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Cholesterol and Lower Back Pain

High cholesterol can lead to atherosclerosis in the vertebral arteries that nourish our spine and result in disc degeneration and lower back pain, a leading cause of disability.

April 20, 2012 |
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Supplementary Info

Sources Cited


Image thanks to LadyofHats via Wikimedia Commons.


Every part of the body needs sufficient blood to function properly Cholesterol can clog arteries in our inner and outer organs, causing heart attacks, strokes, and sexual dysfunction. what about blood flow to our spine?
Our spines are very vascular, and cholesterol clogs in the vertebral arteries can lead to the degeneration of our disks and low back pain, the second leading cause of disability. Autopsy studies confirm this is what happens when your cholesterol gets too high. This is what the openings to the arteries to your back should look like on the left, and on the right you can see how clogged off they are.
With the standard western diet atheromatous plaques begin to appear early in adult life, and by the age of 20 years roughly 10% of the population already has advanced lesions.
Smoking and high serum cholesterol levels were found to have the most consistent associations with disc degeneration and low back pain. Much of back pain related disability appears to be an open or shut case, depending on our diet.

To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by veganmontreal.

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Dr. Michael Greger

Doctor's Note

The three most common causes of disability in the United States are arthritis, lower back pain, and heart disease, all of which can be affected by diet. For arthritis, see Diet & Rheumatoid Arthritis and Preventing Arthritis. There are 89 videos on heart disease. Good places to start include the story about my own grandmother's disability, Resuscitating Medicare, as well as Heart Attacks and Cholesterol: Purely a Question of DietOur Number One Killer Can Be Stopped,China Study On Sudden Cardiac ArrestConvergence of Evidence andEliminating the #1 Cause of Death. And for more on the impact of cholesterol on quality of life issues, see yesterday’s video. FYI, there are also hundreds of other videos on more than a thousand subjects.

Also, be sure to check out my associated blog posts for some more context:  The Most Anti-Inflammatory Mushroom and Plant-Based Diets for Psoriasis

  • Michael Greger M.D.

    The three most common causes of disability in the United States are arthritis, lower back pain, and heart disease, all of which can be affected by diet. For arthritis, see Diet & Rheumatoid Arthritis and Preventing Arthritis. There are 89 videos on heart disease. Good places to start include the story about my own grandmother’s disability, Resuscitating Medicare, as well as Heart Attacks and Cholesterol: Purely a Question of Diet, Our Number One Killer Can Be Stopped, China Study On Sudden Cardiac Arrest, Convergence of Evidence and Eliminating the #1 Cause of Death. And for more on the impact of cholesterol on quality of life issues, see yesterday’s video. FYI, there are also hundreds of other videos on more than a thousand subjects.

  • randy

    Absolutely fascinating Dr Gregor!

    Perhaps this information can truly be extrapolated to a great deal of the chronic pain and dysfunction many Americans suffer daily — which also leads to many surgeries for joint replacement and arthroplasty. Let’s not forget replacement or surgically altered contours are not better than Nature’s original…….let alone the cost and associated surgical complications.

    The health perhaps of our intervertebral discs and the cartilage lining the knees, hip and shoulder joints would all seem to benefit from improved widened and clear arteries. How could they not?

    In short, just another good reason to follow a low-fat vegan diet.
    Thank you!

  • davidfournier

    Thank you for your informative videos. I really enjoy the human body vascular system visual you used in the last few videos in order to show the connection between all these diseases of poor circulation (heart disease, erectile dysfunction, degenerative disk disease). I know your grandmother had intermittent claudication and got better very quickly on the Pritikin diet. Would it be possible for you to do a short 1-2 minute video on intermittent claudication and how quickly it can be reversed on a plant-based diet? I have a few family members who could benefit from such a video. Similarly, the visual concept could be extended to discuss other serious diseases associated with poor circulation like macular degeneration, hearing loss, periodontitis, aortic aneurysm, bowel infarction, kidney failure, and gangrene.

  • RudyS

    Thank you for making all of this information available in such a concise format. I was recently informed about this website and it truly is a gold mine for knowledge. Consider this a blanket appreciation post otherwise you would find similar posts on each video and blog :). Love and respect your way for all the effort you put into this website.

    • Michael Greger M.D.

       You are so sweet, Rudy, to take the time to write such kind words. As you can imagine the site has totally taken over my life yet it’s all worth it when I hear such heartfelt appreciation and see people describing how it’s helped themselves and their families eat healthier–I hope you’re having a great weekend!

  • Laurie Thomas
    • Michael Greger M.D.

       You were way ahead of the curve Laurie!

  • Michael Greger M.D.

    Please also check out my blog post, Watermelon for Erectile Dysfunction!

  • Penny hergenrather

    So if a plant based diet will help or “cure” intermittent claudication what will it actually do to help lower back pain? 

  • Debra

    Reading your information here in Phuket Dr Greger. Thanks so much for the hours and hours of reading, deciphering and summarizing!! If your married, your wife must be the patient lady on earth!! I love the way all the information is not only informative but easy to understand. As a non medical person, the sheer volume of complicated terminology and the complicated layout of volumes of medical journals out there would drive anyone crazy. Your passion and the sense of purpose to enable anyone lucky enough to find your website, to become healthier, happier and far more aware of their

    own bodies and how easy it is to healthy. I just keep sending my husband and all my friends your brilliant videos!!!


    • Michael Greger M.D.

      You are so sweet to write Debra. Thank you so much for your kind words. So glad I can help. Eat some yummy Thai food in my honor!

  • Frank

    I have been exercising my dietary choices by eliminating all animal products and switching to a mostly raw food menu. Dr. Gregor may have lengthened my life by his videos. My personal physician told me recently that my pre-hypertension was progressing and graduating to hypertension. I’m hoping that by losing 26 lbs I might be able to reverse this degeneration of my body. Tonight I made a Tabbouleh and it was delicious. Thanks Dr. Gregor. You deserve an award.

    • Thea

      Frank: Awesome story. Keep up the good work. Thanks for taking the time to share your story with us. I LOVE these stories.

  • Aaron Hollander

    Is the plaque build up reversible?

    • Toxins

      Indeed it is, restoring arterial health can clean up the plaque completely.