Diverticulosis is a condition whereby small pockets or pouches appear within the colon. If these pockets become inflamed and infected, the condition escalates to becoming a diverticulitis attack. Your -osis has turned into an -itis. In medical terminology, the suffix ‘osis’ refers to a disease or condition, whereas the suffix ‘itis’ is an inflammation of the condition. Diverticulosis is a frequent affliction for those over 50. The thing is, most people are unaware of it unless a gastroenterologist comments on it after a routine colonoscopy or until a diverticulitis attack occurs.
- Tenderness often on the lower left side of the belly.
- Severe pain and cramping.
- Bloating and flatulence.
- Fever and chills.
- Nausea and vomiting.
- Lack of appetite.
What causes it?
- The diverticulitis attack occurs when faeces or undigested food become trapped in a bowel pocket causing inflammation and infection.
- Diverticulosis is unknown in countries where the diet contains large amounts of fibre (over 50 g daily) and consists of plenty of vegetables, grains and legumes, but very little meat, sugar and white-flour products.
- Constipation is a common cause of diverticulosis Constipation.
- Poorly fitting dentures or a loss of teeth often results in food that is insufficiently chewed. Seeds and nuts that have a hard coating may travel to the bowel undigested, lodging in a diverticular pouch and causing inflammation and infection.
What to do?
Having had a bout of diverticulitis you will most definitely want to prevent another. The following advice is if you are recovering from a recent bout, feel the grumblings of an imminent attack or wish to avoid any further episodes.
- For the few weeks after an attack, or if you feel any grumblings, avoid chilli, pepper, alcohol and any spicy food as the lining of the bowel will be very tender. Also avoid those foods that may become lodged in the pockets such as nuts and seeds. At this time, raw vegetables and fruit, nuts, seeds and wholegrains are also to be avoided. After the inflammation resolves, these foods are back on the menu again and recommended as they are high in fibre.
- In the immediate aftermath, stay on a bland, boring diet for a few days until the inflammation subsides. Yoghurt, pureed soups and even baby food will soothe an angry bowel.
- When the bowel is inflamed, turn roughage into softage by pureeing cooked vegetables, legumes and fruit. In a couple of weeks you’ll be back on the hard stuff.
- Post attack, and to soothe an inflamed bowel at any time, slippery elm is indispensable. It is calming and healing. Take 1 teaspoon in water, yoghurt or banana 3 times a day.
- If you are in pain, it is likely you have an infection. Golden seal, garlic, andrographis, cat’s claw and echinacea all have antimicrobial powers but if the pain continues for more than a day, antibiotics may be necessary so see your doctor.
- The homoeopathic remedy colocynth is for the kind of pain that doubles you over.
- Magnesium helps whenever the bowel is cramping. Take 200 mg 4 times a day during the painful times.
- Drink ginger tea made from grated ginger root. If you like, add some other herbs including lemon balm, peppermint and/or chamomile. They are all recommended to relax the digestive system.
- Drink at least 2 litres of water daily. If faeces in the bowel become hard and dry there is a greater chance that diverticular pockets will become inflamed.
- Fibre is vital to prevent and treat diverticulosis. You need sufficient fibre to bulk the stool, stretch the bowel walls and sweep out those little pockets so that bits and pieces are not left behind. Eat a diet containing plenty of (well-chewed) fruit, vegetables, wholegrains, nuts, seeds and legumes.
- Avoid processed foods and refined carbohydrates such as pastries, cakes and biscuits.
- Chew each and every mouthful of your food at least 12 times. Undigested food can get trapped in the diverticular pockets.
- If you have had more than one attack of diverticulitis, it is worthwhile taking some antibiotic herbs on a regular basis. The best of all is golden seal due to its affinity with mucous membranes, but garlic, andrographis, cat’s claw and echinacea are also superb.
- Herbs that are calming and soothing for the colon in general and diverticulosis in particular include ginger, peppermint, lemon balm, licorice and chamomile. Drink in tea form, alone or combined.
- Avoid sugar and refined carbohydrates.
- A daily fibre supplement is highly recommended if you have diverticulosis. Psyllium husks, linseeds and chia seeds are all a good choice. Why not take a combination? You will never regret making slippery elm a daily addition. Add a heaped dessertspoon of the mixture to your porridge, smoothie or add to juice.
- Nuts and seeds are a great source of soluble fibre. Make sure you chew them well or else enjoy them ground as in LSA (ground linseeds, sunflower seeds and almonds) or nut butters (almond, cashew or brazil).
- If you are in pain, add some Epsom salts to a warm bath and lie deep enough to cover your stomach or lay a hot water bottle on your abdomen.
- A ginger compress is exceptionally helpful if pain is severe. Into the middle of a kitchen wipe or muslin cloth grate a cupful of ginger. Fold to form a ginger parcel. Place in a shallow bowl and pour over half a cup of boiling water. Leave until bearably hot. Gently squeeze and place on your belly. With cling film, cover the parcel and wrap around your back. Wrap again in a towel, then relax and keep warm for 20 minutes before unpeeling.
- Massage a few drops of chamomile or lavender oil to relieve cramping.
- As a preventative measure, it is important to strengthen external and internal muscles around the abdominal area. Learn how to switch on your ‘core’ muscles via yoga, pilates or learn the technique from a personal trainer.
At a glance
- After an attack or if your tummy is tender, avoid avoid chilli, pepper, alcohol and any spicy food.
- In addition, steer clear of any foods that may lodge in the bowel pockets or further inflame the area such as seeds, nuts, wholegrains, raw vegetables and fruit.
- Cook and puree your meals until such time you have no tenderness.
- In general, and to prevent diverticulitis, eat a diet high in fibre-rich foods.
- Drink at least 2 litres of water a day to keep the stool soft and prevent constipation.
- Avoid sugar.
- As a preventative measure, take 1 heaped dessertspoon of psyllium husks, linseeds and/or chia seeds every day.
- Chew your food well. Undigested food is a major cause of a diverticulitis attack.
- Slippery elm is your friend. It is healing, calming and soothing.
- Herbs that calm the bowel include peppermint, chamomile, lemon balm and ginger. Drink as a tea or take in tablet or tincture form.
- Herbs to treat and prevent an infection include the poster herb golden seal, in addition to cat’s claw, echinacea, andrographis and garlic.
- A ginger compress is exceptionally helpful if pain is severe.
- Massage a few drops of chamomile or lavender oil mixed into 20mls of a base oil such as almond or olive oil. Massage your lower abdomen to relieve cramping.