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You are what you eat
We've all heard the saying "you are what you eat" and the spine doesn’t usually comes to mind when we think about nutrition but it should! As most people are aware good nutrition, a balanced diet and regular exercise are important for overall health and well being, but it may come as a surprise to learn that nutrition is also important in maintaining a healthy spine.
Eating a balanced diet with the right cross-section and variety of vitamins and nutrients can reduce back problems by nourishing the bones, muscles, discs and other structures in the spine. This is vital as, without proper nutrition, the spine may not be strong enough to support the weight of the head and body effectively and to perform everyday functions.
There's good news!
Every nutrient needed for spine health has a healthy food source. Nutrition that comes straight from food is always better absorbed and utilized, than just popping a vitamin or a supplement. However, in cases of deficiency or malabsorption, supplementation may be necessary.
A healthy spine is a strong back and neck
Keeping the bone tissue of our vertebrae strong and healthy is extremely important in maintaining the strength and integrity of the back and neck. The vertebrae of the spine, like all bone, is composed of minerals. Having the proper ratio of minerals and being able to utilize them efficiently helps prevent bones from becoming brittle or weak.
Here are some of the most important nutrients in bone formation and maintenance:
Calcium has received much attention as the most prominent of bone minerals. It is essential for bone health and maintaining the necessary level of bone mass throughout our lifespan, especially as we age. Adequate calcium intake is particularly important in preventing the development of osteoporosis that can result in painful vertebral fractures of the spine. Calcium is found in many foods including dairy products, dark green leafy vegetables such as spinach and kale, legumes such as beans and lentils, fatty fish (such as salmon and sardines), nuts (almonds) and soya.
How much calcium do you need on a daily basis? This depends on your age and sex:
Until 50 years old - 1000 mg daily
From 51 years old - 1,200 mg daily
Until 70 years old - 1000 mg daily
From 71 years old - 1,200 mg daily
Under 6 months - 200 mg daily
6 - 12 months - 260 mg daily
1-3 years old - 700 mg daily
4- 8 years old - 1,000 mg daily
9 - 18 years old - 1,400 mg daily
2. Vitamin D
Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium and, as such, is very important in maintaining good spinal health. It is found naturally in only a few foods including fatty fish, such as salmon, liver and egg yolks. Some foods ,such as cereals, are fortified with vitamin D. A Vitamin D deficiency is common and, if necessary, you can take a supplement or spend a little time in the sunshine as this is a natural way to gain this important nutrient.
Magnesium is a key mineral in keeping your spine healthy. If blood magnesium levels drop, it will be pulled or leached from the bones. Magnesium deficiency is common and supplementation can assist in maintaining bone density and preventing back problems. This nutrient also helps in relaxing and contracting muscles, which assists in strengthening the muscles that support the spine. It is found in a variety of foods, including green leafy vegetables, avocados, bananas, fish and dark chocolate.
Good spinal health is also dependent on good hydration. The spine is constructed in such a way that dehydration can cause limited mobility, decreased flexibility and pain. If you don't drink enough water and dehydration starts to set in, the body is unable to replenish the water the discs need, causing them to remain compressed. This can cause the spine to age faster than it should and, in turn, impact the whole body. Drink at least 8 glasses of water or herbal tea a day.
Spine friendly foods for a happy spine
So, are you what you eat and could the foods you consume be contributing to the health of your spine? Although there is no one-size fits-all answer, there can be little doubt that changing your diet to incorporate spine-friendly foods and nutrients can go a long way to keeping your spine happy and keeping you upright, mobile and pain-free.
You can read more information on how diet and nutrition can successfully impact trigger point therapy in Simeon Asher’s blog : Trigger Point Therapy – Dietary Influences.
Miriam Lipshitz is the Back into Shape team IDD technician, clinical receptionist and blogger. She is a South African qualified and experienced teacher by profession with wide ranging experience in research and writing.