Abdominal obesity adds to spine problems in very important ways. Fat around your middle can cause strain on the muscles and ligaments that support your spine. The joints of your spine are especially vulnerable to daily wear and tear from lack of support.
Most of us get fat by eating too much of the kind of starchy, refined foods that stimulate more insulin. Insulin will signal enzymes in your body. These enzymes increase levels of inflammatory cells. They also increase cholesterol and constrict (close down) blood vessels. All of these actions help increase the levels of pain you feel from all over your body.
Abdominal fat is made of the type of cells most active at making the kind of chemistry that causes damaging inflammation to all of your joints. The more belly fat you have, the more inflammatory chemistry you are making. Some lean people are also at risk.
How does nutrition affect healing after injury or surgery?
Good circulation is needed to build and repair a surgical incision, injured bone, or connective tissue like cartilage and ligaments. Your blood vessels carry all the raw materials needed to maintain proper strength and function of your bone and connective tissues. Your blood vessels also carry away all the waste material from normal wear and tear as well as from injuries. A diet that has too many starches and sweets, and not enough protein and healthy fats, will cause blood vessels to constrict. Then there is less blood flow to the areas that are injured and need repair.
All of the chemical reactions that are part of the body's growth and repair, require good nutrition. Herbs, fruits, and vegetables contain dietary sources of antiinflammatory chemicals needed for tissue healing. Plant foods have antioxidants, called flavenoids, that decrease the chemistry that triggers inflammation. They also strengthen the healing process by knitting collagen fibers into tightly woven connective tissue. The result is well-knitted skin and blood vessels; dense bone; and strong, elastic ligaments and tendons.
What changes can you make to your diet and supplement choices if you have a spine condition?
It can be confusing to try to sort out what supplements to take. It’s not always easy to know what foods to eat or not eat to help with a spine-related problem. Different musculoskeletal conditions will have some different nutritional requirements. The form of each supplement will also be important, in terms of how useful it is for your condition.
For example, powdered nutrients in capsules or liquid forms are much more likely to be fully digested and absorbed. Tablets are often less expensive. But they don’t break down in many people’s digestive tracts.
Osteoporosis is an example of a spine-related condition with a clear link to nutritional status. Most people with osteoporosis will be advised to take at least a calcium/magnesium supplement. The best quality mineral supplements for osteoporosis are powdered and in the citrate form (for example, calcium citrate). Vitamin D should always be included in an osteoporosis formula.
Inflammatory conditions benefit from antioxidant nutrients like vitamin E. It must be natural vitamin E, not synthetic. It should always have mixed tocopherols in order to be most effective. Any inflammatory condition can be improved with the addition of at least five fish meals a week. A good, pure fish oil supplement taken daily can also help.
Here are some changes you can make to improve your spine condition. Most people will notice results in less than two weeks by following these general rules:
- Drink at least eight large glasses of water or herbal tea daily. Avoid fruit juices or other beverages with coloring and preservatives added. This includes soda pop.
- Eliminate simple sugars. Get rid of sweets and starchy, refined white flour foods from your diet.
- Avoid packaged foods with added preservatives and colouring.
- Take a high quality multiple vitamin/mineral supplements as suggested by your physician, naturopath or dietician.
- If you have any form of arthritis or any inflammatory condition, take a pure fish oil supplement. Most people are helped by one to three grams of combined omega 3 fatty acids daily. Look for EPA and DHA on the label.
- Add vitamin D3 to your supplements; make sure you are get 800 IU to 1000 IU daily.
Long-term dietary changes can benefit your spine condition. If you are overweight, ask a health professional to help you lose weight, especially abdominal fat. Most people can do this safely by:
- eating fresh, raw, or steamed vegetables every day
- eating two or three pieces of fresh fruit every day
- eating five to seven fish meals a week
- eat three to six ounces of lean beef, poultry, lamb, or game meat daily – eggs are also an excellent source of protein for most people
- use olive oil on salads and for cooking daily
Enjoy fresh nuts and seeds. Almonds, walnuts, and pumpkin seeds give us high quality, healthy fats
If you do not have a regular habit of exercise, invest in instruction with a professional who can teach you how to strengthen your muscles and protect your joints. Certain exercises will be very good for some spine conditions, and possibly harmful for others. At Active Life Physiotherapy, our therapists provide guidance to design a safe, effective exercise program to strengthen your spine.
How long does it take to see results from these changes?
Many people who change their diets see results right away. The difference in body pain levels can be noticed in a matter of days. Reducing inflammation by stopping the triggers that sweets and starches create can be felt very quickly. The effects of diet changes are even more when added to the supportive chemistry of antioxidants. Dietary supplements can encourage your healing even more dramatically.
It can take some months of steady supplementation to rebuild your tissues after illness or injury. It depends on how deficient you are in certain nutrients. It may take three to six months for to experience the benefits of a specific supplement program. This time frame may vary based on your condition.
You’ll need to have expert help in order to start a nutrition plan for your spine health. Specially trained nutritionists may be available in your area. Many registered dietitians and conventionally trained nutritionists are limited in their ability to give personalized attention to in-hospital patients. You may have to look for an independent practitioner with more advanced training. The ongoing support of a progressive nutritionist can help you start new, healthy habits that will become a permanent part of your daily life.
Naturopathic doctors (NDs) are also available to help patients develop healthier nutritional habits for the spine. Naturopathic physicians practice the art and science of natural health care. They are trained at accredited medical colleges. Partnerships between medical doctors and naturopathic physicians are becoming more common all over the U.S. and Canada.
Your physiotherapist at Active Life Physiotherapy may have worked with specific nutritionists and naturopathic doctors in your area, and be able to make a recommendation based on your specific needs.
Portions of this document copyright MMG, LLC.