A Renewed Focus on Nutrition – With Your Spine in Mind

The beginning of the year is often the time when people place a renewed focus on their health. As the stressful hustle and bustle of the holiday season winds down, many begin to take stock of their physical well-being. Although spine health isn’t necessarily at the top of folks’ resolution list, there are plenty of ways to increase and enhance the health of your spine even when it isn’t the primary goal. What you eat is an important component to your spine and overall health.

The truth about back pain and spine issues is that most people experience them at some point and most won’t need surgery to resolve the pain. I often find that people who are new to a condition negatively impacting their spine and overall health are hungry for information about what they can do to make the pain disappear – and to prevent it from returning. Today, I want to explore the topic of nutrition and bone health.

Nutrition and bone health isn’t something we necessarily hear much about in the regular news. I bet you can recite the virtues of Omega-3 fatty acids for heart health or the importance of a diet rich in colorful fruits and vegetables to help stave off cancer. But what about a diet with the health of your bones (your spine being the largest) in mind? Do you know what that looks like or why it matters? Read on to find out.

Vitamins and Supplements

The health and well-being of every structure in our bodies are mainly based on our vitamin and mineral composition. While it’s true that many beneficial vitamins that help keep the bones strong can be found in supplement form, your best bet is to get your daily dose via the foods you eat. You can follow a vitamin supplement regimen to a “t,” and you won’t see the benefits if your diet consists of heavily processed and unhealthy foods. Your best bet is to get your vitamins by eating highly nutritious foods. What types of foods should you focus on? Here are a few to consider:

Animal Organs – I know this might not sound like an appetizing option. But before you turn your nose up at the idea, more recipes than ever contain animals’ highly nutritious parts. Beef, calf, and chicken liver, for example, are significant sources of Vitamin A (helps repair tissue and aids in bone formation), Vitamin B12 (essential for healthy bone marrow), Vitamin K (necessary for proper absorption of calcium into bones) and Iron (essential for healthy cells and muscles that support the spine). That’s a massive punch of bone-healthy vitamins in just one piece of food. Can’t stomach the idea of eating these items as is? There are many recipes that feature them mixed into hearty soups or stews for less impact to the senses.

Leafy Greens – Many nutritionists say the greener and leafier the vegetable, the better. Spinach packs a big Vitamin A and B12 punch, while frilly kale and broccoli are excellent Vitamin K and Iron sources. But if you have an aversion to how these veggies taste in their raw form, you can get creative. Find recipes that help you incorporate them into your favorite dishes while your palate adjusts to their flavor. You can even blend them into smoothies for a smoother, and far less noticeable texture.

Orange Fruits and Veggies – Did you know that orange fruits and vegetables, including nectarines, cantaloupe, apricots, carrots, and sweet potatoes, are all great sources of Vitamin A? Remember, this vitamin is essential for repairing damaged tissue in the body as well as in the formation of strong bones. It turns out that calcium isn’t the only lead in the strong bones story.

Dairy Products – Depending on who you consult, animal-based dairy can get a bad rap these days. From stories of intestinal upset to other autoimmune conditions, sifting through the pros and cons can seem daunting. If you’re lactose intolerant, then avoiding dairy products might make sense. But for those who aren’t, large calcium and Vitamin D, B12, and K benefits exist. The quality of the dairy you consume and ensuring it isn’t filled with added “fake” ingredients or unnecessary sugars is the key to keeping dairy in check as part of a healthy diet.

Whether it’s the spine, the heart, the brain, or the digestive system, we are what we eat – no matter the time of year. But the great news is that small dietary changes you make today can add up to loads of bone protection later – especially regarding the waistline. Obesity is rising in our country, and so is back pain. The relationship between the two has been studied extensively, and the proof is clear – our bodies aren’t designed to carry around too much extra weight. Since your spine bears the brunt of the load, treat it well. Maintaining a healthy diet is one of the most important ways to do so.



Neel Anand MD