Diverticulosis is a condition in which the multiple small pouches or pockets form in the colon and/or large intestines. These pockets retain fecal matter that is not eliminated during a bowel movement. They usually don’t cause any pain or discomfort unless they get infected and inflamed, and then they can cause abdominal pain, abdominal cramping and tenderness. If it is severe, then fever, diarrhea alternating with chronic constipation, spasms, rectal bleeding and anemia are present. Diverticulosis is increasingly prevalent in the United States with advancing age. An estimated 50 percent of all Americans aged sixty to eighty have diverticulosis.
Diverticulitis is an inflammation of these pockets, which can lead to symptoms of diarrhea, pain, and bleeding. Diverticulosis is common in people over the age of 60, and about 10% of those may have episodes of inflammation and diverticulitis. This occurs because the walls of the large intestines often weaken as a person ages. It affects millions of Americans, but many people do not know they have the condition because they either experience no symptoms or accept their symptoms as mere indigestion.
Acute diverticulitis usually requires hospitalization. Natural medicine and herbal treatment is more suited to the prevention of its recurrence. Other painful and symptomatic diverticular diseases can also occur in the absence of diverticulitis. Some medical doctors consider it to be a variant of irritable bowel disease.
Some studies have revealed a low-fiber diet as the main culprit to the condition. Appropriate dietary measures to increase fiber intake (but excluding seeds and nuts) and supplementation with mucilaginous herbs may help to maintain a healthy bowel flora. It is highly recommended that the patient avoid processed foods, dairy products, sugar, white-flour products and alcohol. The diet should be high in high-fiber cereals, fresh vegetables, salads, fruits, and unrefined whole grains including brown rice.
It is interesting to note that diverticulosis does not exist in Africa, where there is a high fiber diet. Other dietary suggestions:
- Attempt to avoid nuts and seeds, corn, popcorn, seeds on strawberries and raspberries, seeded grapes, poppy seeds and caraway seeds since these may get stuck in the bowel pocket.
- Eating raw celery and spinach, or as a juice, helps to cleanse and heal the bowel and promote regular bowel movements. Raw cabbage juice is excellent healing food for diverticulitis.
- Wheat bran contains five times the fiber of whole-wheat bread, making it the fiber-lover’s fiber.
- Prunes combine lots of fiber with a sweet, delicious taste. Prunes prevent constipation.
- Chewing your food thoroughly initiates a beneficial chain reaction in the lower bowel organs.
- Eating nutritional yeast daily will promote the growth of friendly bacteria.
- Consider doing a “colon-cleanse” every 4-6 months.
- Drink plenty of filtered water.
- Avoid stress, smoking, antibiotic use (when not extremely necessary), and too many ‘white’ foods: white bread, white milk, and white sugar.
- A HIGH FIBER DIET
Foods high in fiber (excluding seeds and nuts) helps to prevent constipation and decreases the chance of infection by preventing accumulation of wastes in the pouches in the colon walls. The German Commission E approves using 1-3 tablespoons of crushed FLAXSEED 2-3 times a day about one hour before eating with a large glass of water. PSYLLIUM is also a high-fiber seed and can also be taken with plenty of water. There are, however, some people with allergies to psyllium. Keep in mind that fiber ONLY exists in plant foods- there is NO fiber in any animal food product including eggs, meat, fish, poultry or dairy.
- PROBIOTIC SUPPORT
Probiotics are healthy strains of bacteria that are needed to replace unhealthy bowel flora in the small intestine that improves elimination of waste and absorption of nutrients. All probiotics should contain Lactobacillus acidophilus. Dosage: Take 2-3 capsules 3 times a day on an empty stomach, or as directed on the package.
- GREEN FOOD SUPPLEMENTS
Green foods are rich in nutrients (lost with poor bowel function) and good sources of fiber. Some common green foods include barley, wheat grass, kamut, spirulina, blue-green algae, kale, spinach, and chlorella.
- ALOE VERA JUICE
An extract of aloe vera gel that promotes healing of inflamed intestines, which helps to ease diverticular disorders. Aloe vera also has milk anti-bacterial properties that may prevent the sacs from being infected. Dosage: Drink 1-2 ounces 2-3 times a day. The juice may be mixed with herbal tea.
- OMEGA 3,6 FATTY ACIDS
Essential fatty acids will improve lymphatic function and aid in protecting the cells lining the walls of the gut. Also, essential fats are efficient anti-inflammatory agents. Dosage: 1-2 capsules with each meal.
B complex vitamins are needed for all enzyme systems in the body and for proper digestion. Dosage: 50-100mg daily in divided doses.
An amino acid that is a major metabolic fuel for the intestinal cells. Glutamine helps to maintain the villi, the absorption surfaces of the gut. Dosage: As directed on label.
- SLIPPERY ELM
A fibrous bark powder that contains large quantities of a gentle laxative that soothes the digestive tract while keeping the bowels moving. Slippery elm can be taken orally or mixed in water to relieve gas and discomfort. Dosage: One-half cup of powdered elm bark can be sprinkled on oatmeal and other cereals.
This immune-enhancing herb can be effective in decreasing pathogenic bacteria that can cause or worsen the condition. Dosage: As directed by a qualified practitioner.
- VITAMIN C (W/BIOFLAVONOIDS)
These antioxidant vitamins can boost the immune system and work synergistically to help fighting infections, both bacterial and/or viral. Dosage: Vitamin C 500-1500 mg per day of the buffered form. Quercetin 500-1,000 mg daily.
- DIGESTIVE ENZYMES
Enzymes are needed to break down proteins, improve digestion and increase gastric emptying. Use a formula high in pancreatin. Dosage: 1-2 capsules 5-15 minutes before eating meals.
- CAMOMILE and MEADOWSWEET TEA
These anti-inflammatory herbs are excellent choices to relieve gastrointestinal distress. Dosage: One cup before retiring may be beneficial.
- VITAMIN A with MIXED CAROTENOIDS
Carotenoids are potent antioxidants that help to protect and heal the lining of the colon. Dosage: 10,000-25,000IU daily.
- VITAMIN E
Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant that protects the mucous membranes. Use the d-alpha-tocopherol form at dosages of 400-800 IU daily.
- PAU D’ARCO
This Amazonian herb is sometimes referred to as a panacea. It has an antibacterial, cleansing, and healing effect on the intestinal tract. Dosage: As directed, but may be taken as a tea once or twice daily.
Balach, PA, Balch, JF. Prescription for Nutritional Healing, Third edition. Penguin-Putman, NY. 2000.
Duke, JA. The Green Pharmacy. Rodale Press, Emmaus, PA. 1997.
Gursche, S., Rona, Z. Encyclopedia of Natural Healing. Alive Magazine
HBC Counter: Aloe Vera. Whole Foods, July 2002, 25(8): 46.
Leyton, EL. Diverticulosis and Diverticulitis. Alive Magazine #231, Jan. 2002. P. 18.
Lieberman, S. Nutrition Hotline. Better Nutrition Sept. 1999. P. 12
Marion, JB. Anti Aging Manual. Information Pioneers, S. Woodstock, CT. 1996.
Mills, S, Bone, K. Principles and Practice of Phytotherapy. Churchill Livingstone, Sydney, 2000.
Roberts, AJ, O’Brien, ME, Subak-Sharpe, G, Nutraceuticals- The Complete Encyclopedia. Perigee Books, New York, NY. 2001.
Up Next: Eczema and Skin Dermititis