Diverticulosis & Diverticulitis
The condition in which small pouches bulge through weakened areas in the walls of the large intestine is called diverticulosis. These pouches, called diverticula, can become inflamed or infected, which results in a condition known as diverticulitis. Many people have these pouches and never exhibit adverse symptoms. However, others develop mild to severe complications from this condition.
Infection may cause a collection of pus in the form of an abscess, which can be a serious complication. On very rare occasions peritonitis (a perforation of the intestine) or bleeding can occur. Usually, infection and bleeding do not occur at the same time.
Because insufficient fiber in a person’s diet causes smaller, harder stools which force the colon to contract harder (thus creating pressure which creates the bulges known as diverticulosis), constipation can contribute to this condition. When stools or bacteria become trapped in the diverticula, the next stage results in infection in these pockets, thereby creating diverticulitis.
Some of the symptoms of diverticulitis include fever and severe pain in the lower abdomen.
Self-diagnosis of this condition is possible by noticing pain on the left side of the abdomen, as well as bowel movements which are abnormal. A physician should be consulted to determine exactly how severe the condition is. A digital rectal examination by a health care professional can detect blood or tenderness. Also, a stool test can show hidden bleeding and blood tests can be conducted to alert one to infection. A direct view of the intestinal walls can take place through the utilization of either colonoscopy or sigmoidoscopy.
Most symptoms of diverticulitis can be relieved by taking an over-the-counter medication such as paracetamol. In severe cases of this condition, antibiotics must be administered to clear up the pockets of infection and stronger pain medication may be in order.
A healthy diet should be eaten during bouts of diverticulitis, including lots of foods which are rich in fiber. Eating 20 to 35 g of fiber daily can help to reduce the symptoms of diverticulitis. Fruits, grains and vegetables are good choices. If pain is present and symptoms are worsening, the individual should avoid popcorn and nuts, as well as sunflower, pumpkin, sesame and caraway seeds. Even the seeds in strawberries can irritate diverticulitis.
Drink lots of non-alcoholic fluids while eating more fiber. Some researchers advocate eliminating tobacco, which is always a good idea for optimum health.
Some of the herbs that can help diverticulitis include:
- Flax – Commission E, a German panel of experts that comments on medicinal herbs, approves the use of one to three tablespoons of crushed flax two or three times a day.
- Wheat - Many health care practitioners believe that a diet which is extremely rich in fiber can cure or greatly ease the effects of diverticulitis. Because wheat bran is estimated to contain approximately five times the fiber of whole grain bread, bran should be high on the list for those suffering from this condition. One researcher went so far as to say that bran is the cheapest, safest and most effective way to treat constipation, which is the underlying cause of diverticulosis and diverticulitis.
- Camomile – Instead of simply having a cup or two of tea daily, try sipping chamomile tea throughout the day. Scientific studies have shown this particular herbal tea to be especially effective as an anti-inflammatory for diverticulitis because it tends to soothe the entire digestive system. Use one cup of boiling water with two teaspoons of dried chamomile and steep for 5 to 10 minutes.
- Slippery Elm – Bark powder from the slippery elm can also be used to treat diverticulitis. The bark is known to contain large quantities of a very gentle laxative that serves to soothe the digestive tract, yet keeps waste moving in the bowels. This powder is easy to prepare much like oatmeal, adding hot water or hot milk to make a cereal.
- Psyllium – This herb is the major ingredient in many bulk-forming commercial laxatives. Taking a few tablespoons a day of psyllium powder, along with lots of water, allows the body to consume a healthy amount of fiber to aid in preventing or treating diverticulitis. Some individuals do have allergic reactions to psyllium, so pay attention to any possible side effects.
- Prunes – Fiber, fiber, fiber! Prunes can be an excellent choice to add to the diet as they provide lots of fiber and also have a sweet, pleasant taste so they are easy to consume. Drink prune juice as well during bouts of diverticulitis or as a preventative measure.
- Wild yam – Many alternative health care practitioners believe that yam helps to relieve the inflammation and pain caused by diverticulitis. One treatment to try includes two parts of wild yam, one part black haw, one part valerian, and one part peppermint, brewed as a tea in one liter of water. This mixture has properties which are both anti-inflammatory and anti-spasmodic.
Approximately 25% of the people who have diverticulitis exhibit serious complications. When abscesses are present they produce pus which must be drained through a needle by either a surgeon or a radiologist.
The condition of diverticulosis is much less common in vegetarians. Regular exercise, along with a diet which is high in fiber from fruits and vegetables but low in red meats and fats, may help to ward off this health problem.
Who is at Risk
Those individuals who are particularly at risk for diverticulosis include anyone with a history of constipation or those who consume high-fat, low-fiber diets.
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