When suffering from nonspecific back pain, most people know about using hot or cold packs, taking over-the-counter pain relievers, and stretching or gentle exercise such as yoga. However, you also might consider supplementing your healthy diet with nutraceuticals, foods that sometimes have a therapeutic benefit. While healing food supplements might not solve back pain on their own, they have been studied as part of a multidisciplinary treatment plan to address low back pain. Nutraceuticals such as Omega-3 fatty acids, curcumin, and polyphenols may help support other traditional treatments as prescribed by your physician. Let’s look at the benefits offered for each one:
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids are well-known for their anti-inflammatory effect on the body. The most common source is fish oil or fish oil supplements, but flaxseed can be a plant-based option. Omega-3 fatty acids have shown a preventative effect for heart disease as well as Alzheimer’s disease. Experiments on lab animals also have produced positive improvement in inflammatory bowel disease (IBS) and asthma. This anti-inflammatory ability makes Omega-3 fatty acids potential healing agents for neuropathic conditions like back pain.
Curcumin (or Tumeric)
Curcumin is better known as a derivative of turmeric, a common household spice. The rootstalk (or rhizome) of the plant contains the active material. A number of studies investigating the effectiveness of curcumin in reducing joint pain and swelling associated with rheumatoid arthritis showed participants experienced significant relief. One such study combined curcumin with ginger, another common household spice, and this combination proved to be as effective as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) in treating rheumatoid arthritis in rats. In addition, curcumin has been shown to be an antioxidant that is 10 times more potent than vitamin E, and it often operates in a synergistic fashion with other drugs commonly used to treat pain.
The health benefits of the Mediterranean diet have been touted, and some of those benefits are from the presence of antioxidants known as polyphenols (naturally occurring plant chemicals known for their health benefits). One important source of polyphenols is virgin olive oil which contains two potent antioxidants called oleuropein and hydroxytyrosol. Another important polyphenol source is bergamot, a citrus plant with fruit similar to an orange, which has been used to reduce cholesterol in patients who cannot take statin drugs. The use of polyphenols in conjunction with morphine for pain has reduced the buildup of tolerance in recent studies involving mice. Researchers found that the polyphenols oleuropein and hydroxytyrosol stopped the tolerance to morphine by removing free radicals. Use of bergamot with other antioxidants reduced patients’ increased sensitivity to pain which is sometimes a complication brought about by the use of opioids. The use of these natural, plant-based chemicals along with traditional painkillers promises more effective pain relief with fewer negative side effects, like oversensitivity to pain and the development of tolerance to opioids.
Using nutraceuticals to support traditional pain relief of low back pain offers patients a natural way to increase the efficacy of their prescription painkillers while reducing unwanted side effects. Talking to your doctor about the use of these natural products to support the management of your low back pain is recommended. Doctorpedia is excited to share the good news that there are natural supplements that can support you as you seek treatment for your low back pain!
- Calder, P.C. (2015). Marine omega-3 fatty acids and inflammatory processes: Effects, mechanisms, and clinical relevance. Biochimica et Biophysica Acta, 1851(4), 469-484. doi: 10.1016/j.bbalip.2014.08.010
- De Gregori, M., Muscoli, C., Schatman, M. E., Stallone, T., Intelligente, F., Rondanelli, M., … Allegri, M. (2016). Combining pain therapy with lifestyle: the role of personalized nutrition and nutritional supplements according to the SIMPAR Feed Your Destiny approach. Journal of Pain Research, 9, 1179–1189. doi:10.2147/JPR.S115068
- Plant sources of omega-3s. (2011). Cleveland Clinic. Retrieved from https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/17651-plant-sources-of-omega-3s
Nan Kuhlman is an author, freelance writer, and part-time university professor based in Los Angeles, CA. She currently works full-time as a technical writer in Los Angeles and part-time as an online adjunct writing instructor. She has written for scholarly publications like the University of California, Davis Writing on the Edge and Chapman University’s Anastamos Interdisciplinary Journal, among others.