: Keeping Alaska Active

Nutrition and Your Spine

Part 1: Nutrition and Metabolism

“You are what you eat.” Is that simply a funny saying or is there some truth to that old adage? The spine is not something that usually comes to mind when one thinks about nutrition, but it should!

Nutrition is important in having a healthy spine and good nutrition also helps control pain and disability when we are suffering from many different types of spine conditions.

How well you do or don’t eat and exercise will make you more or less likely to have problems with your bones, joints, and connective tissue. This series of articles will help you learn how to use nutrition to prevent injury and to foster better healing after an injury. We will describe how you can make simple changes to your diet and other lifestyle habits. Small changes can be helpful to avoid or care for both painful spine conditions as well as most other musculoskeletal problems.

What is nutrition?

It helps to think of nutrition as a math problem:

Good nutrition = the right nutrients + enough water + electrolytes, minerals, and vitamins + a healthy digestive system + an efficient metabolism

Nutrients are the chemical elements that make up a food. Nutrients are the basics of what you eat that give your body what you need for "running the show", that is, for metabolism. Certain nutrients such as carbohydrates, fats, and proteins provide energy and rebuild the tissues of our body.

Water is a critical part of good nutrition as well. Other elements including electrolytes, minerals, and vitamins—which are already in good food or may needed to be supplemented into our diet—are required for metabolic processes.

We also get good nutrition by being able to completely digest the things we swallow. Then we must be able to absorb the nutrients into the blood and other body fluids. With the right nutrients given to the cells, metabolism, or the work of the body, can occur in the most efficient and healthy way.

Metabolism refers to all of the physical and chemical changes that are taking place in your body every moment. Making energy in the body is part of metabolism. All the physical work that occurs inside your cells is part of this process, too. It includes chemical changes that happen every day in your bones, connective tissues, body fluids, and organs.

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An illustration of the inside of your spinal cord.

A look at one an unhealthy spine looks like.