What really causes diverticulitis?
Diverticulitis is incredibly common, yet the most common dietary advice given to patients may be incorrect.
Diverticula are small pouches that bulge outward through the large intestine (colon). If you have these pouches, you have diverticulosis. Diverticulosis becomes increasingly common as people age. It is estimated that half of all people over age 60 have it.
Most people with diverticulosis don't have any symptoms. Occasionally they may experience mild cramps, bloating or constipation. Diverticulosis is often discovered while a person is undergoing tests for something else. Many people first discover they have diverticula pockets in their bowel while they are undergoing a colonoscopy screening for colon cancer.
If the pouches become inflamed or infected, this is referred to as diverticulitis. Abdominal pain is the most common symptom, and it’s usually on the left size. Depending on the severity, some people also experience fever, nausea, vomiting and constipation. In very severe cases, diverticulitis can cause tears in the bowel that bleed, or blockages in the bowel.
Conventional treatment usually consists of antibiotics, pain relievers, and a temporary liquid diet. Occasionally surgery is deemed necessary.
What causes diverticulitis? What foods should be avoided?
If you have been diagnosed with this condition, your doctor has probably told you to avoid eating nuts and seeds. Is that really the best advice? A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association titled “Nut, corn and popcorn consumption and the incidence of diverticular disease” found no evidence at all to support this recommendation.
The study followed more than 47,000 people who were aged between 40 and 75 years, for 18 years. Not only did this research fail to find a direct link between eating nuts, seeds and popcorn and bouts of diverticulitis, it actually found the precise opposite.
The more nuts, seeds and popcorn a person eats, the less likely they are to ever develop diverticulitis.
The study concluded with the statement that “The recommendation to avoid these foods to prevent diverticular complications should be reconsidered.” You can read the entire study here.
So what causes diverticulitis?
A long history of constipation and straining is the biggest risk factor for developing diverticulosis. Dry, hard stools and fecal impaction also increase the risk because they raise pressure in the intestines and the muscles of the colon have to work harder to try and push the fecal matter along.
Irritable bowel syndrome and gluten intolerance are also risk factors. Basically having a history of digestive problems raises your risk of developing diverticula pockets in your colon as you get older. If those pockets become infected with bacteria, or if feces becomes trapped in them, diverticulitis develops and this can progress to a medical emergency.
Recommendations for preventing and managing diverticulitis
- It is extremely important to have regular bowel motions which consist of soft stools. If the stool is hard, this will worsen the pockets and raise the risk of infection. Make sure you drink between 8 and 10 glasses of water each day, or herbal tea. The tannins in regular tea can worsen constipation. Make sure you eat some fruit or vegetables at each meal. Prunes, nuts and seeds are also an excellent source of fiber. Make sure you chew them well and do not eat them during a flare up of diverticulitis. If you still struggle with hard stools, the gentle fiber in Fibretone should help. You can add 2 tablespoons to a smoothie, cereal, porridge, muffins, or just stir it into water or vegetable juice.
- If you have a history of irritable bowel syndrome, reflux, heartburn, bloating or gas, you are probably best off avoiding gluten. People with gluten intolerance or celiac disease who continue to eat gluten have an increased risk of diverticulitis. I have found that avoiding gluten offers the vast majority of my patients with diverticulitis significant symptom relief and it reduces the risk of flare ups. There is also some research to show that the insoluble fiber in wheat and other grains raises the risk of diverticulitis in everyone; not just people with gluten sensitivity.
- Make sure there is a good balance between the good and bad bugs in your intestines. An overgrowth of harmful gut bacteria or fungi is incredibly common. It is very important to avoid developing a bowel infection, as this can lead to a medical emergency. Sugar and yeast can encourage the growth of bad bowel bugs. Eating fermented foods like sauerkraut, and consuming garlic and onion helps to keep bad bugs at bay. Intestinal Parasite Cleanse capsules are a powerful formula for keeping your insides clean.
- Taking a probiotic (good bowel bacteria) supplement, and/or eating fermented vegetables is also extremely beneficial.
- If you have an inflamed gut, a glutamine supplement should help to reduce the inflammation and assist tissue healing. Glutamine is used as fuel by the cells lining our intestines (called enterocytes). It can help to keep your gut lining healthy and can offer symptom relief for individuals with diverticulitis. Glutamine can be found in my Ultimate Gut Health powder.
- If you continue to experience digestive problems, you may have an intolerance to one or more foods. It can be difficult to detect the problematic foods, therefore it is best to see a naturopath or nutritionist.
Diverticulitis is a complicated condition, with several causes and aggravating factors. Hopefully these ideas will offer you some help.
The above statements have not been evaluated by the FDA and are not intended to diagnose, treat or cure any disease.