Diverticular Disease Self Help

Diverticula are pea-sized pouches that have blown out of the intestinal wall, primarily in the colon. The underlying cause of diverticula formation is constipation. Soft, bulky stools easily pass through the colon and respond to peristaltic waves; hard, dehydrated stools are harder to push along, and the bowel wall has to work harder.

As a result, the muscles in the colon thicken to help this abnormal situation, which results in greatly increased pressures within the bowel. Over time, this prolonged pressure can blow out portions of the bowel wall, causing diverticular pouches.

About half of all people over the age of sixty have diverticular disease, and about 10 percent will have it by the age of forty. It occurs more commonly in women than in men and with increasing frequency with age. Eighty-five percent of the people who have diverticula are symptom-free, and it’s not a problem unless the pouches become inflamed or infected; this is called diverticulitis.

The pouches usually heal on their own, but sometimes require surgery. When the pouches become infected, causing diverticulitis, there is pain, most commonly around the left side of the lower abdomen, and often a fever with or without nausea, vomiting, chills, cramping, and constipation.

It is usually at this point that a physician will order tests to discover diverticulitis and diverticulosis. These infections are treated with antibiotics and a soft-fiber diet or liquid. The possible complications of diverticulitis are bleeding, bowel obstruction, fistulas, abscesses, perforation, and peritonitis.

So, if you think you are having a diverticular problem, call your doctor. Once the inflammation resolves, a high-fiber diet is recommended. Diverticular pouches don’t go away, but a high-fiber diet will prevent most future attacks. Repeated episodes of diverticulitis may require surgery. A disease of Western civilization, diverticular disease occurs rarely in people who consume a high-fiber diet.

Healing Options

  • Consume a high-fiber diet. A high-fiber diet is of first and foremost importance for preventing the development and recurrence of diverticular disease. If you are recovering from a flare-up of diverticulitis, begin with a soft-fiber diet. Cook vegetables until fairly soft, eat cooked fruits, use easy-to-digest grains like oatmeal, and make vegetable soups with tofu.

Foods with seeds (such as strawberries, poppy seeds, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds) can catch in your diverticula and cause irritation. Until healed, avoid seed foods. Once you are feeling well, establish a high-fiber diet as a normal part of your life.

Focus on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes. Meat, poultry, fish, and dairy products contain zero fiber and need to be eaten in moderation. Psyllium seeds are a good fiber supplement choice because they are nonirritating.

Studies have shown that people eating a high-fiber, low-fat diet lower their risks of diverticular disease significantly. (Men who eat a high-red-meat, low-fiber diet have even higher incidences.) It may take you some time to get accustomed to a high-fiber, lowfat diet, but it will be worth the effort.

The benefits reach further than your digestive tract, lowering your risk factors for cancer, heart disease, and diabetes. Be certain to drink plenty of water and other healthy beverages.

  • Supplement with acidophilus and bifidobacteria. Friendly flora can help fight the infection while it’s active and protect you from future infection. Take 1 capsule two to three times daily for prevention; 2 capsules three times daily during flare-up.
  • Take gamma oryzanol. While studies of gamma oryzanol, a compound in rice bran oil, were not directly involved with diverticulitis, gamma oryzanol is known to have a healing effect on the colon. (See previous discussion of gastric ulcers and gastritis.) Take 100 milligrams three times daily for three to six weeks.
  • Take glutamine. The digestive tract uses glutamine, the most abundant amino acid in the body, as a fuel source and for healing. Studies have not been done with diverticulitis, but glutamine is regenerative for the colon in general. Begin with 8 grams daily for four to eight weeks. Then adjust dosage up or down depending on the response.
  • Take evening primrose oil. Evening primrose oil increases the levels of prostaglandin E2 series, which promote healing and repair. Take 1,000 to 2,000 milligrams three times a day.
  • Take aloe vera. Aloe vera, which contains vitamins, minerals, and amino acids, has been used by many cultures to heal the digestive tract. Its anti-inflammatory properties are soothing to mucous membranes, and it has been shown to reduce pain.

It also stimulates the immune system, increasing white blood cell activity and formation of T-cells, and contains enzymes that help break down dead cells and toxins. It also reduces bleeding time, which is important with ruptured diverticula. Dosages vary from product to product, so read the label.

  • Take slippery elm bark. Slippery elm bark has demulcent properties and is gentle, soothing, and nourishing to mucous membranes. Drink as a tea, chew on the bark, or take in capsules. To make a tea, simmer 1 teaspoon of slippery elm bark in 2 cups of water for twenty minutes and strain. Sweeten if you want and drink freely; it can be used in large amounts without harm. Or, take 2 to 4 capsules three times daily.
  • Take a multivitamin with minerals.