Ask The Doctor: Diverticulitis
Diverticular diseases have become very common in the US, especially among the over-50 set, so you’re certainly not alone. People often develop diverticulosis, a condition characterized by small, pouch-like herniations called diverticula in the lining of the large intestine, small intestines, esophagus, or stomach. When not inflamed, these pouches seldom cause problems, so many with diverticulosis don’t even know they have the disease. But when bacteria get caught in the diverticula, the resulting inflammation causes severe abdominal pain, fever, nausea, and significant changes in bowel habits—usually constipation alternating with diarrhea—and the condition becomes diverticulitis, the more advanced stage of diverticulosis.
Doctors first noticed diverticulosis and diverticulitis in the early 1900s—about the same time processed foods entered the American diet. Today, experts know that low-fiber diets full of refined, processed foods and animal products, which can be constipating, are the main contributors to diverticular diseases. When constipated, your bowel muscles must strain to move excessively hard stool, which increases pressure in the colon, causing weak spots in the gastrointestinal linings to bulge out and become diverticula.
If an infection goes undetected or spreads, surgery to remove the infected bowel and prevent against sepsis (whole-body infection) often remains the only option, so
it’s imperative that diverticulitis be diagnosed swiftly and appropriately by a healthcare provider. Although many doctors prescribe antibiotics, you can cure—and even prevent—diverticulitis naturally and without drugs.
Eat, prevent, heal
Food plays a huge role in both staving off and treating diverticular diseases. To prevent these woes, aim to get 30 to 35 grams of insoluble and soluble fiber each day. Soluble fiber, found in foods such as oat bran, root vegetables, and freshly ground flaxseeds, adopts a jelly-like consistency in the intestines, feeding good bacteria and soothing digestive-tract muscles. Insoluble fiber, from dark leafy vegetables, fruit skins, whole grains, and nuts, absorbs water and passes almost unchanged through the intestinal tract, easing bowel movements.
To treat diverticulitis, switch to a menu packed with soft, fiber-rich fruits and vegetables, including beets, peeled potatoes, applesauce, and bananas, along with soothing foods, such as baked squash, cantaloupe, and sea vegetables. Freshly ground flaxseeds—thanks to the thick, gooey consistency they assume when mixed with water and stomach acids—can help soften stool, increase transit time, and soothe inflamed tissue; I recommend 2 tablespoons per day. While you heal, avoid potential irritants like larger seeds and raw or dried fruits and legumes, all of which can stick in the diverticula and cause greater irritation.
Support your GI tract
In addition to diet, nutritional supplements can jump-start the healing process. Probiotics support beneficial gut flora, help treat any underlying infections, and prevent further infections. I recommend a blend of lactobacillus and bifidobacterium.
Try Enzymatic Therapy Acidophilus Pearls, Nature’s Way Probifia Pearls, or Nature’s Way Primadophilus Optima, which delivers more than 35 billion colony-forming units.
Glutamine, an amino acid that serves as a crucial fuel source for intestinal cells, is vital to healing infected and inflamed tissue. I suggest taking 500 mg of L-glutamine three times a day. Anti-inflammatory fish oil also helps—find a clean supplement that provides a balance of the omega-3s docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), totaling 2 grams per day. Try Enzymatic Therapy Eskimo-3 or Nordic Naturals ProOmega.
Power up with plants
Certain botanicals also help to treat diverticulitis. Wild yam is very useful because of its antispasmodic and antibacterial properties: 500 mg three times a day should suffice. Also, I often say, “Use your beverage as your medicine,” and there’s no better example than marshmallow root. Drinking 1 cup of marshmallow root tea three times a day can help relieve and repair tissue. Steep 1 to 2 teaspoons of dried leaf or dried root in 1 cup of boiling water for 10 minutes, strain, and cool.
Live your best life
Finally, due to the profound mind-gut connection, stress can aggravate diverticular diseases. Stress-reduction techniques, such as regular exercise, daily 30-minute walks, meditation, yoga, and t’ai chi, can help ease your mind and give your gut time to repair.
Question answered by Holly Lucille, ND, a naturopathic doctor who practices in Los Angeles.