In my last post, I talked about nutrition and scoliosis. Even though there is a huge amount of evidence showing that deficiencies in nutrients like calcium, magnesium, and fat-soluble vitamins is linked to scoliosis, many doctors are still reluctant to admit that scoliosis is caused by a bad diet. I’m not saying that a bad diet alone causes scoliosis. There is definitely a genetic component to scoliosis as well. But a bad diet is one of the factors which can trigger scoliosis.
This topic is very personal to me since my daughter (who is now 16) had to undergo major surgery for her scoliosis when she was 14. During my pregnancy with her and during her formative years, our diet was less than ideal. I can’t say with 100% positivity that bad diet caused her scoliosis, but it certainly didn’t help matters.
Here we will look at the many ways a bad diet may cause scoliosis, including sugar, inflammation, gluten, and poor diet during pregnancy. To learn more about scoliosis and what causes it, check out the other posts in my web series about treating scoliosis.
Sugar and Scoliosis
The typical westerner eats waaayyyyy too much sugar. But wait, you say – I don’t eat sugar! Well, there is sugar hidden in pretty much all packaged and processed foods, and these are the things which make up the bulk of the Standard American Diet (appropriately called SAD).
According to the World Health Organization, sugar should account for no more than 5% of one’s calories, or about 6-12 tsp of sugar per day. This is an amount exceeded by drinking a single can of cola! How much sugar are Americans consuming now? Americans typically consume 18 tsp per day, or approximately 18% of their daily calories!
There is already tons of evidence which links sugar to diabetes, obesity, heart disease, cancer, tooth decay, and a multitude of other health problems. But what does sugar have to do with scoliosis?
Sugar depletes minerals from your body, including from the bones.
For every molecule of sugar that you consume, your body will use 54 molecules of magnesium to process it. If you recall from our nutrition and scoliosis post, magnesium is very important for bone health. When you consume sugar, it also causes spikes in your insulin levels, which in turn depletes zinc. Zinc is important for bone formation by stimulating osteoblasts. Sugar also wastes our phosphorus stores, which is important for balancing calcium. Without enough phosphorus, the body won’t be able to utilize dietary calcium and will steal it from the bones instead. (Source 1, 2, 3) As if this weren’t bad enough, sugar causes inflammation, which can also contribute to scoliosis.
All that said, getting your pre-teen and teen not to dive head first into a bowl full of sugar is tough. I feel you. They have some independence with their time and perhaps some pocket money and they hyperpalatable foods available at every corner that appropriately have “bet you can’t eat just one” as their tagline are tough to resist. My best advice on this front is to have the best foods available at home. Don’t bring junk into the house which is where they’re eating at least half of the time.
Diet, Inflammation and Scoliosis
When the body is harmed, such as from physical injury or a bacterial invader, an inflammation response occurs. The damaged cells release chemicals such as histamine, prostaglandins, or bradykinin. These chemicals cause blood vessels to leak fluid into the tissues, which results in swelling. Swelling helps protect the cells from the harmful substance. (Source) The blood vessels around the area dilate, which allows more blood to flow to the area. Gaps appear in the cell walls around the damaged area, which allows immune cells to pass through. (Source)
Inflammation is a good thing because it allows us to quickly heal from injury. However, chronic inflammation is NOT a good thing. The immune response doesn’t shut off. Instead of protecting your body, it harms your body. I like how SCD Lifestyle describes it as the difference between a small campfire meant to keep you warm, and a large campfire which burns down the entire forest. (Source) Chronic inflammation is believed to be a major cause of degenerative diseases. If scoliosis isn’t a degenerative disease, I don’t know what is!
What does this have to do with bad diet and scoliosis? Well, it turns out that the Standard American Diet is composed of mostly pro-inflammatory foods. This includes sugar (which is a double whammy for scoliosis), vegetable oils, grains, soy, and low-fat dairy, not to mention all those chemical additives found in processed foods.
Inflammation releases cytokines, which cause bone loss. (Source) The link is so strong that one study found a 73% increase in hip fracture in people with high inflammation markers. (Source) Other studies have found high amounts of bone loss in inflammatory disorders. (Source) Inflammation also leads to weakened muscles, which is another potential cause of scoliosis as the muscles won’t be strong enough to support the spine. (Source)
Gluten Intolerance an Scoliosis
Celiac Nurse has a very good series about how gluten intolerance could cause scoliosis (read about food intolerances here). There are several ways that this could happen, the main one being because gluten causes inflammation (see the above section).
She also talks about how gluten intolerance disorders, the immune system attacks and damages your own tissues (tissue transglutaminases). A reaction to gluten could easily cause the body to damage transglutaminases involved in bone health.
Gluten intolerance also causes severe inflammation and damage to the gut, something I’ve talked about in my posts about leaky gut syndrome. If your gut is damaged, you won’t be able to absorb nutrients needed for bone health, regardless of how healthy you are eating.
Gluten intolerance also causes malabsorption of the amino acid tryptophan, which in turns causes low levels of melatonin. Melatonin deficiency is linked to scoliosis.
Poor Diet in Pregnancy
There isn’t much research on whether diet during pregnancy could cause scoliosis in the child (in fact, there isn’t much research on diet and scoliosis at all!). However, numerous degenerative diseases are linked to poor nutrition in pregnancy (such as folate deficiency during pregnancy causing spina bifida). Under-nutrition during pregnancy is even associated with an increased risk of oxidative stress, glucose intolerance, and mitochondrial dysfunction in children in the long term! (Source) There are two studies which particularly stand out for diet during pregnancy and scoliosis:
- Congenital scoliosis is linked to zinc deficiency.
- In animal tests, deficiencies in nitric oxide have been shown to cause spine deformities.
During my pregnancy with Natalie, I was 17/18 years old and my diet basically consisted of 30% soy, 30% bread and pasta, and the rest was McDonald’s fries and ice cream sandwiches. I don’t know if this ultimately contributed to Natalie’s scoliosis, but let’s agree that it didn’t help matters!
This post is part of a series on scoliosis. Read my post about What Is Scoliosis and Nutrition and Scoliosis. And sign up to my VIP email list to hear about new posts as soon as they are ready.
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