Textbooks explain that pain in the back is caused mostly by lifting objects that are too heavy for you, but Nicholas Ahn presented data to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons showing that smoking, high blood pressure and high cholesterol are important risk factors for low back pain.

These are the same risk factors for heart attacks and strokes. He theorizes that smoking, high blood pressure and high cholesterol damage the inner linings of arteries to form plaques that shut off the blood supply to discs, the pads that separate the bones of the spine from each other. This damages the discs to cause them to lose their ability to spring back after pressure is put on them and they hurt.

This would also explain why being overweight is associated with low back pain. We used to hear that having a fat belly pushes your belly forward to increase the curve in your lower back to increase pressure on the bones of your spine. However, the more logical explanation may be that being overweight increases your risk for plaques to form in and block arteries leading to the discs between the bones of your spine.

Other research shows that the same lifestyle factors that increase a person’s chances of getting a heart attack and low back pain also increase a person’s chances of suffering Alzheimer’s disease because heart attacks are caused by damage to the inner lining of arteries and Alzheimer’s disease is associated with factors that damage the inner linings of arteries to cause strokes. The Kentucky Nuns Study showed that loss of IQ may be caused by ministrokes, and not tangled beta amyloid, the protein found in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease. In other words, ministrokes may cause beta amyloid to be deposited in the brain to cause Alzheimer’s disease, making beta amyloid the result of Alzheimer’s disease, not the cause.

You can reduce your chances of suffering heart attacks, strokes, Alzheimer’s disease and even low back pain by eating fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, seeds and nuts, reducing your intake of total calories, meat, whole milk dairy products, prepared foods with partially hydrogenated fats, and refined carbohydrates found in foods made from flour and those with added sugar. Here’s the heart-healthy and back-healthy diet I recommend.

Anyone with persistent low back pain should check with his or her doctor to rule out a serious cause.

Nicholas Ahn, Johns Hopkins University presented to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, March 10, 2001.

Checked 8/1/15