Nutrition and Diverticulitis

We all get stomachaches. Some people, however, get really bad stomach pain, the type that keeps you home from work, absent from social activities, and maybe even puts you in the hospital.

Gastrointestinal (stomach and intestine) pain is common, but the causes for it can vary and be difficult to identify.

A common culprit for some of the more severe cases of stomach pain is diverticulitis. Although only a physician can confirm a diagnosis, some warning signs include abdominal pain, bloating, constipation, diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting.

The term diverticulitis refers to the inflammation of “diverticula”, which are small hernias or pouches in the walls of intestines, especially the colon. Many people have these diverticula in their intestinal lining, but certain people are more prone to inflammation occurring in them; this is diverticulitis.

For a long time, diverticulitis was attributed to the consumption of high-fiber foods. It is true that, during a flare-up, consumption of fiber should be limited until the inflammation reduces. Fiber, however, does not cause diverticula to form in the first place. In fact, populations that eat lots of fiber rarely, if ever, develop diverticula in their intestines at all. It’s thought that chronically low-fiber diets – like the eating pattern of many Americans – are a major cause of diverticula forming and, as a result, diverticulitis. This may be due to chronic constipation putting pressure on the walls of the intestines.

Recent research has also dispelled the long-believed idea that foods like nuts, popcorn, and foods containing seeds cause diverticulitis. Seeds do not get “caught” in diverticula and cause inflammation as has been suggested in the past.

Risk of diverticulitis does increase with age. If your doctor tells you that you have diverticula in your colon, keep up a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains unless you’re having a flare-up. During flare-ups, you’ll likely need to stick to more bland, easy-to-digest foods.

Likely causes for diverticulitis – in addition to a poor diet – include poor hydration, stress, and lack of physical activity. If you’ve never noticed this theme before, note that most chronic diseases can be traced back to this handful of factors: diet, exercise, stress, and sleep. A breakdown in one of these usually affects the others.

Food triggers for diverticulitis, like those for other bowel conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome, seem to be very individual. For any of these conditions, food journaling is helpful to help trace your steps back to the cause of the problem.

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