Degenerative disc disease (DDD) is something of a misnomer. It’s not a “disease” in the true sense of the word. It simply refers to damage that occurs to spinal discs due to age-related wear or changes. Many treatment options (including seeking the care of a Los Angeles spine surgeon) may relieve symptoms, and one that’s often overlooked involves adjusting your eating habits. Here’s a closer look at the importance of diet in degenerative disc disease treatment.
How Does Diet Affect Spinal Discs?
Spinal discs are essentially spongy structures designed to provide support to the hard bones of the spine. Their tissue can be affected by inflammation and the way nutrients are delivered. If your diet includes sugary snacks, processed foods, and refined carbs, you’re more likely to experience disc-related pain from resulting inflammation. These types of foods may also affect circulation, delaying the body’s natural healing process and worsening pain from degenerative disc disease. On the other hand, a healthy diet can play a vital role in preventing or minimizing DDD symptoms by:
• Keeping your weight within a normal range
• Maintaining strength in the bones of the spine
• Promoting a healthy flow of vitamins and essential nutrients
How Do I Find the Right Calorie Balance?
Taking in more calories than you burn means extra weight, which could increase stress on your spinal discs. Ideally, you want to reach a point where you’re burning calories at roughly the same rate you’re taking them in. Your doctor can give you specific recommendations for your daily caloric intake based on factors such as your age, sex, height, and present weight. Generally, you’re more likely to achieve a good calorie balance by:
• Keeping portions small
• Choosing healthy snacks instead of high-calorie treats between meals
• Getting exercise to burn off excess calories
How Do I Choose Nutrient-Rich Foods?
As you age, your body changes the way it absorbs nutrients, so it’s important to eat more nutrient-rich foods as you get older. Foods loaded with nutrients are also good for your spine’s discs because they tend to have natural inflammation-fighting properties, providing added protection against arthritis and other conditions that affect the spine. Luckily, many nutrient-dense foods are easy to incorporate into your daily routine. Possibilities include:
• Green leafy vegetables
• Bright-colored fruits
• Low-fat dairy products
• Whole grains
• Lean proteins (e.g. seafood, poultry without skin, beans)
• Salmon, sardines, and other fish with high levels of omega-3 fatty acids
How Do I Get Enough Dietary Fiber?
Many medications may effectively manage degenerative disc disease symptoms. However, some of them can cause constipation. To minimize this issue, include high-fiber foods in your diet. Foods with high fiber content include:
• Apples, pears, bananas, and oranges
• Berries (especially raspberries and strawberries)
• Brown rice and other healthy grains
• Legumes, nuts, and seeds
• Artichokes, Brussels sprouts, sweet corn, and other boiled vegetables
• Raw carrots and baked potatoes with the skin
Dietary changes alone aren’t likely to be enough to prevent DDD-related symptoms from disrupting your quality of life as the condition progresses. Patients often benefit from a comprehensive treatment plan that also includes therapeutic exercises, hot and cold therapy, improvements in posture, and over-the-counter or prescription anti-inflammatory medication.
If you have degenerative disc disease, you’re not powerless. You can take charge of a lot of the daily activities—like making sure you have a healthy diet—that have a huge impact on your quality of life. The Spine Institute offers a variety of treatments, including alternatives to spinal fusion. Los Angeles residents who want information about DDD or any other concerns about spinal health should contact the caring professionals at The Spine Institute at 310-828-7757 and schedule an appointment today.