Diverticulitis and diverticulosis are conditions of the large intestine (colon) that result from poor diet, low fiber intake, too much processed meat, stress, and/or weak connective tissue. Diverticulosis results from the development of pouches in the colon wall. This alone may or may not produce immediate symptoms, but diverticulitis (-itis always refers to an inflammatory condition) occurs when one or more of these pouches become inflamed or infected due to a food particle or other matter lodged in the pouch. Ouch.
Diverticulitis can be really painful, often causing extreme discomfort on the lower left side of the abdomen. Can also cause nausea, vomiting and other fever-like conditions. It often sends folks to the hospital and after diagnosis, home with antibiotics and a “low residue” diet, i.e. no small particles that may become lodged in the pouches. Surgery may be required.
Let’s discuss. Both conditions occur most often in older people who had a lifelong low fiber intake and overall heavily processed or poor diet, or who suffer from constipation. There is also a genetic component, but I firmly believe that lifestyle can override genetics in this and many cases. The disease is common in the US, Britain, Australia, Canada, and is uncommon in Asia and Africa. Why? Because Asia & Africa have higher fiber diets, tend to consume more whole foods, and consume less refined foods. These 2 areas are both cold spots for colon cancer and other digestive disorders. In North America, we love our processed junk foods, meaning lower fiber, higher sugar, and higher risk of diseases associated directly with diet: diabetes, heart disease, colon cancer. Are we making the connection here that what we eat dictates our overall health status?
The conventional approach is to eat more fiber. Sure, eating more fiber is great, but adding fiber and tons of veggies right away can cause more pain and result in painful constipation. So don’t go out and buy some psyllium to add to your juice just yet.
Diverticulitis is an inflammatory condition, so we want to reduce intestinal inflammation. Step one is to eliminate inflammatory foods: sugar, coffee, alcohol, gluten (the protein in wheat, rye, barley), dairy, and soy. This may sound bland, but it’s not! There is a delicious world of foods waiting for you.
Your diet will include free range meats such as chicken, grass fed beef or buffalo, lamb; wild fish; organic eggs; plenty of good fats with lots of omega 3 fatty acids to reduce inflammation (consider a supplement), olive oil, coconut oil, butter (a great healing fat, believe it or not), walnut oil, avocado; starchy veggies such as yams, red potatoes, beets, carrots, other root veggies; and all the non-starchy veggies you can handle. A few examples are cucumbers; leafy greens like spinach, kale, chard; celery; cruciferous: broccoli & cauliflower & cabbage; plenty of garlic, ginger, and onions, etc etc. Many of my clients with inflammatory GI conditions fare well on a paleo type plan during healing. You are cutting out all processed, refined foods and switching to a whole foods diet. You’ll get plenty of fiber and good fats to reduce inflammation and to make sure you’re pooping every day. EVERY DAY. At least once. (Read here how to overcome constipation)
You’ll drink plenty of herbal teas and green teas. While you’re healing, consider finding these soothing herbs to make a tea to reduce the inflammation: marshmallow root, chamomile, aloe vera (not an herb but you can drink the juice), cat’s claw, slippery elm, peppermint. Try taking 500 mg glutamine per day to help heal the intestinal wall. Also take a probiotic supplement to build up the good bacteria in the gut and foster regularity. I highly recommend this gut healing supplement.
You’ll also want to consult with a practitioner like a nutritionist or naturopath to run a digestive panel to check for pathogenic bacteria, yeast, and parasites, which can be a trigger for diverticulitis. This is a simple take home test where you’ll collect and send off stool samples for testing (sounds as glamorous as it is). Then, depending on what your results show, you can go after whatever gut invader you may be harboring with various herbs and nutrients that will kill it. This will dramatically reduce inflammation and leaky gut and till allow your intestinal wall to heal fully.
Also, reduce stress (I sound like a broken record with this phrase). Stress causes inflammation and is linked to flare-ups. Do the best you can. These are big changes, and no one expects you to be perfect. One day at a time!
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