In the gut, a diverticulum is like a little pocket/out-pouching that forms in the wall of the large bowel, probably as a result of spasm in the muscle in the bowel wall. Diverticulae are very common and get more common as people get older, around 15 per cent of people aged over 40 have a number of small diverticulae. They are uncommon below the age of 40 but by the time people reach their eighties everyone has diverticulae in their bowel.

On their own they are harmless and may never cause problems, but if they get inflamed or infected, then they cause symptoms and this is diverticulitis. The most common symptoms are pain and local tenderness in the left lower part of the abdomen and often accompanied by fever. Bleeding can also occur from diverticulae. Patients often get episodes of bouts of pain that last several days and then settle for weeks or even months. The diagnosis is usually made with endoscopy (looking into the bowel through a tube), barium enema X-ray and excluding other causes of the symptoms.

It is thought that the small pockets may represent natural weak points in the bowel wall present from birth, that develop in this way over time as a result of the natural build up of pressure that occurs within the colon, particularly when straining to open the bowels. Diverticulitis is a fairly common cause of abdominal discomfort in later life.

The management of diverticulitis is to keep food moving through the intestinal tract so that it does not get trapped in the pouches, stagnate and become infected. A high soluble fibre diet and plenty of fluid plays an important part in keeping the symptoms at bay.

Nutritional Supplements that could help. (Refer to the individual supplement for cautions in use.)

Supplement/Herb What it does Dosage
Acidophilus To keep the intestines populated with good bacteria and infection free. It improves digestion, assimilation and absorption. Particularly needed if you are taking anti-biotics. as directed
Bromelain Take between meals to improve digestion and reduce intestinal inflammation. as directed
Digestive enzymes Help to break down protein foods that can be hard to digest. as directed
Fish Oil Omega 3 fatty acids help reduce inflammation, improve lympatic functions and are protective to the intestinal cell walls. 1000 to 2000mg 3 to 4 times daily.
L Glutamine To help repair damage to the walls of the intestines. as directed
Alfalfa Supplies vitamin K which is often deficient in digestive disorders. High in chlorophyll, a green pigment which detoxifies and aids healing. 500 to 1000mg daily
Aloe Vera Soothes, cleanses, heals and lubricates the digestive system. Good for constipation. 15 to 30ml of juice 3 times daily
Garlic upports digestions and destroys harmful bacteria and parasites. Helps fight infection. Hi potency aged or whole bulb product with each meal.
Liquorice Relieves allergic inflammation, soothes digestive tract and fights infections. 250 to 500mg standardised extract or a cup of root tea 3 times daily.
Peppermint. For digestive discomfort. tea drunk 3 to 4 times daily.
Slippery Elm High mucilage content that soothes, heals and protects the digestive tract. Acts as a soluble fibre to keep bowel movement regular and prevent constipation. 500 to 1000mg of bark powder capsules 2 to 4 times daily.
Fibre in the form of oat bran, psyllium, ground linseeds These help to keep stools bulky and lubricated, thus allowing regular and easy passage through the system. Prevent constipation and food becoming trapped in the pouches, which leads to infection. Ground linseeds also provide omega 3 fatty acids. Use amounts as directed Take 1 hour before each meal with a large glass of water.

Diet and Lifestyle Factors

Diverticulitis is one of the major diseases of our western diet with excessive consumption of refined and commercially produced foods which contain little or no fibre. Avoid foods which slow down and clog up the digestive system such as white bread, white pasta, white rice, cakes, biscuits, pastries and any other refined carbohydrates.

Avoid or reduce:

Animal proteins which can be difficult to breakdown and thus easily putrify in the gut causing allergic inflammation and increased risk of infection.

Foods with large numbers of tiny seeds such as figs, tomatoes, gooseberries, passion fruit, kiwi fruit, grapes and pomegranits.

Wheat and other grains as the husks can become trapped in the pouches causing inflammation and discomfort. Wheat bran is especially irritating to the digestive tract. (Oats and brown rice seem to be okay.)

Foods that worsen inflammatory bowel conditions such as animal fats, fried foods, dairy products, peppers, potatoes, tomatoes, aubergines, refined sugars, pickles, caffeinated drinks and alcohol.

Foods which you are intolerant to. There is no general rule about what to avoid, because dietary intolerance varies from person to person.

Stimulants such as tea, coffee and tobacco can make intestinal discomfort worse. Emotional stress usually does the same, but of course it’s a bit more difficult to avoid. If there are no obvious culprits in your diet to date, then remain cautious about fatty and spicy foods. A food intolerance test which you can do at home is available from Food Detective.

Increase your intake of:

Fresh fruit and vegetables, brown rice and oats to give fibre to the stools.

Water, aim to drink 3 pints daily.

Garlic, green leafy vegetables, oily fish, ginger, papaya, pineapples.

Always eat slowly and chew food thoroughly.

Exercise regularly to help tone the muscles of the abdomen and digestive system and therefore keep bowels moving easily.

Maintain your ideal weight.

Suggested further reading:

  • Diverticulitis explained
  • Diet ideas


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