Hello, everyone! This is Dr. Bob Salamon with Lowcountry Chiropractic. I hope you are doing well and staying healthy! I also hope your holiday season has been filled with cheer and wonder! As we head into the new year, many of us are eager to start new diets and revolutionize our lives. That’s why today I’m interested in exploring which nutrients and vitamins are essential for a healthy spine, as well as how you can consistently incorporate these into your daily diet. Along with exercise and regular chiropractic care, a well-balanced diet is responsible for how fit we feel within our bodies. Failing to meet our daily intake requirements can leave us feeling tired, sluggish, and foggy. On the other hand, when we do receive the recommended amount of vitamins and minerals, we can put an end to bad sleep, tense muscles, and more! It cannot be understated how important it is to eat well. Though the holidays are a time to indulge and enjoy ourselves, as we create our goals for 2022, I hope you’ll take a few of these under consideration!
Our diets and our spinal health are intricately linked. Spinal pain located in the neck, back, and hips, impacts between 54% and 80% of adults. It’s a leading cause of disability and affects multiple quality of life factors, including employment and mood. According to a study performed by Suzanna Maria Zick, Susan Lynn Murphy, and Justin Colacino–at the University of Ann Arbor–published in the Pain Reports journal, those who experienced spinal pain had a “significantly poorer diet compared to people without spinal pain.” While causality could not be proven, research showed individuals with healthy diets (i.e. “diet quality in the highest tertile on Healthy Eating Index”) were 24% less likely to report chronic spinal pain. An increased intake of fruit, whole grains, and dairy related to a 20% to 26% decreased likelihood of chronic spinal pain. Whereas an increased intake of added sugars related to a 49% increase in the chances of experiencing chronic pain. While this study did not illuminate what the standard diet should be for those who experience chronic spinal pain, it did imply a clear relationship between the quality of one’s diet and the likelihood of experiencing chronic pain.
Another study tackled the same topic but focused its scope on adolescents. This study, ‘Spinal pain and nutrition in adolescents - an exploratory cross-sectional study,’ was published within the BioMed Central Musculoskeletal Disorders journal by Mark C Perry, Leon M Straker, Wendy H Oddy, Peter B O’Sullivan, and Anne J Smith. According to the study, a third of adolescents experience a reduction in function because of their spinal pain. An abundance of spinal pain during these developmental years can point to a future of further spinal pain as adults. The study revealed a link between high caffeine consumption among teenage girls and going to sleep hungry (due to lack of food in the home) among both genders as two nutrition-based indicators for spinal pain. Since most adolescents' diets fall far below the recommended dietary guidelines and vary more day-to-day than adults–the study posits that adolescents are more likely to experience nutrition-related spinal pain.
Spinal pain can derive from a number of factors, including subluxations, slipped discs, herniated discs, spinal fractures, and more. However, many disorders and conditions which cause spinal pain are predicated upon dietary deficiencies. These deficiencies facilitate the breakdown of the bones, leading to conditions such as osteoporosis and misshapen bones. To avoid the development of these, it’s important to keep the bones strong and healthy. This can be achieved by consistently eating a well-rounded diet and by taking supplements. Now, let’s delve into which nutrients you should prioritize and where you can find them!
Calcium is, of course, the first mineral mentioned when discussing bone health. This is because calcium plays a vital role in the building of bones. If bones are houses, calcium is the mortar used to make bricks. Bone begins as a filament framework of collagen. The body then plies microscopic, crystalline bits of calcium on top of the collagen. This makes for bones that are both strong and flexible, able to absorb the impact of our daily activities without breaking. Our bones, like any house, deteriorate over time. The loose shingles and shutters fall off as a result of high winds. When we have plenty of calcium, these minor losses are easily remedied. When we lack calcium, these minor losses can quickly become structural damage, resulting in weak and brittle bones.
The recommended daily intake of calcium is 1300 mg for those between the ages of 9 and 18, 1000 mg for those above 18 and under 50, and 1200 mg for those over the age of 51. Too much calcium (i.e. >2000 mg per day) can result in a higher chance of developing kidney stones. Although calcium is commonly associated with milk and dairy products, there’s as much calcium in a cup of dried figs as in a cup of milk. You’re going to find the highest volumes of calcium in foods that have been “calcium fortified” or “calcium set,” such as certain cereals, soy milk, tofu, and orange juice. Among dairy, milk, buttermilk, and yogurt are amongst the higher providers of calcium. Among vegetables, spinach, arugula, broccoli, and okra are among the most calcium dense. Among fruits, your best bets are (as mentioned) figs and oranges, along with kiwis. Soybeans, oatmeal, whole sesame seeds, and canned mackerel are also good sources.
Vitamin D must be deemed equally as important as calcium since, without vitamin D, the body cannot absorb calcium. You see, if calcium cannot make its way into our bloodstream, it’ll never reach our bones and perform the essential function of building strong bones. The recommended daily intake of vitamin D is 600 IU (international units) for those between the ages of 9 and 18, 400 to 800 IU for adults under the age of 50, and 800 to 1000 IU for those over the age of 51. However, I personally take much more than the recommended dosage because I believe these guidelines are low. Vitamin D is a bit harder to come by and, therefore, most people opt to take a daily vitamin–to be sure they’re receiving their recommended daily intake. As for food, fatty fish is perhaps the best source, alongside egg yolks. Opt for fish like tuna, mackerel, and salmon. Three ounces of salmon has about 570 IU, which is over half of the recommended daily intake for adults under 51. Certain dairy products, orange juices, soy milk, and cereals are fortified with vitamin D. As well, cheeses such as Fontina, Muenster, and Monterey are highest in vitamin D content. Wild mushrooms, or mushrooms which have been exposed to sunlight during their growth, contain an incredible amount of vitamin D per serving. Special cuts of meat, such as spare ribs and beef liver, are also higher in vitamin D.
Magnesium, much like calcium, contributes directly to bone mineral density (or bone strength). When our bodies are low on magnesium, they’ll pull magnesium out of our bones. Likewise, magnesium deficiency impedes the crystallization of bone cells, disrupts the activity of the parathyroid hormone, and induces a low level of inflammation within the body. As if this weren’t enough, magnesium is also responsible for facilitating over 300 biochemical reactions within the body. If you lack the requisite amount of magnesium, you may suffer from stiff, tense muscles, muscle spasms, and muscle weakness. The recommended daily allowance of magnesium is 400-420 mg for adult men, 310-320 mg for adult women, 350-360 mg for those pregnant, and 310-320 mg for those lactating. Too much magnesium (i.e. >350 mg from supplements) can induce diarrhea, nausea, and cramping. Too much magnesium from food sources is harmless, as the body is equipped to pass along excess magnesium through urine.
Pumpkin seeds, with 156 mg per ounce, are incredibly high in magnesium, followed by chia seeds at 111 mg. Almonds, as well as boiled spinach, are great sources of magnesium. Cashews, peanuts, and edamame are good. Certain breakfast cereals will come fortified with 10% of your daily intake of magnesium. Dark leafy greens, such as kale and chard, are great. For a bit of fun, you can find magnesium in dark chocolate, too–just make sure it’s 70% cocoa or higher. Brown rice is higher in magnesium than white rice. Among fish, salmon and halibut contain the highest levels of magnesium. Black beans and peanut butter, along with soymilk and potatoes with the skin, are also good ways to reach your daily goal!
I hope this article has been helpful for determining ways you can improve your spinal health through dietary changes. Remember, it’s about finding ways to incorporate these foods in a way which feels intuitive and sustainable. Of course, the first and last step to maintaining spinal health is to consult a chiropractor. If you believe your diet is playing a role in your back pain, or you simply aren’t sure, schedule an appointment at Lowcountry Chiropractic. We’ll perform an exam and determine whether a subluxation is the cause of your discomfort. From there, we’ll work together to help you achieve a pain-free life! As always, this is Dr. Bob and I have your back covered!
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