Several years ago, my daughter Natalie developed idiopathic scoliosis which rapidly got worse. I talk about the entire experience in my web series about treating scoliosis. Ultimately, she had to have major scoliosis surgery to correct her 60+ degree curve. The entire ordeal was really frustrating, particularly because doctors say they have no clue what causes idiopathic scoliosis. If any cause is given, it is usually genetics. They say this despite the fact that there is strong evidence that nutritional deficiencies can cause scoliosis (which I talk about in this post about scoliosis and nutrition and does bad diet cause scoliosis).
If you are reading this, then I assume either you have or your child has scoliosis. At this point, dietary changes aren’t likely to improve your scoliosis. However, optimizing your diet can prevent the scoliosis from getting worse (so you don’t end up on the operating table like my daughter!) or help you make the most of scoliosis treatments.
And what is the best diet for scoliosis? It is a paleo style diet with a strong focus on nutrient density – and this is why.
What is Paleo?
Let’s start with what exactly the paleo diet is. You may have heard that the paleo diet requires you to eat like a caveman. I’m not a fan of this description. It generally just leads to arguing with strangers online about dogma. No one has time for that! But I do use the term paleo because it is the closest thing to describe the way my family and I now eat 80% of the time. Other diets similar to paleo are Primal (which includes raw grass-fed dairy) and Weston A. Price (which includes raw, grass-fed dairy as well as sprouted, soaked, and fermented grains). All of these diets fall under the category “ancestral” or “real foods.”
For me, paleo means eating a diet which is closest to what our bodies evolved to eat. It means eating NUTRIENT DENSE foods and not food stuffs. As I talked about in my post Does Bad Diet Cause Scoliosis?, processed foods, sugars, and grains can cause inflammation and mineral depletion, which leads down a slippery slope to weakened muscles and lost bone mass. This is definitely not going to help your scoliosis!
I talk about Paleo more in depth in my eBook Paleo Made Easy. The eBook contains practical information on how to transition your family to paleo, the benefits of going paleo, and has 45+ recipes which are easy to make and family-friendly. You can learn more about it here.
Why Paleo for Scoliosis?
Here are the main reasons why I recommend a paleo style diet for people with scoliosis (actually, I recommend it for everyone but that is another topic for another day… 🙂 )
Optimal Nutrition for Growing Bodies
Scoliosis is riskiest in children who are still growing. Because they are still growing, it means that there is a good chance the scoliosis could get worse over (a very short period of) time. (Source) Dr. Kevin Lau describes scoliosis as a disease which “develops because of your body not being able to keep up with the aging process.” (Source)
It is important to make sure your child gets adequate nutrition during high-growth periods, or the scoliosis can develop or get worse amazingly quickly. To put this in perspective, my daughter Natalie had just a 10 degree curve at the age of 10. By the age of 12, her curve had progressed to 61 degrees! We were not eating a nutrient dense paleo diet at this point!
Eating paleo isn’t about perfection. My family typically eats paleo 80% of the time along with some gluten free grains mostly because we feel and perform the best when eating this way, but we’re by no means perfect nor do I think you need to be. Here’s the thing: by focusing on paleo foods, you are crowding out all those harmful, less-nutritious, pro-inflammatory foods with nutrient dense foods that are needed to support proper spine growth.
Paleo Reduces Inflammation
Sugars, corn syrup, wheat, soy, low-fat dairy, vegetable oils, chemical preservatives and additives… These are the things which make up the Standard American Diet. And these are all also things which cause inflammation in the body. The inflammatory response causes us to release cytokines, which result in bone loss. In fact, inflammation is so bad for your bones that one study found that people with high inflammation markers had a 73% increase in hip fractures, and multiple other studies have linked inflammation to bone loss. Inflammation also weakens the muscles, and weak muscles is a potential cause of scoliosis because the body won’t be able to hold the spine in position and it can buckle. (Source 1, 2, 3)
Paleo is mostly about reducing inflammation so your body can function as it’s meant to. Just eliminating grains and seed oils from your diet can make a huge difference. If you want to take paleo even further, you can focus on eating anti-inflammatory foods like turmeric (I love this turmeric sauce recipe as an easy way to fit it in regularly).
Paleo also focuses on optimizing the Omega 3 to Omega 6 ratio. Multiple studies show that too much Omega 6 in relation to Omega 3 causes inflammation, which in turn can lead to serious diseases. Anthropological research shows that our hunter-gatherer ancestors ate Omega 3 and Omega 6 in a 1:1 ratio. Today, most people consume Omega 3 and Omega 6 in a ratio of 1:10 to 1:20! Unless you are eating Alaskan salmon all day, it is probably going to be impossible to get down to a 1:1 ratio. Try shooting for a 1:4 ratio. Some ways you can improve your Omega 3 to Omega 6 ratio are:
- Choose grass-fed beef: These have an Omega 3 to 6 ratio of about 1:3, compared to grain-fed beef which has a ratio of about 1:20.
- Swap out vegetable oils (which are incredibly high in Omega 6) for tallow or ghee. Read my posts on how to make tallow and ghee easily at home.
- Eat wild salmon, which is a great source of Omega 3
- Consider taking a supplement, like Fermented Cod Liver Oil (which is also a great source of vitamin K2, which is very important for bone health — you can buy it here) and also a high quality fish oil for Omega (I like this brand). Natalie and I take both of these now and my entire family takes the FCLO.
In a nutshell, a paleo template is as close to how humans are supposed to eat. Our bodies were not meant to thrive on bowl after bowl of corn flakes. Just like your family pet probably wouldn’t thrive on nothing but fruit salad. When we’re not eating what we’re built to eat, (surprise, surprise!) we start to fall apart.
Paleo Heals the Gut
You know all those foods I listed above which are found in the typical SAD diet – sugar, corn syrup, additives, wheat… Well, they not only cause inflammation but can cause serious damage to your gut. Your gut stays in a constant state of inflammation, which eventually can cause holes to form. This is known as Leaky Gut Syndrome (read about what is leaky gut syndrome here).
Researchers have only recently discovered the importance of our guts for our overall health, but it is now known as our “second brain.” This is too big of a topic to get into here, but I do want to emphasize how a damaged gut can harm your spine and cause scoliosis.
When your gut is damaged, you won’t be able to absorb nutrients. So, no matter how healthy of a diet you eat, you won’t be getting the nutrients you need to build strong bones and muscles to support spine growth. The scoliosis will get worse!
A paleo style diet removes foods which irritate, inflame and damage the gut (such as wheat, grains, and processed foods). As a next step, paleo also encourages people to consume foods which actually heal the gut. The #1 gut-healer is bone broth, which is a natural source of gelatin (learn how to make bone broth here). It shouldn’t be too surprising to learn that bone broth is good for your bones. In this sense, bone broth or gelatin are the best foods you can consume for scoliosis. My daughter’s experience with scoliosis, and finding out what an amazing superfood gelatin is, is what ultimately led me to write a book about gelatin. It is called The Gelatin Secret and you can learn more about it here.
Have you tried the paleo for scoliosis? How did it work for you? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below!
This post is part of a series on treating scoliosis. Read my post about What Is Scoliosis, Nutrition and Scoliosis and Does Bad Diet Cause Scoliosis. Sign up to my VIP email list to hear about new posts as soon as they are ready.
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