Osteoporosis: Calcium, Vitamin D, and Prevention
Proper nutrition is crucial for healthy spinal joints, discs, vertebral bodies, and other parts of your spine. Daily soft tissue wear and tear or trauma may affect ligaments, tendons and muscles and cause neck or back pain—depending on which level of the spine is injured. Osteoporosis is an example of a disease that may worsen when nutrition is poor.
Like other parts of your body, the spine needs high-quality fuel (eg, well-balanced diet) for cell renewal, which is essential to healing and may help prevent a spine-related problem in the future. To repair bone and connective tissue damage, your body requires adequate amounts of certain vitamins and nutrients. Minerals, such as calcium and magnesium and other nutrients, such as vitamin D, are especially important for bone and connective tissue health.
What affects calcium in the body?
Calcium plays an essential role in the building of strong bones. Eating calcium-rich foods and avoiding those that cause calcium loss can help you achieve and maintain healthy calcium levels. However, several factors influence calcium metabolism in the body.
- Caffeine-containing drinks, such as coffee and colas, can cause calcium to be excreted in the urine before it can be absorbed.
- Some cola drinks have high levels of phosphorus that can disrupt calcium metabolism.
- If your digestive tract is inflamed or has the wrong acidity due to chronic stress or a medical condition, your body may not be able to properly metabolize calcium. Therefore, calcium may pass through the digestive tract before being absorbed.
It’s important to address these problems to ensure your body absorbs the calcium your bones and body needs. Your doctor may recommend a calcium supplement.
How Magnesium Works
Magnesium is another mineral that is as important as calcium for strong bones. Magnesium is required for calcium to get into the bones. Magnesium also is needed to make vitamin D active.
What may contribute to magnesium deficiency?
- Like calcium, magnesium often is excreted in the urine before it can be used. Stress can worsen this.
- Alcohol use can contribute to magnesium loss, as well as some drugs prescribed to treat heart disease and high blood pressure.
- The typical American diet does not contain the recommended daily amount of magnesium. Consider—if you become injured or develop a bone disease (eg, osteopenia, osteoporosis) that requires bone to repair itself, you may need more than the daily recommended amount of magnesium.
If you have concerns about factors that might lower your magnesium level or increase your need for magnesium, ask your doctor if a magnesium supplement could be beneficial for you.
Role of Vitamin D in Calcium Absorption
You could think of Vitamin D as the gatekeeper that opens the way for your body to absorb calcium from your body’s digestive tract. Not only does Vitamin D help prevent bone loss; it plays an important role in rebuilding new bone. Plus, it strengthens collagen—a protein found in bones, tendons, and muscles.
How to Increase Vitamin D
There are several ways to get the vitamin D your body needs to ensure good bone health.
- Sunlight stimulates the production of vitamin D in your skin. But as you get older, your body’s capacity to produce vitamin D from sunlight slows down.
- Diet is another way to increase your vitamin D levels. Vitamin D is found in cod liver oil and some types of fish (mackerel, salmon, sardines, and tuna).
- In addition, there are many foods that have been fortified with vitamin D. These include cereal, milk, orange juice, and yogurt.
If you are not exposed to enough sunshine, do not eat enough foods fortified with vitamin D, or your diet is very low in fat, which makes it harder for you to absorb vitamin D from your food. You may need to take a vitamin D supplement. Your doctor may measure the levels of vitamin D in your blood to help you decide what supplement might be best for you, considering your age and risk factors for osteopenia and osteoporosis.
Fuel Up with Good, Nutritious Foods
When you have a back or neck pain from an injury or disease, good nutrition can aid healing, and may help control your pain and ability to function. Different spinal conditions have some different nutritional requirements.
For example, people with osteoporosis often are advised to take a calcium/magnesium supplement (the citrate form is recommended). Patients with osteoporosis should also take vitamin D.
If you have an inflammatory condition, you might benefit from antioxidant nutrients such as vitamin E. Natural, not synthetic, vitamin E products with mixed tocopherols are recommended.
In addition, you should include fresh fish in your diet and take a fish oil supplement.
With your doctor’s recommendations, the following general nutritional recommendations may help you keep your spine healthy:
- Drink at least 8 large glasses of water or herbal tea daily.
- Eliminate simple sugars and refined white flour from your diet.
- Avoid packaged foods with added preservatives and colors.
- Take a high-quality multivitamin/mineral supplement 3 times daily.
- If you have arthritis or other inflammatory conditions, take a pure fish oil supplement that contains EPA and DHA.
- Take 800 to 1,000 IU of vitamin D3 daily (more if you have a history of malabsorption [inability to absorb nutrients]).
In summary, your doctor is the best source for recommendations about your diet and need for vitamins and supplements. Keep in mind that some vitamins and supplements may interfere or cause side effects when taken with certain medications, including prescription drugs. If you are scheduled for a spine procedure, make sure your doctor knows exactly what vitamins, supplements, and herbs you take.