The Mayo Clinic Recommends More Water and Fiber
The world renowned Mayo Clinic has disagreed with the long held belief that patients suffering from diverticulitis require a special diet. They believe that restricting the intake of certain foods does not help to relieve the frequency or intensity of diverticulitis attacks. Instead, the patient needs to drink more hydrating fluids such as water and consume a fiber-rich diet to help the bowels easily pass stool. Foods such as nuts and seeds or breads that include nuts and seeds are high in fiber.
The University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) agrees with the Mayo Clinic and has changed their diverticulitis diet recommendations. They also stress the importance of fiber, advising that any patient diagnosed with diverticulitis should aim to consume 25 to 30 grams of fiber every day. They also advise drinking eight cups of fluid per day to help keep the colon lubricated and stools soft enough to avoid irritating the patient’s already inflamed digestive system.
Ditch the Old Diet
For many years, doctors and gastroenterologists had been advising patients with either diverticulitis or its milder form, diverticulosis, to avoid small, hard foods like nuts, seeds, corn or popcorn. At the time it was thought that these small, hard objects could rub, irritate or even become lodged in the inflamed intestinal tract. Now, after numerous clinical tests, no evidence has shown that seeds, nuts, corn or popcorn harm the patient’s digestive system.
One of the most influential clinical studies was published in the prestigious medical magazine, ‘JAMA: Journal of the American Medical Association’. This massive study, ‘ Nut, Corn, and Popcorn Consumption and the Incidence of Diverticular Disease’; Lisa L. Strate, et al.; JAMA; 27 Aug. 2008), followed thousands men with and without diverticulitis for 18 years. Those that consumed nuts, corn and popcorn had a 20% greater change of avoiding diverticulitis attacks as compared with men that ate the more traditional diverticulitis diet.
What Is Diverticulitis?
Diverticulitis is one of the most common diseases of the colon in individuals over the age of 40. In America, it is estimated that two thirds of the country’s population will develop diverticulitis by the time they are 85. Symptoms include sudden debilitating intestinal cramps, nausea, chills, fever and either constipation or diarrhea. The pain comes and goes in periodic attacks. When a diverticulitis attack ends, this may give the patient a false impression that they will no longer experience issues with their bowels; however, any patient with these symptoms should see a physician as soon as possible.
Along the digestive tract are marble-sized pockets that have developed because of weak spots in the bowel. The area bulges in an effort to compensate for the weakness. These pockets are called diverticula. A single pocket is called a diverticulum in the Latin tradition of spelling singular nouns. Over time, these diverticula become periodically inflamed, which causes painful diverticulitis attacks. Unfortunately, it is unknown why diverticula develop and how they become inflamed. The best that the medical community can do is to diagnose the condition and hope the patient can prevent future attacks through diet and exercise. If left untreated, the patient may need surgery to remove the diverticula.
Not the Same as Diverticulosis
Diverticulitis is far more serious than diverticulosis. Because of the name similarities, many patients confuse the two conditions. Diverticulosis symptoms are very mild in comparison to diverticulitis. Often, the symptoms of intestinal wind, bloating and constipation resemble that of a common intestinal gas attack. Not all patients with diverticulosis experience these mild symptoms. The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NDDIC) reports that it is common for diverticulosis patients to feel absolutely no symptoms.
Although they exhibit different symptoms, both digestive conditions can be treated with diet and exercise. Because diverticulosis does not cause the intense pain, fever and nausea characteristic of diverticulitis, many patients choose to ignore their diverticulosis symptoms until the condition has progressed into diverticula disease (diverticulitis). Theoretically, diverticulosis can be slowed down or treated so that it does not progress into diverticulitis, but patients rarely go to the doctor for treatment of the comparatively mild symptoms.
The Exercise Component
Major medical institutions like the Mayo Clinic and USCF agree that high-fiber and high liquid intake is not sufficient to prevent diverticulitis attacks. Regular exercise has also been proven to help the digestive system function more smoothly and to prevent constipation which can add to the pain of diverticulitis attacks.
Regular exercise does not have to be particularly complicated or vigorous. Even walking for thirty minutes at a time five times a week is thought to be sufficient for good intestinal health. Before embarking on any exercise program, all patients are advised to talk to their doctors to see what exercises will work best for their individual health needs and weight loss and fitness goals.
USCF reports that until the high fiber diet and exercise regimen takes effect, diverticulitis attacks will continue to occur. To help patients navigate through these difficult times, USCF recommends that patients begin with a liquid diet until their doctors tell them to move to a diet of soft, bland foods. Liquid diets include water, clear fruit juices without pulp, herbal tea, broth, popsicles or water-based frozen treats and gelatin.
Because the bowels have undergone severe strain, avoid high fiber-foods until advised by a doctor. It usually takes about two to five days for the bowels to recover sufficiently to begin acclimating to high fiber foods again. Soft, bland foods low in fiber includes eggs, dairy products, cooked vegetables, white rice and pasta made from eggs or white flour.
The causes of diverticulosis and its more severe form, diverticulitis, are mysterious, but the symptoms can be successfully managed through diets high in fiber and hydrating fluids. Patients can consume nuts, seeds, corn or popcorn or products made with same to address their daily fiber intake of 25-30 grams per day. Patients also need to undertake regular exercise to maintain smooth bowel functionality and prevent constipation.