In this Disease Page, we wil first examine the constitutent elements of Diverticulitis (characterization, symptoms, causation) (Section A) and follow up with Treatment options (Section B)
Diverticulitis is the infection of the small sacs of diverticula that line the digestive tract. We are are born with colonic diverticula, but when a diverticula develops in the gastrointestinal tract, it’s known as diverticulosis, and when the diverticula becomes inflamed or infected in the gastrointestinal tract, diverticulosis becomes diverticulitis. Diverticula seldom cause problems or severe discomfort unless they do become inflamed or infected, in which case the diverticulosis diagnosis is then diagnoses as diverticulitis, as gastroenterology research shows. (Source)
It’s believed that 10 percent of Americans over the age of 40 are affected by diverticular disease. The rate continues to increase through aging. In cases of a serious infection, antibiotics may be needed in addition to a change in diet.
Many people find relief by limiting flare-up foods and focusing on foods that are easily digested. Think of diverticula as storage sacs of plaque, much like what can clog arteries, except they reside typically in the lower part of the large intestine.
As with clogged arteries, it is important to first clear the area and then continue with a healthy diet.
Diverticula sacs can become blocked with fecal matter, allowing bacteria to build, resulting in an infection. As the sacs grow, they put an increasing amount of pressure on the walls of the intestine, leading to pain, gas, abdominal discomfort and other diverticulitis symptoms.
This pressure is increased during bowel movements — and be mindful that constipation is both a symptom and a contributing factor to worsening symptoms.
Left untreated, infection and perforation may lead to scarring in the digestive tract, where scar tissue may cause a partial or complete blockage. This is why it is essential to make the necessary changes to help heal your digestive tract.
In the early stages, mild, acute diverticulitis symptoms can be treated with rest and the diverticulitis diet. Severe or recurring diverticulitis may eventually require surgery for relief.
That is why it is essential to watch for warning signs and start making dietary and lifestyle changes as soon as possible when even acute diverticulitis arises.
If you are experiencing two or more of the following symptoms, you may have diverticulitis:
- Marked change in bowel habits
- Severe abdominal pain
- Tenderness in the lower abdomen
- Alternating diarrhea and constipation
- Fever and/or chills
Researchers at the Department of Nutrition at Harvard Medical School found that it is the insoluble fiber that decreases risk for developing diverticular disease. (Source). Today’s typical Western diet often consists of highly processed foods, sugar and unhealthy fats. This type of diet contributes to the development of diverticula, an infection that can have symptoms in the rectum.
Eating a diet rich with fiber can help prevent diverticulitis and helps in the healing of the colon, as clinical trials and research show. (Source)
In addition to a poor diet, there are other risk factors to consider: Aging Obesity Smoking Prescription medications, including opiates, steroids and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories Lack of regular aerobic exercise
All of these risk factors, combined with a diet lacking in necessary fiber and high in animal fats, can lead to the development of marble-sized diverticula in the digestive tract.
The resulting inflammation, infection and leakage into the abdominal cavity is uncomfortable at best and has the potential to cause serious complications. (Source)
During a diverticulitis flare-up, or at first symptoms, it is important to help your digestive tract clean itself out and begin to heal.
You may add vegetables to your bone broth, including carrots, celery and garlic, or for variation, you may add an egg poached in the broth. In addition, sip on warm ginger tea two to three times daily to help reduce inflammation and aid in digestion. Ginger is a healing food that helps your immune and digestive systems. Probiotics help create a healthy environment in your belly.
During this first phase of the diverticulitis diet, consume only clear bone broths, clear fresh juices (no pulp) and soothing ginger tea.
Once the diverticulitis symptoms have eased, you can move on to stage two of the diverticulitis diet and introduce easily digestible foods, including grated, steamed and then pureed fruits and vegetables, while still drinking ginger tea and bone broth soups.
Juicing fresh organic fruits and vegetables can provide a boost of nutrients. Carrots, beets, grapes, apples, lettuce and watercress can be juiced and enjoyed during this stage. Avoid foods with tough skins and small seeds as they can accumulate in diverticula sacs.
When your body has adapted to the foods in Stage 2, start to add fiber-rich foods, including raw fruits and vegetables, and unrefined grains, such as quinoa, black rice, fermented grains or sprouted lentils. Although researchers once believed that it wasn’t safe to eat nuts and seeds, they now believe it is safe and may actually help you reduce your chances of developing diverticulitis. (4)
According to researchers at the University of Oxford, fiber reduces the risk of diverticular disease. The study focused on fiber from fruits, vegetables, cereals and potatoes. (Source)
So over the first few days of Stage 4, start to introduce more high-fiber foods gradually, adding just one new food every three to four days.
As your body starts to adapt, you can begin consuming about 25–35 grams of fiber each day to help stave off any potential flare-ups while your digestive tract heals. Add in some potatoes, sweet potatoes, root vegetables, and then slowly try some non-processed grains/beans, such as oats or lentils.
One important distinction is the difference between soluble fiber and insoluble fiber. Soluble fiber actually retains water and turns into a gel during the digestive process. The gel helps slow digestion, allowing for greater absorption of essential nutrients. Insoluble fiber, on the other hand, adds bulk to stools, allowing foods to more quickly leave your system. (Source)
Foods high in soluble fiber include oat bran, nuts, seeds, beans, lentils, barley and peas. Insoluble fiber is found in foods including whole grains, wheat bran and vegetables.
Maintaining a healthy balance of protein, fiber, and fresh fruits and vegetables is essential for keeping diverticulitis from flaring up.
Native Americans have used slippery elm for centuries both externally and internally to soothe digestive problems and relieve coughs and sore throats.
Today, it is recommended to relieve the symptoms of GERD, Crohn’s disease, IBS and digestive upset. Start by taking 500 milligrams three times daily throughout the course of the diverticulitis diet. Be sure to take with a full glass of water or other clear liquid.
Aloe, in a juice form, aids in digestion, helps to normalize pH levels, regularizes bowel processing and encourages healthy digestive bacteria. It is important to avoid aloe vera juice with “aloe latex,” as it can cause severe stomach cramping and diarrhea.
About 12 to 16 ounces per day of aloe juice is recommended; any more than that can further irritate your system.
Licorice root lowers stomach acid levels, can relieve heartburn and acts as a mild laxative to help clear your colon of waste. This root helps increase bile, aiding in digestion while lowering cholesterol levels. Take 100 milligrams daily when experiencing diverticulitis symptoms.
In addition to healing your colon from diverticulitis, the overall goal of the diverticulitis diet, supplements and lifestyle changes is to encourage your digestive tract to function optimally.
Digestive enzymes help break down foods, making it possible to absorb nutrients. Individuals with digestion problems can take digestive supplements that contain essential enzymes to facilitate digestion.
Live probiotics should be added to the diet to help negate food sensitivities and relieve digestive upset, including constipation, gas and bloating. Probiotics are healthy bacteria that traditionally line your digestive tract to combat infection. If you have diverticulitis, you need an influx of these bacteria to aid in the healing of your colon while preventing disease recurrence. (Source)
Holistic & Happiness Approach
Diverticulitis requires more than just a healing diverticulitis diet and supplements to aid in a healthy digestive tract. Digestion starts in the mouth. It is essential to thoroughly chew each bite of food until it is nearly liquefied. The more you break down the food before it hits the stomach, the more ready nutrients are to be absorbed.
Medical studies show that the combination of physical activity and high-fiber diets helps prevent diverticular disease. (Source) Running, or using a rebounder daily, helps relieve symptoms and reduce flare-ups. Even moderate intensity exercise helps regulate bowel functions, reduces stress and supports healthy weight.
Your psychological health is an integral part of your wellness; managing stress and learning effective coping mechanisms are essential. Stress affects not only the mind, but the body as well. Try natural stress relievers to effectively manage daily stress.
In addition, take note that straining while on the toilet creates too much pressure in the colon and can result in small tears. Choose to elevate feet slightly on a stool as this helps reduce straining.
While there are rarely any complications when taking nutritional supplements or food, I always recommend seeing a health professional immediately should you experience:
- Sustained fever and/or chills
- Continued nausea and vomiting
- Blood in stool
- Severe pain in a localized area of the abdomen
- Rectal bleeding
- Signs of shock, including feeling dizzy or weak
These symptoms may be indicative of diverticular bleeding, a fistula (or an abnormal connection) between the bowel and urinary tract, or other serious complications. (Source) Fecal matter and waste may leak out of the intestines into the abdominal cavity or urinary tract. An abscess and obstructions are possible. (Source)
For the vast majority of diverticulitis, natural healing methods, such as a diverticulitis diet, will be effective in overcoming this disease.
In most cases, individuals who follow the three steps for healing outlined above will start to see relief in a few days. As your symptoms begin to lessen, continue with the diverticulitis diet and lifestyle changes to ensure you give yourself time to heal. Sometimes your doctor will want to follow up with a colonoscopy as well.
Diverticulitis is not healed overnight; it is a process that can take a couple of months. Be patient, and don’t lose faith.
Soon, you will start to enjoy your life again. Throughout the process be sure to get plenty of rest and manage stress. You may find yourself losing stubborn weight, and over time, energy levels will increase.
It is important to remember that maintaining a healthy diet, rich with foods in high fiber, low in unhealthy animal fats and probiotic supplements can help keep diverticulitis flare-ups away. In any case, a colonoscopy is a good idea to ensure everything is back to proper working order