Poor Nutrition May be Killing Your Back. Here’s How:
If you’re experiencing sciatica, low back pain, disc degeneration or neck pain, you are not alone! Eighty-four percent of Americans experience back problems at one time or another. Twenty-three percent suffer chronic pain. That means tens of millions of people are struggling with back and neck pain almost constantly. You can be sure some of your neighbors, colleagues, relatives and friends are among them.
The cause varies with each person, but everyone could be affected by the role of poor nutrition in causing back pain, disc degeneration and painful nerve conditions such as sciatica.
How is nutrition related to serious back and neck problems? The answer is in the blood.
Good Blood Supply Linked to a Healthy Neck and Back
The aorta is the largest artery in your body, as big around as your thumb and proceeding directly from the heart. As it moves through your abdomen, your aorta feeds blood to several arteries up and down the spinal column that nourish the structures of the spine.
Like anything involving the spine, this is a delicate job! For example, spinal discs, the very tough ligaments that hold our spine together, have NO blood vessels. They get the little nutrition they need because it seeps in from tiny capillaries at the edges of the disc.
If this already-minimal blood supply is hampered or stopped altogether, spinal complications can follow. Tough as they are, your discs will begin to degenerate without blood-borne nutrients such as oxygen, leading to a host of back problems, including the dreaded and extremely painful herniated discs, sciatica, and low back pain.
Reduced or “occluded” blood flow may also damage the nerve roots that come off the spine. The spinal column serves as the ‘nerve superhighway’ to the brain, and together they make up our central nervous system, integrating nerve impulses and coordinating every physical activity. The artery feeding the nerve roots associated with sciatica are the arteries most sensitive to being occluded. There is good evidence the severe, even debilitating pain of sciatica, which radiates down the legs along the course of the spinal nerve root, is because of occlusion of that specific spinal artery.
Blood removes waste products as it courses through our body. In the spine, reduced blood flow can slow the removal of waste such as lactic acid, which can irritate nerve endings, cause pain and even contribute to deterioration and atrophy. Without correcting the underlying cause of this reduced blood flow, many patients will jump around from one therapy to the next getting just temporary relief while slowly growing frustrated that nothing ends the back pain.
Preventing Back Pain: Another reason to eat healthy!
So what does this have to do with nutrition? How can poor diet cause a reduction in the spine’s blood supply? One answer is our old enemy, atherosclerosis! That’s right, a buildup of cholesterol-filled plaques in the aorta has been proven to restrict and obliterate the arterial openings branching off into the spine. Plaque-occluded spinal arteries are seen time and again in the MRIs and angiographies of patients suffering back pain.
So add back pain to the list of reasons to stick to a low-cholesterol diet! Interestingly, atherosclerosis-related back pain may also be a predictor of heart attacks, since the disease mechanism is the same.
Preventing high cholesterol and maintaining a healthy cholesterol level are primarily based on proper nutrition. You should avoid certain kinds of foods, and enjoy the many excellent foods that affect your cholesterol levels positively. A nutritious and healthful diet contributes mightily to good arterial health, helping deal with this significant cause of back pain.
Nutrition’s impact on spinal health is one reason I counsel my patients in a holistic approach to spine issues. Working together, we explore treatments and lifestyle changes that can end back pain. My patients discover that correct posture, the right exercise, proper nutrition and attitudinal approaches such as stress reduction and mindfulness, all play a part in leading a healthy, active, pain-free life.
If you are suffering from low back pain or sciatica and you’d like to get to the cause of the problem, please contact me for a nutrition consultation. We will review your diet and help you build a healthful, flavorful nutritional regimen. If you want to get started on your own, there are thousands of guides to low-cholesterol nutrition out there but beware of those trying to sell you products or supplements rather than suggesting meaningful, measurable, and healthful changes.
For a more technical review of blood-flow related spinal problems, this 5-minute video by Dr. Michael Greger is excellent: