Is Your Vegan or Vegetarian Diet Causing Your Low Back Pain?

fit woman suffering from back pain

Your diet plays a leading role in your lower back pain. A back-friendly diet will look slightly different for everyone, but it should address two main culprits of pain: nutrient deficiency and inflammation

For vegans or vegetarians, lower back pain may be caused by one of both of these culprits. Let’s take a closer look at how nutrient deficiency and/or inflammation may be contributing to your lower back pain as a vegan or vegetarian. 

Unique dietary challenges of veganism and vegetarianism

Healthy diet vegan food, veggie protein sources

Perhaps you became a vegan on moral grounds. Or maybe you decided to go vegetarian for your health. No matter the reasons, veganism and vegetarianism have unique dietary challenges. 

Of course, there are numerous benefits of both diets. According to Harvard Health, vegetarians consume more vitamins C and E, dietary fiber, folic acid, potassium and magnesium. As a result, vegans and vegetarians are likely to have:

  • Lower total and bad cholesterol
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Lower body mass index
  • Lower risk of heart disease, cancer and type 2 diabetes. 

This is great news! However, there are also some areas where vegans and vegetarians should be careful. Generally speaking, there are two main nutritional areas of concern:

  • Protein. In general, vegetarians who consume dairy and eggs will typically get the protein they need. Vegans will need to work a little harder to get protein. Legumes including peas, beans, lentils and chickpeas are great protein-rich foods. In addition, seeds, nuts, and whole grains can help vegetarians and vegans reach the protein levels they need. Remember that protein in vegetables is distinct from protein in animals, which means you may have to eat more protein-rich vegetables for your body to absorb the same amount of protein as meat.  
  • Vitamin B12. This vitamin is typically found in dairy and eggs, so vegetarians probably won’t have a problem getting the vitamin B12 they need. However, vegans will need B12-rich foods such as soy, rice and cereal. Or, there’s always the possibility of a B12 supplement to prevent deficiency. 

As you can imagine, these two nutritional areas are extremely important when it comes to your back pain. 

Lower back pain from protein deficiency

guy on jog holding his lower back in pain

If your diet is healthy but you’re experiencing lower back pain, it may be caused by nutritional deficiency. To know for sure, it’s a good idea to see a doctor and see what deficiencies show up in your blood tests. 

The most common culprit for back pain is protein deficiency. Proteins are extremely important “building blocks” for tissues, muscles and bone health. Without protein, these areas become weak and unable to repair themselves easily.

Your body also needs quite a bit of protein to function smoothly. Since your body doesn’t store protein, you’ll need to consume it daily. Daily portion sizes for protein range from two to seven ounces, depending on your age, weight, and sex. More than this is actually bad for your health. 

To solve this issue, vegetarians and vegans can try to incorporate more protein-rich foods, including legumes, beans, nuts and whole grains. Remember that protein absorption for plants is different than meat. If you’re looking to get the most possible protein absorption from plants, check out this table with foods that score high on the PDCAAS. This test – the Protein Digestibility-Corrected Amino Acid Score – was designed by experts to look more carefully at protein absorption.

Here are the top plant-based foods with high protein absorption:

protein digestibility chart

Finally, the amount of protein in your diet is a balancing act. Make sure you’re getting enough protein, but not too much that you’re actually causing inflammation. Follow the recommended guidelines of two to seven ounces daily for best results. 

Lower back pain from vitamin B12 deficiency

sources of vitamin b12

As a vegetarian or vegan, your lower back pain might also result from a deficiency in certain vitamins. In particular, studies show a link between B12 deficiency and lower back pain. This is because B12 plays a role in spinal nerve health and muscle recovery. In studies that use B12 supplements for lower back pain, patients saw a significant decrease in pain. 

If you’re a vegetarian or vegan, it’s likely that B12 may be a major cause of your lower back pain. If you’re a vegetarian, you can incorporate more dairy and eggs. If you’re a vegan, you can try for more soy, rice, and cereal. Another good option is to take a daily B12 supplement if you’re struggling to get the right amount B12. 

Related: Multivitamins for Men & Multivitmains for Women.

Lower back pain from inflammation 

Basophils are granulocytes taking part in inflammatory reactions and allergic diseases

Nutritional deficiency isn’t the only cause of lower back pain. It’s also important to see if inflammation could be causing your lower back pain. Generally speaking, vegetarians and vegans follow healthy diets. However, if you continue to eat inflammatory foods, you might also experience lower back pain.

Inflammatory foods include:

  • Processed foods
  • Sugary and salty foods (cookies, chips, snacks)
  • Canned foods
  • Alcoholic beverages 
  • Salt

In general, you may see results by eliminating these foods. In particular, you can substitute processed cookies and chips with homemade options like oatmeal cookies or corn chips. In addition, canned foods that are high in salt can be replaced by frozen or fresh options.

Finally, you can replace salt with nutrient-rich spices such as ginger and oregano. To prevent inflammation, you can also take omega-3 supplements. Omega-3 is said to play a role in reducing inflammation. 

Just because you don’t eat meat or animal products doesn’t mean you aren’t consuming unhealthy options. Check your diet and see if any of these inflammatory foods are appearing. They may be causing your lower back pain. 

Final say on lower back pain and veganism

Beautiful vegan woman sitting with drinks and healthy green food at home

You’re one step away from solving your lower back pain. Take a close look at your diet and make adjustments according to the recommendations above. You may also choose to take certain supplements and remove any inflammatory foods.

Take charge of your lower back pain today! Alternatively, you could visit a chiropractor or chiropractic clinic—such as Better Health Chiropractors Juneau—to help you with your lower back pain.

Stock Photos from Dean Drobot, Rimma Bondarenko, nongningstudio, Kateryna Kon  / Shutterstock

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Dr. Brent Wells

Written by Dr. Brent Wells

Dr. Brent Wells has been a chiropractor for over 20 years and has treated thousands of patients. He founded Better Health Chiropractic & Physical Rehab in Alaska in 1998 and is a member of the American Chiropractic Association and the American Academy of Spine Physicians. Dr. Wells is also the author of over 700 online health articles that have been featured on sites such as Dr. Axe and Lifehack. He continues his education to remain active and updated in all studies related to neurology, physical rehab, biomechanics, spine conditions, brain injury trauma, and more.

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