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Dr. Jaspal Ricky Singh
Dr. Jaspal Ricky Singh

Q: What Are the Connections Between Exercise, Nutrition, and Spine-Related Disease?

A: The main connection is weight. Every extra pound in your belly is equal to almost 7 to 10 pounds of pressure on each of the discs (bones) in your spine. So, if you have even 5 to 10 pounds to lose, that’s 50 to 100 extra pounds of pressure on your spine. Losing that weight will have a direct benefit on your back.

When we talk about disc degeneration and facet joints (the small joints of your spine) having inflammation (swelling and pain), it’s a balance between anabolism and catabolism. Anabolism is cell growth and repair, and catabolism is cell destruction. We know that if you have a lot of inflammation, you have inflammatory cells moving in your body. These inflammatory cells are going to degenerate your discs. This is why we get shorter over time, from degeneration of the discs in the spine.

By reducing inflammation in your body, you will probably prevent some degeneration. Not all degeneration can be cured with diet and may require other interventions, like therapy or surgery. Overall, decreasing inflammation will help improve your spine function.

Remember, not all inflammation is cause for concern. When you have an injury, the acute (short-term) inflammatory response protects the body. It sends cells to where healing needs to occur. Sometimes, inflammation becomes chronic (long-lasting). This happens when the body continues to send inflammatory cells; these cells not only help heal injured tissue but also destroy or damage healthy organs and healthy cells. Inflammatory damage can lead to many chronic diseases that people, especially in America, experience. These include heart disease, cancer, gastrointestinal disturbances, arthritis and spine pain.

Eating a more anti-inflammatory diet tends to provide some protection against back pain. If you eat an inflammatory diet, you are 42 times more likely to have back pain in your lifetime. The difference between an anti-inflammatory and an inflammatory diet is that the inflammatory diet is consistent with what we eat in America, sadly. It’s called the Standard American Diet (SAD). This diet is high in sodas, fruit juices and trans fats.

The anti-inflammatory diet is what we tell our kids to eat. Eat the rainbow, all the colorful fruits and vegetables, and legumes (beans), as well as healthy fats, omega-3s versus omega-6s. Anti-inflammatory diets have been shown to help with neurodegenerative conditions, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, heart disease and joint inflammation.

Losing extra weight and eating a nutritious diet can help keep your spine healthy.

Dr. Jaspal Ricky Singh, co-director of the Comprehensive Center for Spine Care

This question was answered during the episode of Spine Time called “What’s Eating at Your Back: How Nutrition Affects Your Spine’s Health.” A recording of this webinar held on January 12, 2022, is available on YouTube. To sign up for future episodes of Spine Time, where you can ask questions of our spine specialists, subscribe here.

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