Diverticulitis 101: Overview & Natural Interventions

What is Diverticulitis?

In some individuals, small bulging sacs known as “diverticula” form along the lining of the colon. When this occurs, it is referred to as diverticulosis. This condition is often asymptomatic.

However, diverticulitis is a condition that occurs if these sacs in the colon become infected or inflamed. When this occurs, noticeable symptoms arise.

diverticulitis

Symptoms

The pressure on the colonic wall increases due to the inflammation and enlargement of the diverticula sacs. This pressure causes severe pain and cramping. Other possible symptoms include:

  • Gas
  • Bloating
  • Fever
  • Increased white blood cell count
  • Abdominal tenderness
  • Nausea
  • Change in bowel habits

And while constipation may be a symptom, it may also be a contributing factor.

Contributing Factors

One or a combination of the following often triggers diverticular disease:

  • Structural irregularities in the colon wall
  • Dysfunctional intestinal mobility (i.e., constipation)
  • Dietary fiber deficiencies

The risk of developing diverticulitis increases with age. Other risk factors include:

  • Obesity
  • Lack of exercise
  • Long-term pharmaceutical drug use (i.e., anti-inflammatories and opioids)
  • Smoking

Prevalence

The prevalence of diverticulitis is high, especially in developed countries with Westernized diets that lack dietary fiber.

In the United States, it is estimated that 10% of the population over 40 are affected. In Finland, the rates of diverticulitis have increased by 50% over the last 20 years.

Treatment

If an infection is present, antibiotics may be necessary. And difficult recurring cases may even require surgery.

However, early stages of diverticulitis may often be addressed with diet and lifestyle changes as opposed to medical intervention. Thus, it’s important to know the symptoms discussed above.

Dietary Interventions

Western diets are loaded with sugar, unhealthy fats, and heavily processed foods. And these processed foods lack dietary fiber, a key contributing factor to the development of diverticulitis.

Thus, consuming less processed foods and more dietary fiber from whole foods (i.e., fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes) is essential for prevention as well as the healing process.

However, bombarding a delicate system with loads of fiber is not recommended. Instead, it’s often suggested to start with easy to digest foods, such as:

  • Bone broth
  • Fresh fruit and vegetable juices
  • Pureed fruits and vegetables
  • Pureed vegetable soups
  • Smoothies

Once symptoms ease, small amounts of natural sources of fiber may be added to the diet. It is then recommended to gradually increase your consumption of fiber.

Once healed, a well-balanced whole foods diet is important to maintain optimal colon health.

It’s also worth noting that eating slowly and thoroughly chewing food improves the digestive process as well as the absorption of health-promoting nutrients.

Botanical Support

Demulcent herbs are known for their ability to soothe and heal inflamed mucous membranes within the digestive tract. They contain mucilage that forms a gel-like substance that coats the lining of the intestines when consumed. This cool and soothing gel helps to protect the mucous membranes and reduces inflammation. While there are many options to choose from, a few of the most common demulcent herbs used to soothe and heal the intestinal tract include:

  • Aloe
  • Marshmallow Root
  • Slippery Elm
  • Licorice Root

Turmeric is also a powerful anti-inflammatory herb. Fresh or dried turmeric powder can be added to smoothies and juices.

Curcumin (the main active ingredient in turmeric) supplements are also available. However, curcumin alone isn’t very effective because its bioavailability is low. Therefore, look for supplements that also include bioperine (an extract of black pepper fruit), which helps to increase the bioavailability of curcumin.

Fiber Supplements

Fiber supplements may also be helpful. However, as previously mentioned, it’s important to start slow.

Psyllium husk is a whole food option that provides a mixture of both soluble and insoluble fiber. It comes in a powder form, which can easily be added to smoothies. Organic and 100% pure psyllium husk is recommended to reduce chances of further irritation.

Lifestyle Changes

While diet is essential to preventing and healing from diverticulitis, lifestyle habits also play a significant role. Quality sleep, stress management, and exercise are all equally important.

In fact, this study suggests physical activity along with a high-fiber diet is an effective approach to preventing symptomatic diverticular disease.

In Conclusion

Diverticulitis is a painful disease caused by inflamed and/or infected diverticula sacs within the colon. It’s especially common in developed countries with Western diets lacking dietary fiber.

A well-balanced, high-fiber whole foods diet along with adequate sleep, stress management, and exercise are key factors in the prevention of diverticulitis as well as the healing process.

References

Aldoori, W. H., Giovannucci, E. L., Rimm, E. B., Ascherio, A., Stampfer, M. J., Colditz, G. A., … Willett, W. C. (1995). Prospective study of physical activity and the risk of symptomatic diverticular disease in men. Gut36(2), 276–282.

Crowe, F. L., Balkwill, A., Cairns, B. J., Appleby, P. N., Green, J., Reeves, G. K., … Beral, V. (2014). Source of dietary fibre and diverticular disease incidence: a prospective study of UK women. Gut63(9), 1450–1456. http://doi.org/10.1136/gutjnl-2013-304644

Matrana, M. R., & Margolin, D. A. (2009). Epidemiology and Pathophysiology of Diverticular Disease. Clinics in Colon and Rectal Surgery22(3), 141–146. http://doi.org/10.1055/s-0029-1236157

Strate, L. L., Liu, Y. L., Syngal, S., Aldoori, W. H., & Giovannucci, E. L. (2008). Nut, corn and popcorn consumption and the incidence of diverticular disease. JAMA: The Journal of the American Medical Association300(8), 907–914. http://doi.org/10.1001/jama.300.8.907

 

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