I have been putting off writing about this topic for years. I think it is not that “sexy” of a topic nor do I think that most people want to discuss it (or read about it). BUT, out of the abundance of questions from friends and acquaintances I decided that now is the time to break my holdout. Before we begin to discuss how to address and eliminate this condition, we need to understand what it is. Going back to Herbal Pharmacist® 101 we first need to break the word down. Remember that a word in medicine that ends in “itis” means inflamed or inflammation of that area of the body. I.e. Bronchitis= Bronchial inflammation. In our case here we have diverticulum inflammation. What the heck is a diverticulum? According to dictionary.com, “it is any sac or pouch formed by herniation of the wall of a tubular organ or part, especially the intestines.” The part of the body most affected by this herniation is the colon (the lower part of your digestive system). Hopefully that clears things up a bit. Plainly put: You have an inflammation of one or many sacs in your colon caused by some sort of herniation.
What causes diverticuitis?
It usually develops when these pouches/sacs/herniations become inflamed or infected. Doctors aren’t sure what causes diverticulitis, but I am. I am a firm believer that this condition is caused by a low-fiber diet. Without fiber to add bulk to the stool, the colon has to work harder than normal to push the stool forward. The pressure from this may cause pouches to form in weak spots along the colon. A dentist friend of mine once described fiber as “the toothbrush of the colon”. Having enough fiber would “scrub” away any debris and eliminate the pockets in time. Our 21sth century diet that is full of processed and refined foods and lack of fruits, veggies, nuts and seeds has contributed to the increased number of cases of Diverticulitis.
I almost didn’t include the list of symptoms because I figured that those who have the condition already know what they are, but just in case I am including them for people who may not realize what they have. Lower belly pain (usually on the lower left side) is the most common symptom, but there are others: Fever, bloating, gas, diarrhea (or constipation), nausea, vomiting and loss of appetite.
How is it treated?
How it get’s treated depends on how bad you have this condition. It is always a good idea to consult with your healthcare provider before stepping out into the natural world. For my discussion, we are going to assume that you are particularly miserable with no fever or less.
First: SLOWLY increase the amount of fiber in your diet. If your body is used to only 4-10 grams of fiber a day and you decide to jump immediately to my suggested 40 grams per day, you will be unhappy with both of us. You didn’t develop this condition overnight and you aren’t going to get rid of it that way either. I suggest increasing your daily fiber intake by 5 grams per week until you reach the target of 40. Where the fiber comes from is up to you. I prefer to eat my fiber and not use supplements. I eat plenty of nuts, seeds (mostly Chia), fruit, veggies, etc. to get my fiber.
Before anyone has a hissy fit over my nuts and seeds comment (most healthcare providers tell you to avoid them) take note of a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA. 2008;300(8):907-914.) This study found that eating popcorn, nuts and seeds had NO impact on the condition and actually helped to decrease the risk of developing the condition.
Back to fiber: Studies have shown that people who eat a diet high in meat and low in veggies have a significant increased risk of developing diverticulitis. I think we all know what fruits, veggies, nuts and seeds are, but what about the possible additions to your everyday diet that you can pick up at your local health food store? I have been writing about Chia seeds for years now. These seeds are truly a super-super food and should be part of Everyone’s diet (not just someone with diverticulitis). The benefit of chia seeds is that they do not need to be crushed or ground up first. Just pour them on your food and dig in. Another favorite is Flaxseed. Flaxseeds are another super food but the downfall of these seeds is that you need to grind them prior to use. They go out your backside the way they go in your front-side…like corn. Just as with Chia, you can add flaxseed powder to just about anything you eat. Make it part of your everyday diet and don’t look at it like it is another supplement. There are even soluble fiber products available at you local store. The cool part soluble fiber is that it is is soluble in water (or other beverages you may choose). The downfall of this product is it is pretty much “just fiber” and will not be a super food to your body. For diverticulitis though, it might be a good way to get things moving the right direction with regards to increasing your fiber intake. Stop by your local store for an abundance of fiber choices (even fiber bars).
Probiotics: These friendly bacteria play a huge role in the health of someone who has this condition due to an infection. Keeping enough good bacteria in your small and large intestine will help suppress and rid your body of other disease causing (pathogenic) bacteria. NO-Yogurt isn’t going to cut it here. Head of and purchase a good “broad-spectrum” (6-12 strains/types of good bacteria per serving) probiotic. Most people don’t realize that acidophilus alone is NOT enough. Some bacteria work in the upper part (small intestine) and others work in the lower part (large intestine/colon) of your digestive tract. Using a blend of bacteria will get you closer to your goal of your painful condition.
In addition to fiber and probiotics, make sure you are drinking plenty of purified water. Tap water contains chemicals that kill bacteria and right now you need to keep all of the good bacteria (friendly bacterial/probiotics) you have. If you don’t like water…too bad…drink it anyway. Add some lemon juice or other fruit juice (fresh squeezed not packaged) to it to “lightly” enhance the taste. You can also use herbal teas to get your water. For now, avoid those with caffeine (black tea) as this drug can increase cramping and discomfort.
There are some herbs that can be helpful in addition to my suggestions of Fiber, Probiotics and Water. The herbs I suggest are more for symptom relief and not to “get rid” of the issue. Herbs such as cramp bark and chamomile can ease the gastric spasm you are having from the inflammation. Herbs such as slippery elm, aloe and mullein will help provide more fiber and help protect the digestive lining if there has been any damage done to it.
Lastly, using supplements to help your body fight inflammation (it is an inflammatory condition-right?) Some of my favorites here are Turmeric, Ginger, Boswellia, Celadrin and even Chamomile. Yes, chamomile might shock most of you, but my experience has shown me that it has great anti-inflammatory properties for the digestive tract.