In the United States alone, there are over 200,000 people per year who are hospitalized for diverticulitis. Approximately 10 percent of American adults over the age of forty develop this condition which leads to the development of marble-sized bulges or pouches in the intestinal lining. These bulges, called diverticula, can become painful and inflamed, and in severe cases, can lead to hospitalization or the need for diverticulitis surgery.
So, what are the causes of diverticulitis and how can we treat this debilitating condition naturally?
What is Diverticulitis and Diverticulitis Causes
Diverticulitis is an inflammatory bowel condition where the lining of the colon develops pouches, sacs or bulges. They most often occur in the lower area of the colon called the sigmoid colon and can become painful and inflamed due to their structural weakness and affinity for harboring fecal matter and bacteria.
When these pouches are under pressure, like when you’re constipated for example, or if you eat a food that irritates your gut, tiny tears and areas of inflammation can occur in the intestinal lining within the pouches. It is these little tears and reactions to the food you shouldn’t eat that become infected and inflamed, therefore resulting in diverticulitis.
Diverticulitis vs Diverticulosis
Believe it or not, the terms diverticulosis, diverticulitis, and diverticular disease are often used interchangeably.
However, the term diverticulosis only refers to the presence of pouches in the colon while diverticulitis refers to the presence of inflammation and infection within the pouches.
Diverticular disease refers to the full onset of symptoms related to these conditions.
So, What Causes Diverticulitis?
The emergence of diverticulitis seems to correlate with the introduction of processed foods within the American diet.
Diet and genetics, among other risk factors in your day-to-day life, play a huge role in whether or not you develop diverticulitis, especially as you get older.
In fact, it is believed that over half of Americans over the age of 60 (among these being predominantly women) have some degree of diverticulitis and/or diverticulosis.
The root cause of both conditions stem from the following:
- A low-fiber diet (less than 30g per day)
- An imbalance in intestinal flora
- Food sensitivities and intolerances
- Lack of exercise
Symptoms of diverticulosis include:
- Almost no symptoms, merely the presence of pouches or sacs along the walls of the colon
- Some may experience lower abdominal discomfort, constipation, and bloating
Symptoms of diverticulitis include:
- Change in bowel habits
- Mild abdominal pain that gets worse over time
- Nausea and vomiting
- Rectal bleeding
- Sudden pain that can be severe in the lower left side of the abdomen
- Tenderness in the lower abdomen
The symptoms of diverticulitis flare up usually include a number of the above, most often pain in the lower left abdominal region.
Although the majority of patients with diverticulitis do not exhibit any symptoms, 10-25% of those with the condition will develop symptoms ranging from recurrent short-lived pain to significant abdominal discomfort with fever and increased leukocytes (white blood cells) that requires hospitalization.
It is when the pouches along the colon become blocked with fecal matter, allowing bacteria to flourish, that this can result in infection and inflammation.
Other risk factors for developing diverticulitis include:
- A diet high in red meat and fat and low in fiber
- Certain medications including the use of NSAIDs
- Lack of physical activity or a sedentary lifestyle
In rare cases, those with diverticulitis may develop more serious complications.
Abscess – severe pain and tenderness in the lower abdomen due to an inflamed, infected, pus-filled lesion just outside of the colon that makes you feel ill. Symptoms may also include fever, nausea, and vomiting.
Fistula – an abnormal passage between two organs like the colon to the bladder, etc.
Intestinal obstruction – a complete blockage of fecal matter in the intestine
Perforation – small tears in the diverticula pouches lining the colon
Peritonitis – an infection that leaks through the tears within the diverticula and into the lining of the abdomen
These conditions stem from having acute diverticulitis which is why it is so important to get tested and begin treatment.
How to Get Tested for Diverticulitis
If you feel like you have any of the above symptoms, it is a good idea to speak with your doctor so that they can perform a few tests to see if diverticulitis is the culprit.
Testing techniques include:
- A physical exam of the abdomen used to reveal tender areas, especially in the lower left abdomen
- Blood work to see if there are increased levels of white blood cells
- Stool analysis to test for flora, inflammation, blood (from diverticular bleeding), and bacterial or fungal overgrowth
- An x-ray to confirm the presence of diverticula
How to Treat Diverticulitis Naturally
With the abundance of low-cost processed foods in the Standard American Diet and the astoundingly low intake of healthy fibrous foods, it’s no surprise that the number of people who develop diverticulitis continues to rise.
Research suggests that eating a diet high in fresh fruits and vegetables has the most protective effect against diverticulitis, in fact, those who eat 30 grams of fiber or more per day have been shown to have a 42% less chance of developing diverticulitis than those on low-fiber diets.
Staying properly hydrated is also key in preventing constipation so make sure to drink enough water daily.
Here’s How to Eat Properly for Diverticulitis
1. Up your fiber intake to 20-30 grams per day
To treat and prevent diverticulosis and, in turn, diverticulitis, it is recommended to consume a high-fiber diet that focuses on fresh fruits and vegetables and whole grains – preferably grains like quinoa and well cooked brown rice.
It’s also important to get both soluble and insoluble fiber into your diet.
Soluble fiber retains water and gels up during the digestive process which helps slow digestion and allows for the better absorption of nutrients from our food.
Insoluble fiber adds bulk to stools and helps food and waste move smoothly through the digestive tract.
Foods high in soluble fiber include nuts, seeds (like flax and chia), beans, lentils, peas, and barley.
Foods high in insoluble fiber include whole grains and vegetables.
Research shows that it is insoluble fiber that lowers the risk for diverticulitis, so make sure to eat an abundance of fresh fruits and vegetable daily.
2. Eat more probiotic-rich foods
Eating fermented foods like kefir, activated yogurt, sauerkraut, kimchi, miso, natto, and kombucha are also great ways to establish diverse intestinal flora naturally.
These good bacteria help negate food sensitivities and can even help prevent constipation, gas, and bloating which is important for keeping the walls of the colon free of inflammation.
3. Avoid inflammatory foods and drink
Cutting processed low-fiber foods from your diet is key to keeping inflammation out of the body. Other foods like dairy products, gluten, and red meat are known to increase inflammation within the gut and should either be avoided or consumed infrequently in small quantities.
Other foods to avoid with diverticulitis include any food allergies or intolerances you have as this flares inflammation in the gut.
What about diverticulitis and alcohol?
I know it’s tempting to drink a beer on the weekends or have that glass of wine after work, but if you have diverticulitis, you would be better off avoiding it as much as possible as it’s highly inflammatory.
This includes soft drinks as well.
The Diverticulitis Diet for Flare Ups
Sometimes, despite your best efforts, a flare up can be triggered.
When a sudden flare up happens, it’s crucial to get the inflammation and infection in the gut under control.
During this process, it’s a good idea to keep a food journal so that you can seamlessly treat any future flare ups and be prepared for them.
As soon as you feel symptoms, you need to begin a liquid-only diet to help flush out the diverticula so that they can heal.
Drinking bone broths that are rich in natural gelatin is extremely healing for the gut lining, most especially if made at home.
You can make very simple yet tasty soups by simmering some fresh vegetables and a few chicken legs to create a wholesome broth filled with vital nutrients that are easy to digest.
Strain the broth and drink it three or more times per day for 2-3 days while symptoms dissipate.
You can learn how to make bone broth here.
Some people tolerate eggs well, so you may want to try making an egg drop soup or simply pouch an egg in the broth to provide a little more substance, but don’t overdo it. Listen to your body.
Fresh ginger can also greatly help settle the gut and reduce inflammation in the bowels. To use it, either simmer it in homemade broth or make a strong tea. Drink three times daily.
Once symptoms have eased, you can begin to slowly incorporate easily digestible foods like steamed vegetables and pureed fruits.
It super important to chew your food very well during this time to make digestion as easy as possible. Failing to do so may result in another flare during the healing process.
You can also consume fruit and or vegetable juices with some of the pulp.
Once you feel more like yourself, you can then incorporate fiber-rich foods like unrefined grains, whole fruits and vegetables, and even sprouted lentils.
If you experience any returning symptoms, fall back on the previous stage for a few more days.
This is the last stage where you can begin to eat more fibrous foods like sweet potatoes, potatoes, and other root vegetables. You can also begin to experiment with other grains and beans.
Continue to document the foods you eat, when you ate them, and you felt after.
Once you feel normal again without any symptoms, you can go ahead and slowly reincorporate regular foods back into your diet but pay close attention to how you’re feeling when you eat those foods.
The Best Supplements for Diverticulitis
To prevent diverticulitis symptoms altogether, it’s a good idea to add in a few helpful supplements into your daily routine.
- Chamomile tea – reduces intestinal inflammation and calms digestion.
- Colloidal silver – extremely helpful during a flare up and can help fight off infection
- DGL Licorice – 300mg per day twenty minutes before meals to help lubricate and calm the digestive tract and reduce inflammation in the colon.
- Digestive enzymes – take 1-2 capsules of digestive enzymes before every meal to help your body digest foods more completely.
- Ginger tea – reduces inflammation, gas, bloating, and stomach upset.
- High-quality aloe vera juice – soothes and heals the intestinal lining
- Oil of oregano – can be taken to help fight off infection during a flare.
- Peppermint tea – alleviates digestive upset like bloating and gas. Aids in digestion.
- Probiotics – take 20-50 billion active strains daily to help fight infection and prevent inflammation, constipation, bloating, and gas. Those with diverticulosis can take 5 billion per day to maintain healthy gut flora.
- Psyllium fiber – a form of insoluble fiber that helps bulk up stools and prevent flare ups.
- Slippery elm – soothes and protects the mucous membranes of the colon and reduces inflammation.
Homeopathy for Diverticulitis
Homeopathic remedies can be taken at a 30C potency to help alleviate symptoms of diverticulitis.
Take the remedy that fits your symptoms 4x daily for 2-3 days to see if there is any improvement. If there is an improvement, you can stop taking the homeopathic remedy unless symptoms return.
Arsenicum Album is for a burning pain in the abdomen that is relieved by heat. This may be accompanied by feelings of anxiety and restlessness.
Bryonia Alba is for sharp pains in the left side of the abdomen that becomes worse with movement.
Belladonna is for abdominal throbbing or burning pain that is sudden accompanied by a fever. The pain is worse with movement.
Colocynthis is for sharp, gassy, colicky pain in the abdomen that is relieved by pressure.
Ignatia Amara is for spasms in the colon that occur after emotional stress.
Magnesia Phosphorica is for abdominal cramping that is relieved by heat but worse with pressure.
Nux Vomica is for cramping pain in the digestive tract accompanied by irritability and chill extremities.
Sulphur is for those who are awakened by diarrhea that is urgent.
Acupressure for Diverticulitis
Conception Vessel 6 (CV6) – alleviates gas and diarrhea
Large Intestine 11 (LI11) – Improves the strength of the colon
Spleen 16 (Sp16) – alleviates abdominal cramps
Stomach 36 (St36) – to aide the assimilation of nutrients
Essential Oils for Diverticulitis
The essential oils below can be diluted in carrier oil and applied to the abdomen before or after meals or during a flare up to help prevent or alleviate symptoms of gas, bloating, constipation, or cramping.
Try a dilution of 2 drops in 1tsp of carrier oil and apply it over the abdomen.
- Anise – use before or after meals to aid digestion
- Fennel – great for use before and after meals to prevent or treat gas and bloating
- German chamomile – Great for reducing pain and inflammation
- Ginger – warming and soothing for cramps
- Nutmeg – warming and soothing. Good for aiding digestion (dilute very well, 1 drop per 1tsp)
- Patchouli – great to use on the abdomen to prevent nausea and vomiting
- Peppermint – cooling and soothing for cramps
What have been your tried and true treatments for diverticulitis? Please share them in the comments below!
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