What's for dinner?
It's a question that millions of people ask every day. What would you choose for dinner if you knew that what you were about to eat would make your back pain better? Or if it was going to make it worse?
In this eye-opening blog we take a look at some statistics around what people eat each day, and see which foods might be making our back pain worse. We also delve into the science-backed secrets of foods that can soothe inflammation (an underlying cause of low back pain), boost spine health, and put an end to the unbearable burden of low back pain.
Want to learn more? Read on!
Interesting Food Facts
Only 40% of Americans eat fresh produce every day.
A mere 36% of people eat fresh fruits/vegetable 3 days a week or less.
Nearly 50% of people think their diet could be healthier.
23% of people say they could be eating A LOT healthier than they do.
Less than 50% of people try to eat healthy food but don't try very hard.
Top 5 Foods In America
1. Burrito bowl
4. Cheese pizza
5. French fries
(We don't disagree with this list - in fact, now we are actually feeling quite hungry!)
What's wrong with this list? Unfortunately, these mouthwatering meals are often highly processed and highly processed foods are often highly inflammatory to our bodies, and our backs. Want to learn more about this? Keep reading!
There's More To Back Pain Than Meets The Eye - A Biopsychosocial Approach
For some time now, low back pain treatment and management has been focused on the more medical and physical aspects of the condition, but more recently experts have started to look beyond these causes and to see how our environment plays a role.
While there are many treatments available for low back pain, some of the most effective ones are simple lifestyle changes, such as eating a healthy diet. That's because inflammation is a major factor in chronic pain, and certain foods and nutrients can help to reduce inflammation or make it worse.
The Link Between Back Pain And Inflammation
Inflammation is a natural response to things like illness or injury. It is a key player in the healing process. Unfortunately, sometimes the inflammatory response keeps going after the injury or illness is gone and becomes chronic.
Chronic inflammation is NOT good for us and has been associated with many conditions like cancer, heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. Chronic inflammation has also been associated with chronic pain conditions like musculoskeletal pain.
Causes Of Chronic Inflammation
Some key causes of chronic inflammation include:
Auto immune disorders
Exposure to toxins
Excessive alcohol intake
How Processed Foods Contribute To Inflammation In The Body
It's no surprise that over the years more and more processed foods have found their way onto the shelves of the grocery store.
The typical Western diet is generally composed of highly processed foods such as:
- Sugary foods
- Processed/refined foods
- High levels of saturated fats
- Low intake of fruits and vegetables
Extensive research over the years has shown that this type of diet causes the body to produce higher than normal levels of proinflammatory mediators that can make our bodies more sensitive to things like histamine (the things that trigger allergic reactions and allergies), free-radicals (often associated with premature ageing of our cells), bradykinin (an enzyme that indicates that there is inflammation in our bodies), as well as several other inflammatory markers (hormones that show there is inflammation in our bodies) like thromboxane and prostaglandins.
Not only does the typical western diet increase levels of inflammation, but it also generally lacks the types of foods and nutrients that can decrease inflammation in our bodies, like antioxidants.
Some people have argued that the western diet doesn’t necessarily increase levels of inflammation, but there is consensus amongst nutrition experts that it definitely lacks those key anti-inflammatory agents.
A recent study, published by the respected journal, The Lancet, in March of 2023, looked specifically at the link between processed foods and cancer. The EPIC study looked at more than half a million people in Europe found that when "ultra processed foods" were substituted a mere 10% of the time with "less processed foods" that people's overall risk of cancer, as well as a whole host of various types of cancer, including rectal and head and neck cancer.
So what can we do about our diets and how can we try and reduce inflammation in our bodies? Keep reading!
The Dietary Inflammatory Index
The Dietary Inflammatory Index is a tool that has been developed to help people understand how what they eat is classified and ranked in terms of how inflammatory they are.
By classifying foods as inflammatory or anti-inflammatory people can have an idea if what they are eating is increasing inflammation (and therefore pain) or decreasing it.
The premise of the index is actually pretty simple, reduce our intake of proinflammatory foods and increase our intake of anti-inflammatory ones like whole-grains, fish, and fresh fruits and vegetables.
The Top Foods To Fight Inflammation - What To Eat For Low Back Pain Sufferers
When it comes to what we eat, there are a number of foods that can help to reduce inflammation and pain in the lower back. These foods are often rich in antioxidants, anti-inflammatory compounds, and essential nutrients that fight free radicals and inflammation and help keep our cells healthy.
Some of the best foods for low back pain include:
Fruits and vegetables
These foods are often packed full of inflammation fighting antioxidants. Some of the top picks for this include blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, cherries, carrots, beets, sweet potatoes, and leafy greens. Some people say "the darker the berry - the better it can fight inflammation".
A Canadian study on the effects of blueberries on pain for people with osteoarthritis found that "eating blueberries every day could significantly improve quality of life and reduce pain in patients with msk knee osteoarthritis".
Fish is a fabulous source of omega-3 fatty acids which are well known for their anti-inflammatory properties. Some of the best types of fish include salmon, sardines, mackerel, and tuna.
3. Nuts and Seeds
Nuts and seeds are great natural sources of healthy fats, fiber, and protein. Seeds like chia seeds and flaxseed are renowned for having high levels of antioxidants, as do nuts like almonds and walnuts.
4. Olive Oil
Olive oil is the original superstar of the healthy fat family. Numerous studies have shown the health benefits of olive oil that is rich in mono-unsaturated fats as well as having high levels of antioxidants.
5. Herbs and Spices
More and more attention is being given to herbs lately, especially when it comes to fighting inflammation. Some of the stars of the show include ginger, turmeric, and cinnamon.
One study found that cinnamon reduced C-reactive protein - a marker of inflammation in the body. At least there's something healthy in that cinnamon spice latte, right?!
Herbs are an easy addition to any meal (or drink) or you can simply take them as supplements if that is easier or more appealing.
Wait what? How can water be anti-inflammatory when it doesn't even really consist of anything? When we are properly hydrated our bodies are better able to fight inflammation. Water also helps us to flush out toxins more efficiently from our bodies and helps our kidneys process these toxins effectively.
The Role Of Micronutrients In Chronic Pain Conditions
We now know that sort of foods we should be eating, but a question that often comes up is "what sort of supplements can you take if you have low back pain?"
Aside from inflammation, when our bodies lack certain micronutrients things like low back pain can feel, and be, worse.
Some key micronutrients include:
- Omega-3 fatty acids
- Vitamins B1, B3, B6, B12
- Vitamin D
These micronutrients can play a major role in how our bodies experience chronic pain.
In one study, Ghai et al. looked at the effects of vitamin D supplementation on patients with chronic lower back pain. All of the patients in the trial had vitamin D deficiencies and received supplements of 60.000 IU for 8 weeks.
The results showed that patients who took vitamin D supplements reported a significant reduction in pain on the VAS (visual analogue scale) and they reported improvements in their functional ability.
What’s even more impressive is that these results still persisted 3-6 months after the study was finished.
Adding certain supplements to our diet with these key micronutrients has been clinically proven to contribute to lower levels of chronic pain conditions like chronic pelvic pain, low back pain, rheumatoid arthritis, and migraines.
Eating a healthy diet is one of the best things you can do to help manage your low back pain. By eating foods that are rich in antioxidants, anti-inflammatory compounds, and essential nutrients, you can reduce inflammation and pain in your lower back.
If you are struggling with low back pain, talk to your doctor. They can help you to identify the cause of your pain and develop a treatment plan.
In addition to eating a healthy diet, you should also get regular exercise, maintain good posture, lose weight if you are overweight or obese, and get enough sleep. By following these tips, you can help to keep your back pain under control.