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Data from a recent study found that higher antioxidant intake was correlated with a slightly lower risk of back pain in women. Pixel Stories/Stocksy United
  • Antioxidants are found in certain foods and may help minimize damage to cells.
  • Researchers are still seeking to understand antioxidants’ role in health and their potential benefits.
  • Data from a recent study found that higher antioxidant intake was correlated with lower risk of back pain in females, but this was not significant.

Antioxidants may offer certain health benefits, but researchers are still seeking to understand the full effect of certain antioxidants on overall health and well-being. One area of interest is how antioxidants may influence the pain that people experience.

A recent study examined how antioxidant intake was related to low back pain, a common problem many people experience.

The results of the study overall did not find a significant association between antioxidant intake and low back pain. However, participants in the highest quadrant of antioxidant intake were almost 12% less likely to experience low back pain than participants with the lowest amount of antioxidant intake.

Among female participants, researchers found that those with the highest amount of antioxidant intake were almost 20% less likely to experience low back pain than those with the lowest amount of antioxidant intake.

The results point to possible benefits from antioxidant intake, particularly for women.

The findings were published in BMC Public Health.

According to the World Health Organization, there were 619 million cases of low back pain globally in 2020. It’s also a significant cause of disability, so researchers are interested in finding potential ways to prevent people from experiencing low back pain.

Researchers of the current study wanted to see if there was an association between back pain and antioxidant intake.

Getting a wide variety of nutrients is critical to a healthy lifestyle.

Antioxidants are substances that help stop a process called oxidation. Oxidation produces substances called free radicals that can cause cell damage. Antioxidants may help to minimize certain cell damage.

Many fruits, vegetables, and other foods contain antioxidants. Registered dietitian nutritionist Karen Z. Berg, who was not involved in the study, explained a little more to Medical News Today:

“When oxygen is metabolized in the body, it produces something called free radicals which can cause damage to cells and DNA. Our body naturally handles this process, but consuming foods that are rich in antioxidants helps our bodies to neutralize the free radicals, and thus prevent excessive cell damage. It is unclear how much benefit there is to taking antioxidants in a pill or powder form, but when you consume a whole fruit or vegetable, all the components work symbiotically to get absorbed and used in the body.”

Researchers used extensive data to look at the relationship between antioxidant intake and experiences of low back pain.

They noted that previous data supported the idea that oxidative stress can worsen lower back pain and that antioxidants can help decrease oxidative stress.

To look into how this might look in practical application, researchers included 17,682 participants from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. This survey collects data from people in the United States. They excluded participants when they didn’t have dietary or low back pain data.

Among these participants, 11,573 had low back pain, and 6,109 participants did not have low back pain. Researchers adjusted for several covariates including:

After adjusting for all the confounders, their model did not find a significant association between antioxidant intake and low back pain.

However, based on data about antioxidant intake, researchers divided participants into four groups, ranging from high antioxidant intake to low antioxidant intake.

They found that participants in the group with the highest antioxidant intake were 11.7% less likely to experience low back pain compared to those in the group with the lowest antioxidant intake.

In their stratified analysis based on gender, they found that females in the highest quartile for antioxidant intake were 19.7% less likely to experience low back pain than females in the lowest quartile.

Dr. Kecia Gaither, double board certified in OB/GYN and Maternal Fetal Medicine, Director of Perinatal Services/Maternal Fetal Medicine at NYC Health + Hospitals/Lincoln in the Bronx, who was not involved in the study, said it was not surprising that back pain is experienced at a higher frequency in females. She noted to MNT:

“The basis of most disease has as its underlying tenet [in] inflammation. Antioxidants mitigate the effects of inflammation. Low back pain has multiple etiologies: Neurologic- ex-disc herniation, spinal stenosis, arthritic, [and] trauma. In women, add to that dynamic of a dynamic hormonal milieu with risks of endometriosis, adenomyosis, [and] leiomyomas — all entities men don’t have.”

The researchers also found that the antioxidants zinc and selenium might be independently associated with low back pain. They discovered that selenium was negatively associated with low back pain while zinc was positively associated with it.

Overall, more research regarding specific antioxidants may be needed in this area.

“This study concludes that women who had a higher level of antioxidant intake reported less lower back pain. It’s unclear what role antioxidant intake has on back pain since it can stem from a plethora of things; however, it is definitely true that a diet high in antioxidants is good for overall health.”There is mounting evidence supporting the benefits of a plant-based diet for arthritic pain, inflammation, heart disease, less incidences of cancer, etc. So it’s not surprising that antioxidants are linked to less pain in this study.”

While these results appear to support the potential benefits of antioxidants, they study does have some limitations.

First, the data on food intake relies on self-reports from participants, which means it might not always be accurate. There was also self-reporting related to other factors like physical activity levels. There is also a risk for bias since the study was cross-sectional.

The researchers also acknowledged that there is the possibility of confounding. They also did not collect data on manganese supplements.

Regardless, the study points to some possible benefits of consuming antioxidants, but the benefit may be more pronounced for women in this particular area.

Incorporating a variety of foods is key to include more antioxidants in one’s diet. Both zinc and selenium can be found in poultry and seafood.

“To assure that you are getting enough antioxidants in your diet it’s important to eat a wide variety of every color of produce. Eat the rainbow! Your red fruits like tomatoes and watermelon are loaded with lycopene, your oranges and mangos have vitamin C, citrus fruits and onions are high in flavonoids, green leafy vegetables have beta carotene, eggplant and berries have anthocyanins, and the list goes on. Each fruit and vegetables really has unique benefits to your health, which is why it is so important to get a variety of them into your day.”
— Karen Z. Berg, registered dietitian nutritionist