If you’re over the age of 60, there’s a 50-50 chance that you’ll develop diverticulosis: a condition in which small pockets occur at weak points in the colon wall. But if you’re still years away from 60, that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re off the hook. Diverticulosis may be partly hereditary, so someone in his 20s with a family history of the condition may develop digestive problems similar to someone who’s well past retirement age.
If you don’t have diverticulosis, count yourself lucky. Just follow a diet that includes plenty of natural fibre from whole foods and you’ll probably be fine.
But if you DO have diverticulosis, you should be aware that your dietary choices may determine whether or not you’ll need surgery to correct the problem. Unfortunately, some of the dietary advice for diverticulosis patients is contradictory.
Detox to treat diverticulitis
In the e-alert ‘How calcium can help combat colorectal cancer’ (27/5/05), I told you about a friend of mine named Jim who had his first colonoscopy at age 53. His doctor found no polyps, but did spot the early stages of diverticulosis. In fact, many people have this condition and are not aware of it because there are usually no symptoms until diverticulosis turns into diverticulitis (also known as diverticular disease). Then the problems begin.
If a food particle gets lodged in a diverticulosis pocket, infection and inflammation may prompt fever, abdominal pain and cramping, as well as constipation or diarrhoea. In severe cases bleeding may occur. The typical first line of defence in this case is a liquid diet and a round of antibiotics. Surgery is often necessary if the condition becomes chronic. But many doctors overlook the effectiveness of dietary detoxification procedures that focus on cleansing the colon. In some cases a proper detox may successfully address diverticulitis without antibiotics or surgery.
There’s fibre, and then there’s fibre
The rise of diverticulitis cases throughout the 20th Century closely parallels the rise in consumption of processed foods that are stripped of natural fibre. This may be a coincidence, but researchers have also found that diverticulitis is most common in industrialised countries where processed foods make up a large part of the diet.
When dietary fibre is reduced, the bowels work harder to keep food moving. This puts excess pressure on the colon. Eventually, weak spots on the colon wall develop into diverticulosis pockets.
So the solution seems simple: Add more fibre to the diet. That’s what most doctors tell their patients and leave it at that. The problem here is that some high-fibre foods may actually make the problem worse.
In a recent report about diverticulitis, a US gastroenterologist pointed out that seeds and nuts might trigger diverticulitis. The seeds in blackberries, for instance, can easily cause problems. The doctor recommended a high-fibre diet that includes plenty of fruits and vegetables along with whole grain products.
But be careful as not all fruit and vegetables are ideal for people with diverticulosis. For instance, the seeds in tomatoes and cucumbers may cause problems for some patients. Whole grain products can cause problems too. UK nutritionist David Crawford warns that wheat and rye (along with dairy products) prompt mucous development in the digestive tract. Pressure on the colon wall increases when mucous builds up and solidifies.
And there’s one more problem with wheat products. Many people are sensitive to the gluten in wheat and don’t even know it. They react to the consumption of pasta, bread and cereal with symptoms that may include anaemia, fatigue, sinusitis, insomnia, autoimmune problems and digestive disorders such as diarrhoea, constipation and…diverticulitis.
Finding the right detox
As I mentioned above, the right type of detox diet may be able to help diverticulitis patients avoid antibiotics or even surgery. The trick is to find the detox method that’s the best fit for your needs.
US HSI Panellist Ann Louise Gittleman has written extensively about the need to cleanse the liver and colon with detox diets – most recently in her book ‘The Fast Track One-Day Detox Diet.’ For those who are new to the concept of detoxification, this book can provide an overview of the importance of detox and how it’s done. This book is available in the UK.
If you’re interested in treating diverticulitis with a colon cleansing detox, consult with a healthcare practitioner who’s knowledgeable about natural detox methods and is also aware of the specifics of your condition.