Certain nutrients are essential to the immune system. Without them, the body’s ability to heal and recover is reduced. Nutrients commonly used in immunonutrition recommendations include arginine, glutamine, Omega-3, nucleotides, and antioxidants, which are all found naturally in certain foods as well as in nutritional supplements.
5 Essential Nutrients for Back Pain Healing
These essential nutrients include, but are not limited to, the following:
Arginine is an amino acid the body produces in limited amounts during periods of growth, illness, or injury. Research suggest that taking arginine supplements may increase the body’s ability to fight infections.5,6
Arginine is found naturally in nuts and seeds, legumes, and meats, particularly turkey meat.
Like arginine, glutamine is an amino acid the body produces in limited amounts. It is involved in the biological processes that control cell growth and repair. Some clinical studies suggest that glutamine supplementation might help decrease the risk of infections and reduce number of days patients must stay in the hospital after a major surgery or illness.7,8
Lists of glutamine-rich foods vary, but research suggests beef, eggs, white rice, tofu, and corn are rich in glutamine.9
3. Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids naturally reduce the body’s inflammatory response. Inflammation can be necessary during healing, but too much inflammation or chronic inflammation can be destructive. Supplementing with omega-3 is thought to help decrease chronic inflammation. Since inflammation is a common contributor to back pain, it follows that decreased inflammation will likely decrease back pain.
Omega-3s are found in many foods, including salmon, eggs, walnuts, and flaxseed, as well as leafy green vegetables, like spinach.
Every cell in the human body contains molecules called nucleotides, which help make-up and maintain DNA and RNA. DNA and RNA production is necessary for cell repair and regrowth.
When the body is coping with a stressful health event, such as a problem in the lower back or neck, it needs more nucleotides than usual. The body regularly produces and recycles nucleotides in addition to absorbing them through food.
Since all cells contain nucleotides, all natural plant- and animal-based food sources contain nucleotides.
Antioxidants help maintain and restore healthy tissues by reducing oxidative stress in the body. Oxidative stress is associated with chronic inflammation, and inflammation is a common contributor to back pain.
Examples of antioxidants include beta-carotene, selenium, vitamin A, and vitamin C. Antioxidant-rich foods include leafy greens and other vegetables, fresh and (additive-free) frozen fruits, nuts, seeds, and whole grains.
Immunonutrition Now and in the Future
It is generally agreed that maintaining a healthy, nutrient-rich diet helps maintain health and reduce the risk of infection and disease, and many scientific studies demonstrate the role of specific nutrients in recovering from injury or surgery. However, many of the studies conducted to date are relatively small or have been funded by companies that manufacture nutritional formulas.10,11
Research in immunonutrition is ongoing. Over time, researchers may discover certain combination of nutrients are more effective than others, or that nutrient supplements are only effective for certain patients, such as patients undergoing treatment for a spinal tumor.
In the meantime, many doctors may recommend immunonutrition because there is high likelihood of potentially significant benefits and little to no significant risk of side effects.