Herniated or bulging disks: these names alone are enough to make the toughest man cringe, and for good reason. Intervertebral (spinal) discs cushion and connect the vertebrae of the spine.1 These discs, which are composed of a rigid outer layer (known as the annulus fibrosis) and a jelly-like filling (knowns as the nucleus polposus), can become cracked (herniated) or flatten and shift (bulge).1 These changes (commonly associated with aging), often result in excruciating nerve pain, as the compromised discs impinge on nearby spinal nerves.1 The most common treatments for herniated/bulging discs include bed rest, physical therapy, steroid injections, anti-inflammatory or pain-relieving medications, and (if all else fails) surgical intervention.
However, nutritional supplementation may also help counteract the degeneration of spinal discs. Let’s take a look at the most common supplements used to combat herniated/bulging discs:
Often associated with the treatment of knee and hip pain, glucosamine exists naturally within human joint fluids.2 It also occurs in the shells of crab, prawns, and lobster.2 This chemical assists in the lubrication of joints, as well as the maintenance and repair of cartilage.2 A dosage of 1,500 milligrams of glucosamine, daily, is recommended for the relief of herniated/bulging disc pain.2
Chondroitin sulfate may be considered glucosamine’s “wing man”, and occurs naturally within the cartilage of humans and animals. It is believed that 800 to 1,200 milligrams of daily chondroitin supplementation (in conjunction with glucosamine) may aid in the repair of damaged cartilage.3 Glucosamine/chondroitin supplements have been widely-studied for their use in the treatment of joint-related conditions, including bulging/herniated discs. A study published in BMC Complementary & Alternative Medicine noted that early-stage, long-term glucosamine, chondroitin, and manganese supplementation resulted in improved symptoms of disc degeneration.4 Though research results remain mixed, many individuals swear by the power of glucosamine/chondroitin supplementation.
Manganese is an essential mineral responsible for many tasks within the body, including proper nerve function and the creation of bones and connective tissues.6 As previously mentioned, research suggests that 132 to 198 milligrams of daily manganese supplementation may ease the symptoms associated with herniated/bulging dics.5 However, great care should be taken when consuming manganese, as this trace mineral can be toxic.
This organic sulfur occurs naturally in foods (including meat, fruits, vegetables, and grains) and the human body.6 While extensive research is needed, many believe that MSM supplementation (1,000 to 3,000 milligrams daily) reduces the inflammation and pain associated with degenerative joint conditions.6 MSM is often used in conjunction with chondroitin/glucosamine supplements. However, caution should be exercised when taking MSM, as this compound may cause intestinal upset or interfere with blood-thinning medications.6
Vitamin C is a powerful nutrient that aids in the creation of collagen, a key ingredient in connective tissues, and the reparation of damaged tissues.7 Experts believe that upwards of 3,000 milligrams of daily vitamin C intake may have positive benefits for those with bulging/herniated discs.7 While vitamin C is available in supplements, it is preferable to consume this vitamin in the form of bell peppers, broccoli, citrus fruits, cauliflower, spinach, and other vitamin-C rich foods.
When discussing herniated/bulging discs, the importance of water intake cannot be overemphasized. The inside of spinal discs are composed of 88% water, making adequate water intake crucial to the prevention of dried, flattened, or cracked discs. Additionally, water is needed to deliver nutrients and expel wastes from cartilage and spinal discs, while it also aids in the proper growth, repair, and maintenance of these vital tissues.8 Women should consume at least 2.1 litres of water per day, while men require at least 2.6 litres.9
While further research is needed, many individuals find relief through nutritional supplementation. However, the guidance of an Accredited Practising Dietician should be sought before beginning any supplementation regimen. Furthermore, it is vital that a patient inform their doctor about any supplements they are taking, as many products may interfere with prescription medications. By using caution and seeking the advice of a medical professional, supplementation may prove helpful for the pain and degeneration associated with bulging/herniated discs.