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Nourish your Spine
We’ve all heard the saying, “you are what you eat”; a healthy balanced diet and regular exercise are important for overall health and well-being but has also been shown to support a healthy back.
Bones, muscles, discs and connective tissues of the spine require proper nutrients to keep them strong enough to support the weight of the head and body and to perform everyday functions.
Finnish research found that those who had a diet that is good for your heart, weight and blood sugar levels, i.e. a healthy balanced diet, also tended to have better backs. The study found that people who suffered from back pain were more likely to be overweight or obese and have clogged arteries than those of the healthy control subjects.
Healthy blood circulation carries nutrients to the spine and its supporting structures and removes toxins. If there are blockages to the arteries, inflammation can result, for example in the joints, triggering pain. Evidence also shows that achieving a healthier weight can reduce inflammation in those suffering from rheumatoid arthritis.
A balanced diet, adequate water intake and regular exercise all play a major role in the health of your spine and can even prevent, or accelerate the healing of, bone and joint-related injuries and conditions.
Here are some of the key things to consider feeding your spine and body for optimal health. The key elements for healthy bones, and their supporting structures, include:
A healthy and balanced diet
Eating a balanced and varied diet maximises your intake of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and other nutrients essential for a healthy body. Include raw foods in your diet every day as cooking and canning processes can destroy much of the nutrition in food.
Please see the UK’s Recommended Daily Allowances and Dietary Reference Intakes, which will guide you on the levels of essential nutrients that are adequate to maintain a healthy body.
Calcium is a well-known mineral that is important for maintaining strong and healthy bones (healthy bone mass) and to avoid conditions, such as, osteoporosis. As calcium is not produced by the human body, we rely on absorbing it through our food, such as, dark green leafy vegetables, broccoli, nuts, in particular chestnuts and hazelnuts, sardines, salmon and tofu. Dairy products also provide a source of calcium but it is more difficult for the body to absorb than those from other food sources.
The absorption of calcium into the body is dependent on the presence of other important vitamins and minerals, such as vitamins D and K as well as magnesium, potassium and phosphorus.
It is recommended to get your calcium from food sources, as opposed to supplements, as too much calcium can also be harmful.
The mineral magnesium has been described as a secret weapon to overall health and well-being. It is responsible for over 300 enzyme reactions in the body and can be found in all tissues but, in particular, those of the brain, bones and muscles. It is essential for the cells in your body to make energy and enables muscles to relax.
It is now understood that magnesium is also necessary for healthy bones as it activates vitamin D, which then enables calcium to be absorbed by the body.
It is best to take magnesium along with other minerals in blended formulae. Another interesting way of absorbing magnesium is also through a hot bath with Epsom salts (magnesium sulfate).
If you have kidney or cardiovascular disease, it is recommended that you consult your GP before taking magnesium supplements.
For further information on the health benefits of magnesium, please see the following: Magnesium is crucial for bones and Magnesium: The most powerful relaxation mineral available.
Essential Fatty Acids (good fats)
Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to help some people with inflammatory types of arthritis and are believed to support the absorption of calcium in the body. They cannot be produced by the body, so must be obtained from foods, such as pure fish oil, pilchards, sardines, mackerel, salmon, avocado, walnuts, seeds, rapeseed, flaxseed and hemp oils.
It is recommended to eat oily fish at least twice a week but no more than four times a week. For further information, please see NHS Choices webpage on Fish and Shellfish.
To ensure healthy function of the body, it is important to replace fluid that we lose through breathing, sweating and urinating. The amount of water required will be dependent on a large number of factors, such as the amount of exercise that you do and environmental temperature. The NHS recommends drinking at least 1.2 litres of water a day. It is also important to limit the consumption of coffee, tea, soft drinks and alcohol as these dehydrate the body.
Vitamin D is not only a vitamin but it is also a hormone that influences almost 3,000 genes in the human body. Receptors that respond to vitamin D are found in almost every human cell, including your brain and bones.
Vitamin D is also important for bones as it optimizes the body’s absorption of calcium. Vitamin D3 is produced when the skin is exposed to sunshine, which is the ideal way for the body to absorb vitamin D. It is also available in a small number of foods, including: oily fish, eggs and raw (unpasteurised) milk.
It is generally recommended that people living in the UK require Vitamin D supplements, particularly during winter months.
I would recommend taking only vitamin D3 as it is more efficiently used by the body than D2 and has been shown to be safer.
It is important that you stick to recommended dosage of 0.025mg/1000 IU per day, as long-term over-use of vitamin D supplements can harm the kidneys and may even weaken bones, which is what we are trying to avoid.
For further information on vitamin D, please see the NHS website.
Vitamin K2 is a much underrated vitamin that not only aids blood clotting in the body but has been shown to: protect against heart disease, promote healthy skin, form strong bones, promote brain function, support growth and development and help to prevent cancer.
In order to maximise the effective use of vitamin D supplements, you also need to take vitamin K2. Vitamin K2 helps to move calcium to your bones and teeth and helps to keep calcium from your arteries and soft tissues, where it is not desirable.
When you take vitamin D, your body creates more vitamin K2-dependent proteins that move calcium around your body. If you take vitamin D supplements, you're creating an increased demand for K2. Together, these two nutrients help strengthen your bones and improve your heart health.
Foods rich in vitamin K2 include: cheese, eggs, butter, chicken liver, chicken breast and ground beef.
For further information, please see this article.
Joint cartilage, ligaments, bones and blood vessels naturally contain glucosamine. Some studies suggest that taking supplements of these natural ingredients may help to improve pain and stiffness in the joints, particularly for those suffering with osteoarthritis but the evidence is inconclusive at present. I would, therefore, recommend that you take an omega-3 supplement in favour of glucosamine.
If you have diabetes or are taking warfarin, please consult your GP before taking a glucosamine supplement.
For further information on glucosamine and osteoarthritis, please see Osteoarthristis Health Centre.
The information on this webpage is not designed to be exhaustive and is based on current advice and evidence (October 2013). There are several information sources available for further reading and information and you may wish to consult your GP if you have any concerns about taking supplements. I would recommend the following websites:
1. NHS, Vitamins and Minerals
2. National Osteoporosis Society’s booklet, Healthy Living for Strong Bones
3. For further information on the specific vitamins that are good for your spine, please see Spine-health.com.