By the time someone comes to see me, they have often been through a multitude of medical tests with their medical doctor, and often have a good indication of possible disease states, or in some cases lack of identifiable disease. Since I focus on gut health, often the types of assessments that have been done include colonoscopies, and increasingly people are telling me they have some diverticula, but so far have not developed diverticulitis. Trust me, you don't want diverticulitis.
How Did I Get Diverticula?
Diverticula are small sacs that line the digestive tract. They can occur anywhere in the small or large intestine, but typically are found in the lower part of the large intestine known as the sigmoid colon. This section of the colon is the part that is closest to the anus. These sacs form when stools are hard or when an individual has to strain to pass stools, both of which put pressure on the intestinal wall. Chronic hard stools or straining result in pressure, and eventually the intestinal wall gives, leading to small sacs bulging outward. The cause of the hard stools or the need to strain is typically a diet high in processed foods, sugars and unhealthy fats. Stress can also play a very significant role in their formation by disrupting normal digestive function, and slowing down the movement of fecal matter through the intestines.
Once formed, diverticula can become blocked with fecal matter or fiber. When the bacteria in the fecal matter build up, then infection can result. This infectious state is known as diverticulitis, and it results in unpleasant symptoms.
Symptoms of Diverticulitis
alternating diarrhea and constipation
blood in stools
fever or chills
nausea and vomiting
tenderness in the lower abdomen
How Can I Prevent Diverticulitis?
1. Restore Motility
Drinking a large glass of warm water first thing in the morning can help with motility. Stretching the stomach will stimulate the gastrocolic reflex, which triggers peristalsis, which then moves stools through the intestines.
Reducing and managing stress is important to regular motility. The body needs to be relaxed for the digestive system to function normally. Managing stress looks very different from person to person, but can include things like restorative yoga, gentle to moderate exercise, meditation, journal writing, massage or listening to calming music.
In extreme cases other measures may need to be taken. See my previous blog, Coffee Enemas For Constipation.
2. Rebalance the Gut Microbiome
Adding fermented foods such as kefir, kimchi, sauerkraut and kombucha can help to add organisms to your gut microbiome (the collection of organisms that live in your gut) to bring the balance back to a healthy state. A diet high in vegetables will help feed those organisms, so that they want to stick around and colonize your gut. A probiotic supplement can also be beneficial.
It's also important to get tested and treated for dysbiosis. Dysbiosis refers to an unhealthy balance of organisms, and a qualified practitioner can help determine what that imbalance looks like for you and treat it accordingly. A naturopathic or functional doctor is the best choice for this type of testing and treatment.
3. Increase Healthy Fats
Healthy fats include cold or expeller pressed olive oil, nut and seed oils, and avocado oil. These oils should be consumed raw, and never used for cooking. For cooking, healthy fats include coconut oil, butter or ghee, and rendered animal fats. These fats are heat stable and won't become oxidized with higher temperatures.
Healthy fats will act as a lubricant to help stools move through the gut more easily, they will help reduce inflammation that may exist in the gut, and they help to nourish the gut microbiome.
4. Reduce Fiber
Fiber can be very irritating to a damaged intestinal lining. The analogy I like to use is to compare fiber in the gut to a rake used on a lawn. If you rake a healthy lawn, you just pick up debris and dead leaves. Likewise in a healthy gut, fiber helps clear out debris. In contrast, if you rake an unhealthy lawn, you end up damaging the lawn more. In an unhealthy gut, fiber can create more damage. Cooking vegetables is beneficial, and choosing less fibrous foods can help. Adding a digestive enzyme that includes enzymes that digest fiber (i.e. cellulase) can be beneficial as well.
5. Restore the Intestinal Lining
Adding homemade meat stocks and bone broths is a great way to reduce inflammation in the intestinal lining, and provide the intestinal cells with the specific nutrients such as glycine and proline to nourish them back to a healthy, strong state. Stocks and broths won't eliminate diverticula that have already formed, but consuming these foods regularly can be an important step in preventing further diverticula from forming.
What If I've Had Diverticulitis Before?
Following the recommendations above is an important step in preventing reoccurring infections. If you've had an infection before, you will be familiar with what it feels like and what your symptoms look like. It will be important to recognize those symptoms, so that you can take measures at the onset to minimize the infection. A GAPS Introduction Diet is one of the best protocols you can use to reduce inflammation quickly and soothe the gut. Begin with clear meat stocks. Slowly non-fibrous, well-cooked vegetables can be added, such as peeled, deseeded zucchini, squash or carrots. Juicing is another important step that adds a lot of nutrients to support recovery without adding fiber. Remember that fiber can be irritating to an inflamed gut.
To find out more about a GAPS Introduction Diet you can read The Gut and Psychology Syndrome by Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride or you can find a GAPS certified practitioner in your area by visiting www.gaps.me and clicking on the Find a Practitioner link.
Do you have diverticula? Take preventative measures now to prevent an infection!
Have you had diverticulitis?
What have you tried that has worked for you?
Happy, Healthy Eating!