Mount Sinai study uncovers potential link between poor diet and back injuries

In a first-of-its-kind study, Mount Sinai researchers have found a possible link between a poor diet and back injuries, especially in women. The study suggests that following a specific type of diet that excludes fast foods and highly processed foods could decrease vertebral fractures and prevent bone loss as people age.

Scientists from the Leni & Peter W. May Department of Orthopaedics at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai examined the effect of a diet high in advanced glycation endproducts (AGEs) on the spine, something that has never been done before. AGEs are compounds commonly found in the so-called "Western diet" (heat-processed, pasteurized, dried, smoked, or fried foods), and they have been linked to weight gain and diabetes. The research findings are set to be published in the February issue of the Journal of Bone and Mineral Research, and have been posted online.

"This is the first study to show that high-AGE diets can directly result in altered vertebral bone quality with inferior biomechanical properties, and with a stronger influence on females than males. This study is particularly important since it focuses attention on the importance of nutrition in promoting spinal health and susceptibility to injury, expanding our thinking beyond genetics and mechanical injuries. By highlighting new ways of thinking about spine physiology, these studies can help identify innovative interventions," said lead researcher James Iatridis, PhD, Professor and Vice Chair for Research at the Leni and Peter W. May Department of Orthopaedics at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. "While novel innovations in therapies will take time to develop, these studies immediately let patients and doctors know that a healthy diet is important to maintaining a healthy spine."

Iatridis and a team of Mount Sinai investigators compared the effect of diet on male and female mice in two age groups: "young" (6 months old when the study began) and "old" (18 months old). Half of the mice were fed a diet high in AGEs while the other half had a diet lower in AGEs. The groups were analyzed over the course of 18 months. The high-AGE diet was associated with bone loss in the spine and an increased fracture risk, especially in young, female mice.

Ultimately, the results could serve as a warning to young women to be especially careful of what they eat, as specific foods could accelerate the aging of their bones and contribute to debilitating back problems in the future.

"This study could lead to future breakthroughs as we further investigate the biological and biomechanical causes for these findings. AGEs can accumulate in spinal tissues with aging. A high-AGE diet and certain diseases such as diabetes can accelerate these aging conditions, resulting in chronic inflammatory conditions and tissues that fail when subject to lower forces," explained Svenja Illien-Jünger, PhD, Assistant Professor of Orthopaedics at the Icahn School of Medicine. "In addition to improved diets, a better understanding of what could lead to back pain and spine disease can help clinicians and researchers develop novel treatments."

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