We know that calcium is important to bone health, that probiotics contribute to good for gut health and that vitamin C can improve immunity. But did you know that when it comes to our spinal health and vertebral column, there are certain nutrients that are critical in preventing and managing spine-related conditions?
First, let’s talk spine structure
When we discuss your spine in the context of what we can do to protect it, we’re referring to the vertebral column. Our vertebral column consists of five sections: the cervical spine (or neck); the thoracic spine (or upper back); the lumbar spine (or lower back); and the fused sacral or coccyx (a.k.a, the tailbone).
The vertebral column serves many functions. First, it houses the actual spine. The spine is the part of the nervous system that relays information between the brain and the rest of the body – muscles, joints, organs and the skin. The spine is delicate and needs protection. That’s where the vertebrae come in.
A healthy diet plays a critical role in a healthy back
The vertebrae, like all bones, serve as a source of minerals and nutrients. What you may not know is that the bones can actually act as a mineral “bank”, storing and lending out these critical nutrients to the rest of the body as needed. Calcium is a critical nutrient in our bodies for a number of reasons including muscle function and contraction, so blood levels and blood pH naturally remains constant. When our diets are deficient in particular minerals, such as calcium, or we are running low on this important mineral for other reasons (which I will explain) our bodies can borrow from the reservoir of minerals found in these bony structures.
Besides being a mineral-rich, rigid structure, the vertebral column also serves as the site of many muscle attachments. In fact, muscles of the core, lower body, and upper body all have direct or indirect connections to the vertebral column. It’s no wonder there’s actually a World Spine Day to raise awareness around keeping this vital body system healthy.
What happens with spinal dysfunction?
When the vertebral column isn’t cared for properly, what results are painful joints and tight, achy muscles to name a few. This can then impair not only movement but breathing as well.
In more severe cases of vertebral column injury, the discs between the vertebrae can become injured. The discs live between each vertebra and act as shock absorbers, allowing for smooth non-painful movement of the spine. If the bony structures are weak and unhealthy, this can result in additional wear and tear on those discs. Not only does the dreaded degenerated disc or herniated disc ( cause pain at the spot of injury, it can pinch the nerves that exit the spine. This painful condition will cause sharp, often excruciating pain in the arms (neck) or legs (low back). At its worst, a disc bulge can impair bladder and sexual function, which warrants a visit to the emergency room. Let’s avoid this in the first place!
Let’s talk spine nutrients
A proper, healthy and balanced diet will help maintain a healthy spine. In my book, The Kick Acid Diet, I explore how keeping our bodies in an alkaline state can enhance our health, lead to fat loss, and prevent certain diseases. One such disease is osteoporosis. Osteoporosis is a weakening of our skeletal material resulting in porous, fragile bones. Lack of minerals play (common in today’s fast-food culture) plays a part in this weakening, resulting in this potentially debilitating condition.
Even though our skeleton only accounts for about 15% of our total body weight, it is very metabolically active. Bones are the storage site for the body’s minerals, the main one being calcium. When our bodies are acidic, reflective in a low pH score, calcium (stored as calcium carbonate and calcium apatite) is released from the bone to buffer the excess acids throughout the bloodstream. The mineral loss from the skeleton results in weakened, fragile bone, characteristic of osteoporosis
Diets appear to be the major factor in maintaining appropriate pH levels throughout the body. All foods, based on their bioavailability, vitamin and mineral content, as well as their protein content, and certain other factors, will lead to fluctuations in the pH levels of the body.
Foods consumed on a consistent and prolonged basis that cause excess acidity must be buffered in order to maintain a proper pH level in the blood. This is where the mineral bank comes in. In conjunction with the kidney’s, the body will use minerals from the bones to buffer this increased acidity.
Acidic foods vs Alkaline foods
Proteins, by their very nature, are acid-forming. In the absence of sufficient fruit and vegetables, excess dietary protein has been shown to increase calcium loss from bone and at the kidneys.
Cereal grains (think: wheat, corn, oats, rice), which are also net acid-producing, account for 38 percent of the acid load in the present-day diet.
The consumption of fruits and vegetables is paramount when alkalizing one’s diet and maintaining a healthy store of minerals within the body and therefore the bones. This is due to their high concentration of alkalizing minerals: calcium, potassium, sodium, and magnesium. Not only do fruits and vegetables prevent metabolic acidosis, but they’re also known to combat and prevent many of the degenerative diseases we see today.
What can you do to protect your spine?
Besides nutritional support, a healthy spine requires healthy movement. I firmly believe one of the most effective ways to keep your spine healthy is with Pilates. Pilates, created in the 20th century by Joseph Pilates, is a form of exercise that uses focuses on precision and control of the joints, especially those of the spine. While us chiropractors can certainly treat spinal-related conditions, it’s best to prevent them from happening in the first place.
Visiting a healthcare practitioner, such as your chiropractor, physical therapist, or massage therapist, can help identify and prevent dysfunction to your spine. In addition, exercises such as resistance training and Pilates can also improve both the strength and mobility of the spine.
Proper postures, especially when sitting can help protect your spine. Sitting is inevitable, but our “sit bones” aren’t actually designed for sitting. Technically known as your ischial tuberosities, they actually point backwards, not straight down. If we do, in fact, sit on our sit bones by pointing them downward, the lower back will flatten out, causing the rest of the spine to assume a slouched position. So, try not to sit too much and take frequent walking breaks.
Protecting our spines is paramount, but fortunately, it’s simple. Stay active, mind your posture, visit your healthcare practitioner, and – most importantly – be mindful of your mineral intake to buffer acidity and provide your bones with adequate nutrients. Fresh fruits and veggies are best but always talk to your healthcare practitioner about incorporating additional supplementation if necessary.