Adequate nutrition is a vital part of spine health. Proper nutrition plays a vital role in the body’s ability to repair damage from inflammation. Nutrition helps determine the strength of your bones and connective tissue and helps ward off spine disabiling diseases such as osteoporosis. Joints require proper nutrients to maintain and repair optimal functioning. Bone is a living, regenerative tissue made of minerals like calcium, phosphorus, and magnesium. Minerals and vitamins are essential for healthy bones.
Calcium is the primary mineral in your bones. It is critical to the physical structure and functional ability of the human body. Without a steady supply of calcium in your diet, your body will steal it from the only source it has, your bones. Over time, frequent calcium withdrawals can make bones weak and fragile. This can lead to the crippling disease called osteoporosis, which is a major public health threat for 28 million Americans, particularly women.
Calcium plays an important role in maintaining healthy bones. National surveys show that many Americans do not consuming enough calcium. Teenage girls who frequently diet, often consume inadequate dietary calcium needed for building strong bones. The goal is to get plenty of calcium, preferably from dietary sources. One way to increase the amount of calcium in your diet is to eat calcium-rich foods like low-fat milk, cheese, broccoli, or tofu. If you are unable to get enough calcium through your diet, a calcium supplement may be appropriate. Adequate calcium intake is essential to maintain bone strength and can play a vital role in preventing osteoporosis related fractures.
Dietary Reference Intakes for Calcium according to the National Academy of Sciences:
- Age 9 -18 years: 1,300 mg/day
- Adults 19-50 years: 1,000 mg/day
- Adults over 50 years: 1,200 mg/day
- Pregnant or lactating - under 18 years 1,300 mg/day
- Pregnant or lactating - 19- 50 years 1,000 mg/day
- Anyone over the age of 65: 1,500 mg/day
Natural foods, especially dairy products, are the best source of calcium. Some people do not consume enough calcium from food and may need to take a calcium supplement. The amount of calcium you will need from a supplement depends on how much calcium is consumed from food sources. Several different calcium compounds or salts are used in supplements. It is important to note the actual amount of calcium in different supplements. When choosing a calcium supplement, stick to brand names with proven reliability. Avoid calcium from bone meal, dolomite, or unrefined oyster shells, as these may contain lead or other toxic metals. If the product has ‘USP’ on the label, this means that it has met voluntary standards of purity and dissolution established by the United States Pharmacopeia (USP). These products are safe to take and well-absorbed by the body.
It is very hard to consume too much calcium. Daily intake of 2,500 mg poses little risk in most healthy individuals. Individuals whose intestines absorb ingested calcium at unusually high efficiencies may be at risk for kidney stones. If you have a history of kidney stones, ask your physician before starting a high calcium diet.
Having an adequate calcium intake is only one step necessary for a healthy skeleton. A high calcium intake will not protect a person against bone loss caused by estrogen deficiency, physical inactivity, alcohol abuse, smoking, or various medical disorders and treatments. Establishing healthy habits, such as regular exercise and smoking cessation, will contribute greatly to strong bones.
Vitamin D is an essential fat soluble hormone that is required for normal bone health. Vitamin D is essential in absorbing calcium from food sources. It allows calcium to leave the intestine and enter the bloodstream to reach bones. Vitamin D also promotes the absorption of phosphorus which works with calcium to help strengthen bones and teeth. There are two forms of vitamin D: D2 is found in plants, and D3 is from exposure to sunlight. Your body can make vitamin D on its own; it is made in your skin through exposure to sunlight. While vitamin D is primarily synthesized via sunshine, it can also be obtained from diet or supplements. While most people are able to obtain enough vitamin D naturally, vitamin D production decreases in the elderly, in people who are housebound, and during the winter. These individuals may require vitamin D supplementation to ensure a daily intake of at least 400 IU.
Having adequate Vitamin D levels are associated with:
- Preventing osteopenia and osteomalacia
- Decreased risks of some cancers, including breast, prostate, and colon cancer.
- Decreased incidence of cardiovascular disease
- Decreased mortality
- Improved mental health
- Decreased rate of falls in elderly
How much sunshine is enough?
Sunlight is the best natural source of Vitamin D. It is important to understand the two basic types of ‘sunshine’ or Ultra-violet rays: UVA and UVB. UVB rays actually stimulate Vitamin D production, while UVA rays do not. However, UVB rays do not go through windows, so you need to be outdoors to absorb UVB rays. The key with any sunshine exposure is to avoid a burn. Burning damages the skin, and is associated with an increased risk of skin cancers. Your body takes what Vitamin D it needs from sunlight. Sunlight exposure to the arms and legs for 10-15 minutes can supply your body anywhere between 3,000 – 20,000 IU of Vitamin D. Remember to use sunscreen after your 10-15 minutes of direct sun exposure.
The amount of sunshine required to obtain the recommended dose of vitamin D is based upon:
- How much skin is exposed -the more skin exposed, the less time required
- How direct the sunshine is - northern latitudes approximately north of Atlanta, Georgia have less direct sunshine, requiring more time in the sun
- Skin pigmentation -fairer skin tones requires less sunshine
What if you can’t get enough Vitamin D from sunshine alone?
Getting enough vitamin D from your diet isn't easy. It is only in a few foods and often in very small amounts. Foods that provide vitamin D include:
Fatty fish, like tuna, mackerel, and salmon
Fortified foods, like some dairy products, orange juice, soy milk, and cereals
If you think your Vitamin D level might be low, your physician can order a blood test to check your Vitamin D levels and may recommend adding a dietary supplement. Over the counter supplements can be very effective in restoring Vitamin D levels. With adequate stores of Vitamin D, you can help strengthen your bones including your spine, and decrease your risks of osteoporosis related fractures.
Some researchers have found indications that high calcium intake may have a negative effect on zinc absorption. Zinc is necessary to maintain a healthy immune system and skin. Although these data are very preliminary, it wouldn't hurt to watch your zinc intake as well. Best sources for zinc include liver, beef, lamb, pork, cheddar cheese, popcorn, nuts, whole-wheat products and oysters.
Omega- 3 fatty acids, also known as polyunsaturated fatty acids, play a fundamental role in brain function, overall growth and development, and decreasing inflammation. Studies suggest they may decrease the risk of heart disease. Omega-3 fatty acids are in a class of essential fats required by our bodies. Your body cannot produce Omega-3’s; you can only get them through your diet. Not sure if you are getting enough Omega-3’s? The following are symptoms of Omega-3 fatty acid deficiency: poor memory, dry skin, fatigue, heart problems, depression, and poor circulation.
Omega-3 rich foods include:
Fish (Salmon, Yellow Fin Tuna, Scallops, Shrimp, Cod, Halibut)
Did you know? Grass fed farm animals produce milk with higher amounts of Omega-3. The same goes for hens that are fed with supplements such as flax seed, fish oil and algae- their eggs, specifically the yolk, will have a higher concentration of Omega-3’s.
Any woman of childbearing age should be taking folic acid. Folic acid supplements are crucial for reducing the risks of neural tube defects, like spina bifida, while a baby is developing. Folic acid is a B vitamin, which helps the expectant mother’s body produce healthy red blood cells. This is vital to the growth of the baby’s neural tubes which eventually develops into the baby’s brain and spinal cord. This development happens in the first trimester, a time when many women do not realize they are pregnant. Because of this, it is important to take folic acid before you discover you are pregnant. Any woman of child-bearing age who could get pregnant should take 400 mcg of folic acid daily so that the vitamin is present and available when or if conception occurs.
Don't forget about the importance of eating a healthy breakfast. Jump start your day right!