Back pain is one of the most common complaints reported by a majority of the population. Affecting many people temporarily or for an extended period of time at least once throughout their lifetime, back pain is generally the result of trauma from an accident, injury or due to an aggravated medical condition. But, can an improper diet based on refined sugar and processed fat cause back pain?
Researchers from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and the Icahn School of Medicine believe that consuming an excess amount of these foods can cause inflammation in the body which may gradually degenerate the intervertebral discs, cartilaginous joints found between each vertebrae that act as shock absorbers and ligaments for all the movements of the spine. The degeneration of these structures may lead to back pain and other spinal complications.
Furthermore, an improper nutrition is also associated with the development of type 2 diabetes, another factor which may cause changes to the spine that could also lead to back pain and other painful symptoms.
“We hope to identify reasons why diabetes and poor diet can result in age-accelerated spinal pathologies,” declared co-investigator Deepak Vashishth, PhD, Professor of Biomedical Engineering and Director of the Center for Biotechnology & Interdisciplinary Studies at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, NY. “If we identify specific molecules necessary in this process, we can use this information to develop future treatments to slow or prevent these degeneration processes.”
Poor Nutrition Damages Essential Molecules
The researchers developed the research study because there are several safe, effective and minimally invasive treatments available to help improve the symptoms of back pain. The purpose of the evaluation was to determine what exactly happens in the body, as a result of an improper diet, to cause the degeneration of the intervertebral discs and eventually back pain. The study was also designed to provide them with additional information on how they could prevent or avoid this process from occurring in the first place.
Investigator James Iatridis, PhD, Professor and Vice Chair for Research in the Department of Orthopaedics at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City explained, “Basic science studies on mice suggest a possible connection between diets high in advanced glycation end products, or AGEs, type 2 diabetes and spinal degeneration but this association has never before been proven.”
Advanced glycation end products, or AGEs, are proteins or lipids which become damaged as a result of being coated in excess sugars. Evidence suggests that a diet high in processed foods, such as fried foods, plays a huge role in the development of AGEs. In addition, research has demonstrated that the formation of advanced glycation end products over a period of time can cause tissues and other structures of the body to deteriorate, increasing inflammation which could lead to the degeneration of the intervertebral discs in the spine as well as contribute to the development of other diseases, including diabetes, atherosclerosis and Alzheimer’s disease.
Type 2 Diabetes and Back Pain
Moreover, Investigator James Iatridis, PhD, and his team began investigation the relation between type 2 diabetes and spinal degeneration. The disease is commonly referred to as an age-related condition, because it is believed to accelerate the cell aging process in many humans. “Studies have also shown that individuals with diabetes experience poorer recovery outcomes after spine surgery than those without diabetes,” he added.
In the first section of the project, researchers at Mount Sinai raised a group of mice on a diet focused on foods high in AGEs, similar to a human’s fast food diet. The research study also included both regular mice and mice genetically modified to reduce their ability to get rid of AGEs in their body. This was utilized to allow researchers to see whether the mice experienced disc degeneration or developed changes in the vertebrae of the spine to prove if advanced glycation end products play a key role in these degenerative alterations.
At Rensselaer, researchers would analyze how tissue and other structures from healthy intervertebral discs compared to that of degenerated intervertebral discs. Essentially, they were to study whether a drug that blocks the effects of a diet high in AGEs could provide protection against the degeneration of the structures of the spine in mice.
In conclusion, studying the tissue of humans can be challenging because people lead very complicated lifestyles with a variation of more than simply a diabetes status. These differences make it difficult to directly identify whether an improper diet and type 2 diabetes can actually cause back complications using only human research studies. Findings in both mice and human studies would support a link between diet, diabetes and spinal degeneration.
The study is funded by the National Institutes of Health. Findings will be published periodically over 5 years with the study concluding in 2021.
Make sure to consult a healthcare professional regarding any nutritional and/or medical concerns you may have before attempting and/or following any of the techniques listed above to avoid injury and/or complications.
By Dr. Alex Jimenez
Whole Body Wellness
Overall health and wellness can be achieved by following a proper nutrition and engaging in regular exercise and/or physical activities. While these are some of the most common ways to ensure whole body health and wellness, visiting a qualified and experienced healthcare professional can also grant your body additional benefits. Chiropractic care, for instance, is a safe and effective alternative treatment option utilized by people to maintain well-being.