Warning: Consult your doctor before using any health treatment — including herbal supplements and natural remedies — and tell your doctor if you have a serious medical condition or are taking any medications. The information presented here is in no way intended as substitute for medical counseling.
Patients suffering from herniated discs, bulging discs, degenerated discs, sciatica and chronic low back and neck pain are often found to be deficient in certain vitamins and minerals. Sometimes these deficiencies can either CAUSE and or EXACERBATE the low back or neck pain and prevent or slow down healing. Many patients will show improved healing success, faster healing time and more long lasting results by addressing these deficiencies either through a nutritional eating program or through supplementation or both.
Eat Right for Your Spine
First, lighten up your toxin load. Eliminate alcohol, coffee, cigarettes, refined sugars and saturated fats, all of which act as toxins in the body and are obstacles to your healing process.
Greatly Reduce Sugar Intake: High sugar diets are typically deficient in the nutrients needed to prevent the release of chemical irritants. The average American consumes 100 lbs of sugar each year. Dessert foods are high in omega 6 fatty acids which increase inflammation.
Reduce Stress: Another deterrent to good health is stress, which triggers your body to release stress hormones into your system. Detoxify stressful life situations along with detoxifying your body. Yoga, massage and meditation are simple and effective ways to relieve stress by resetting your physical and mental reactions to the inevitable stress life will bring.
Add Super Foods: Boost healing of your spine at the cellular level with super foods such as:
- Shellfish: crab, shrimp, prawns and oysters
- Dark green vegetables: kale, spinach, collards, asparagus
- Red Fruits and Vegetables: red peppers, beets, stewed or fresh tomatoes, dark berries like blueberries and blackberries
- Black olives
- Red onions and apples
- Flaxseeds, chia seeds
- Beans: navy beans, kidney beans, soy beans etc.
- Cold Water oily fishes: anchovies, herring, sardines, salmon and mackerel
- Winter Squash
- Olive oil
- Fruits, nuts, vegetables and grains
- Clear Water: Keep yourself super-hydrated. It’s always important to give your body water necessary for the re-hydration process in the healing of degenerated discs. Ideally, drink 8 10-ounce cups of clear water per day.
Avoid the Following: On the converse, there are foods you are wise to avoid. Nitrates, sugars and fats as these can exacerbate the inflammation and pain associated with back pain. In general it’s a good idea to avoid.
- Processed foods high in nitrates (hot dogs, sausage, lunch meats)
- Foods high in sugar, saturated and trans fats (deserts, cookies, cakes, fast food)
- Any foods containing high fructose corn syrup (salad dressing, soda)
Every food or drink you put into your body directly impacts your health. Give your body an extra boost of healing power by eating wisely. And while your low back pain or neck pain will not go away with food alone, you can further your body’s innate healing power.
There are times when your health-care professional may recommend nutritional supplements. This is because it is not always possible to naturally ingest the quality or quantity of nutrients that your body needs to heal and function optimally.
Here are a few supplements that often may be prescribed along with your care plan:
Multi-Vitamin/Mineral: Due to poor soil content and patients not eating enough fruits and vegetables it is often difficult to ingest all the enzymes, nutrients, vitamins and minerals in our diet alone. A high quality multivitamin/multimineral supplement is often recommended as insurance against any deficiencies as well as a source of the necessary nutrients and building blocks to promote and or speed up healing.
Omega-3 (Fish Oil) for Joint Health
Omega-3 fatty acids are found in walnuts, canola and soybean oils, and coldwater fish like salmon and tuna. Fish oil supplements are also a good source of omega-3s — a fat that plays a vital role in maintaining healthy cells throughout the body, including the joints. They also encourage the production of chemicals that help control inflammation in the joints, bloodstream, and tissues.
Vitamin D may be a helpful dietary supplement for your lower back pain. A lack of vitamin D may be responsible for your lower back pain. According to the Spine Universe website, if you experience chronic musculoskeletal pain, including lower back pain, you may have insufficient levels of vitamin D. When your vitamin D levels are restored through supplementation, your pain may significantly decrease. Before taking vitamin D supplements for your lower back pain, talk with your doctor about possible side effects and proper dosage.
Bromelain: A Natural Anti-inflammatory
When taken on an empty stomach, the enzyme bromelain, found in the pineapple plant, acts as an anti-inflammatory agent — decreasing arthritis joint pain and swelling, and increasing mobility.
Before you take bromelain, however, check your allergies. Allergic reactions may occur in people allergic to pineapples, latex, and honeybees, as well as birch, cypress, and grass pollens.
Devil's Claw: Herbal Relief
The herb devil's claw is a traditional South African medicine used to relieve joint pain and inflammation, back pain, and headache.
Although more research is needed, there is scientific evidence that devil’s claw can help reduce osteoarthritis joint pain and may work as well as anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen or naproxen. In one study, 227 people with low back pain — or knee or hip osteoarthritis — were treated with devil's claw extract. After eight weeks of taking 60 milligrams daily, from 50% to 70% reported improvements in joint pain, mobility, and flexibility.
Willow bark may be effective for treating your lower back pain. According to the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC), willow bark, also known as white willow or Salix alba, contains salicin, which is the phytotherapeutic precursor of acetylsalicylic acid, or aspirin. Willow bark has been used to treat numerous health complaints, including fever, headaches, inflammation, influenza, muscle pain and weight loss. Willow bark acts as an anti-inflammatory by blocking potentially inflammatory prostaglandins. White willow bark is contraindicated, or should not be used, if you have a bleeding disorder, such as hemophilia, or in conjunction with blood-thinning medications. Before taking willow bark for your lower back pain, talk with your doctor about possible side effects and proper dosage.
Turmeric for Joint Pain and Stiffness
The turmeric plant grows in India and Indonesia, and its roots (when ground) serve as the basis for curry seasoning. One of the many active ingredients in turmeric is curcumin; it is used in traditional Chinese medicine and Indian Ayurvedic medicine to treat arthritis. The claims are that turmeric reduces arthritis joint pain, inflammation, and stiffness related to arthritis.
Several studies have shown that turmeric works as an anti-inflammatory and that it modifies the immune system. In a 2006 study, turmeric was more effective at preventing arthritis joint inflammation as opposed to reducing inflammation. A study in 2009 compared extracts of turmeric with extracts of a related plant species, cucurma domestica, containing the same medicinal chemicals as regular turmeric. Researchers found that it worked as well at relieving symptoms of arthritis as 800 milligrams of ibuprofen daily. But definitive studies in humans are lacking, so the benefit of turmeric on arthritis is unclear.
People on blood thinners should use caution when taking turmeric as animal studies indicate it may increase the risk of bleeding. It may also cause stomachache.
Drink Plenty of Water
Daily water intake should be 1 ounce of water for every 2 pounds of your body weight. So if a patient weighs 200 lbs then they should consume 100 ounces of water per day.
The human body is more than 70% water. Water is needed in the function, repair, and growth of all avascular white tissues, including ligaments, cartilages, joints and spinal discs1.
Most patients with musculoskeletal problems are already dehydrated, and patients who age more rapidly than their years are often found to have a body composed of 50% water instead of the 70%2.
Water and Your Discs. There is no direct blood supply to the discs. At 12 to 14 years of age, the spinal discs blood nutrition supply and waste elimination system atrophies.4,5 The intake of at least 64 ounces of water or half the person’s body weight in ounces is essential for nutrition delivery and waste elimination for spinal discs, ligaments, joints, and all body functions, that is, it they are to perform at an optimal level.1,6 Each spinal disc nucleus contains 88% water. 4,7 75% of a person’s body weight is supported by the discs in the low back. If these discs lose water they will lose height which will subsequently shift the weight load from the discs to the posterior joints ultimately leading to degenerative changes and bone spurring in the spinal canal.
1. Balch PA, Balch JF. Prescription for Nutritional Healing, 3rd edition. 2002 Avery New York
2. Broody TA. Alkalinize or Die. 1995 Portal Books California
6. Markoff KL, Morris JM: The structural components of the intervertebral disc. J Bone and Joint Surgery 1974; 56:141-154
7. Saulter F, Oglive-Harris D: Healing in inter-articular fractures and continuous passive motion 1994