Hello, Health

Feed your spine to keep it straight and pain free

The food we eat directly impacts our spinal cord, so be a little more mindful of what you eat, please.

 |  Hello, Health  |  4-minute read |   16-10-2015
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We don't worry about our back unless it begins to pain. It's a fact! And then one day when it simply refuses to straighten up without a few painful clicks, we wonder what went wrong. Agreed, spinal degeneration is part of the ageing process, but the rate and degree of slump is influenced a lot by our lifestyle choices (smoking, wrong posture, injury, excessive sitting, diabetes and so on) and also by what we put on our plates. Yes, the food we eat directly impacts our spine, so be a little more mindful of what you eat, please.

First get that belly in. A healthy diet focussing on lean proteins, healthy fats and a lot of fruits and vegetables helps build a lean body and strong muscles that support the spine. It also ensures that the belly stays in. A big belly means more abdominal fat, which stretches the abdominal muscles, making them weak, lax and loose, which in turn, over time, causes collapse of the vertebral column, leading directly to pain in the spine and increased risk of spinal disorders. Phew! Plus excessive belly fat also shifts the centre of gravity or body weight to the front, straining our back way too much. So the next time you down those chilled beer cans, consider carefully, because now you know where they are all going.


And yes, you guessed it right: calcium is definitely important. A healthy diet rich in lean proteins and calcium helps prevent osteoporosis and keeps the spine strong and protects it from fractures. You probably already know how to get enough of this mineral: dairy, figs, sesame seeds..., but make sure you pair it with enough magnesium. To score this mineral, enjoy a bite or two of dark chocolate every day, along with regular munching of almonds, cashews and sunflower seeds. By the way, dark chocolates also provide L-Tryptophan, an amino acid that helps calm our nerves by boosting serotonin levels in the body (many types of neck and back pain are due to nerve pain). Another amino acid, lysine, is also important as it is critical to activate the absorption of calcium in our body. Without it, we lose too much of calcium through the kidneys; plus it is needed for building the collagen framework. Peas, beans, fish, cheese (particularly parmesan), lamb and pork are good sources of it.

Vitamin D is important too. Believe it or not, the sun can have a magical effect on our body, including on our spine. Sunlight helps the body make the much needed vitamin D, besides literally waking it up and somehow making the spine stand up straighter. Try to spend 20 minutes in sunlight daily. And if you are severely deficient in vitamin D, go the supplement route, but make sure that your vitamin D levels are optimum.


Some other vitamins that play a role: C is important to help make collagen regularly, which is important for keeping bones and other tissues strong (OD on citrus fruits); B12 is necessary for healthy bone marrow (meat, fish, dairy, eggs); and K is needed for the bones to properly use calcium (dairy and green leafy vegetables).

And which list these days is complete without mentioning omega 3? These essential fatty acids help impede inflammation in the cartilage in the spinal column, which helps to prevent back pain and stiffness. Herbs and spices - basil, cinnamon, rosemary, garlic, oregano, turmeric etc are also rich in anti-inflammatory agents, so they need to be seasoned generously. And stay away from trans fats, processed food, too much of caffeine and alcohol to nip inflammation in the bud.

Finally and most importantly, stay hydrated. Wondering about the connection? Well, when we are born, our intervertebral discs (a layer of cartilage separating adjacent vertebrae in the spine) are about eighty per cent water, and although this percentage declines with age, it is important to keep the body well-hydrated (by drinking enough water every day) to nourish the spinal discs and maintain their elasticity and fluidity. So down that next glass of water for the sake of a healthy, erect, and pain-free spine.

(World Spine Day is celebrated on October, 16.)


Kavita Devgan Kavita Devgan @kavitadevgan

The writer is a nutritionist, weight management consultant and health writer based in Delhi. She is the author of Don't Diet! 50 Habits of Thin People (Jaico) and Ultimate Grandmother Hacks: 50 Kickass Traditional Habits for a Fitter You (Rupa).

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