Do High Protein Diets Worsen Back Pain?

It may not seem like your diet has anything to do with your back pain, but surprisingly it can exacerbate pain if you follow a particularly popular fad: the low carb/high protein diet. A diet consisting of mostly proteins is rich in lean animal products such as chicken, fish, and red meat. It is limited in carbohydrates, which can be found in breads, grains, pastas, and vegetables like potatoes, beans, sweet potatoes, and carrots. Fruit is also high in carbohydrates and natural sugar. When you take certain food groups out to accomplish the high protein/ low carb diet, you put yourself at risk of developing or exacerbating back pain.

The State of Ketosis

When you stick to a high protein/ low carb diet, you start to see good results with regard to weight loss goals. This is because over time your body goes into a state of ketosis in which it uses primarily fat for fuel. It burns the fat you eat and your own body fat to give you energy. Sounds great, right? Unfortunately, the body produces ketones during ketosis, or acids that change the pH level of your blood. Too many ketones means your body tries to compensate by excreting more calcium to balance out those pH levels. This causes a strain on your kidneys, which can lead to kidney problems like kidney stones further down the road.

Influence on Pain

Even if you’ve never had a kidney stone, you have likely heard that these are incredibly painful to pass. The pain you feel when you have kidney problems is in your lower back, where the kidneys live. An after-effect of too much calcium depletion is the onset of bone-related conditions such as osteoporosis. When calcium is taken from your bones, they weaken. The vertebrae in your spine lose their ability to fully support the entire spinal structure, causing pressure on the discs between them. This leads to even more pain in your neck and back.

Not getting enough fiber from a low carb/high protein diet can also worsen symptoms. When you don’t get enough fiber in your diet it becomes difficult to evacuate waste. If the waste matter sits for a while it puts pressure against your abdomen and low back. Fiber-rich foods like broccoli, peas, beans, whole wheat pasta, oats, and raspberries are often excluded from muscle-building diets encouraged by fitness enthusiasts.

For best results, diets should be balanced and moderation should be the standard approach to any food group. So long as the foods you eat are whole foods, moderation will take you a long way in living well and reducing back pain. For options to treat existing low back pain, contact the Spine Institute of Marc A. Cohen, MD at 973-538-4444.