, green tea, and brightly colored fruits and vegetables.
So, what should you include in this anti-inflammatory diet?
-Fruits (cherries, berries, grapes, pomegranates, and watermelons)
-Vegetables (carrots, beets, sweet potatoes, leafy greens)
-Whole grains (oatmeal, brown rice)
-Seeds (flax, chia)
-Beans and nuts (peanuts, pistachios)
-Omega-3 enriched cold-water fish (salmon, tuna, sardines, mackerel, herring, trout)
-Healthy oils (olive, avocado)
-Dairy products (milk, cheese)
-Probiotics (yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut)
-Beverages (herbal teas, green teas, red wine)
-Herbs and spices (basil, cinnamon, clove, ginger, rosemary, garlic, curcumin, onions, oregano, turmeric, cayenne pepper)
Foods to Avoid
Some of the worst foods you can eat are processed products and fast foods. They contain many substances that lead to inflammation, such as saturated fats, salt, sugar, and preservatives.
Examples are white bread, pasta, rice, sugary drinks and snacks, fried foods, and anything with partially hydrogenated oil in the ingredients. This group also includes preservative-packed products with a long shelf life, such as chips, crackers, and pastries.
Limit your intake of saturated fats found in meats and whole-fat dairy products. Avoid caffeine and alcohol, although a daily glass of red wine may keep inflammation down.
Supplements May Help
Your daily diet and eating habits may not give you the nutrition you need to support a healthy body and keep inflammation at bay. Adding vital anti-inflammatory nutrients through supplementation can significantly reduce your back pain. Here are some of the more important ones.
Vitamin D deficiency is widespread. “The high prevalence of vitamin D deficiency in many countries has led to the development and implementation of a variety of food fortification and supplementation policies and programs aimed at reducing the burden of vitamin D deficiency, and in particular the prevalence of childhood rickets,” according to a paper published in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences.
Vitamin D, the “sunshine vitamin,” helps maintain bone health by supporting calcium absorption. Vitamin D plays a significant role in calcium homeostasis and metabolism. It’s present naturally only in a few foods, including fish liver oils, egg yolks, liver, fatty fish such as salmon, tuna, and sardines, and mushrooms, especially cremini and portobello.
Chronic low back pain has been linked to vitamin D deficiency. A study that looked at 68 patients who were both deficient in vitamin D and suffered from chronic low back pain found that treating them with vitamin D supplements significantly reduced low back pain and improved function.
Exposing your skin to sunlight for several minutes daily is the best way to get more vitamin D.
Osteopenia and osteoporosis are diseases that can weaken the vertebrae in your spine. If you aren’t getting enough calcium from eating leafy green vegetables and dairy products such as yogurt, milk, and cheese, then calcium supplements may help. However, according to Dr. Kenneth Hansraj, a spine surgeon at New York Spine Surgery and Rehabilitation Medicine in Poughkeepsie, high doses of calcium supplements can increase your risk for heart problems, atherosclerosis, and bone fractures, which can cause back pain. Your doctor should monitor this.
The body can’t produce omega-3 fatty acids on its own. Eat one or two meals a week that consist of oily fatty fish (such as salmon or tuna), kale, vegetable or flaxseed oils, nuts, and eggs from flax-fed chickens. If that isn’t possible, consider taking a daily supplement of fish oil.
Turmeric, one of the main ingredients in curry, contains a powerful compound called curcumin that has been shown to help reduce harmful inflammation. Most studies recommend combining curcumin with black pepper, as this can enhance curcumin absorption by more than 2,000 percent, thus making it more available to the body.
This plant compound is a potent anti-inflammatory. It’s found in red fruits such as cranberries and the skin of red grapes. You can also get resveratrol in capsule form.
Eating for back pain can be a satisfying approach with good results. However, determining if you are getting enough of the vitamins, minerals, oils, and other anti-inflammatory substances in your diet can be challenging. To evaluate your level of inflammation and figure out if you need supplements, you should check with your doctor, nutritionist, or health care provider.