A high-fiber diet can help prevent diverticulitis

Pamela Egan Practical Practitioner

By: Pamela Egan, FNP-C CDE

A diet high in fiber can help prevent diverticulitis

Dear Pam,

I am 53 years old and just had a sigmoid resection for diverticulitis. I heard the old caveat not to eat seeds, nuts, corn, etc. is becoming passe’. Is this so?

For our readers, diverticulitis is inflammation or infection of small pouches called diverticula, that develop along the walls of your intestines. The most common symptoms include left, lower abdominal tenderness and fever. When left untreated, diverticulitis can lead to serious complications requiring extensive surgery. Abscesses may form around the infected diverticula leading to peritonitis or a fatal abdominal infection. Another complication is severe internal and intestinal bleeding. Conventional medicine treats diverticulitis using diet modifications, antibiotics, and possibly surgery.

Though it has not been proven, it is thought that if you are often constipated and usually strain at bowel movements, you may create enough pressure in the intestinal walls to begin the development of diverticular pouches. If the diverticula then become filled with fecal material or with undigested food, they are vulnerable to bacterial infection, leading of the inflammation of diverticulitis.

To answer your question, the standards Task Force of the American Society of Colon and Rectal Surgeons (ASCRS) recommend a high-fiber diet to reduce the risk of further diverticulitis episodes. The ASCRS does not mention nuts, seeds, etc. as foods to include or avoid. There is also some evidence that a high-fiber diet may decrease symptoms of painful diverticular disease. The theory that diverticulitis occurs when small seeds become lodged in the neck of a diverticulum is unproven, and no study has shown that avoiding seeds or popcorn may reduce the risk of diverticulitis.

You should drink at least eight 8-ounce glasses of water daily to prevent constipation. If you do become constipated, prunes or prune juice may serve as natural laxatives. Follow a low-fat diet; fat slows down the passage of food through the intestine. Get yourself tested for food allergies to identify foods that irritate your system and that you should avoid.

During acute attacks of diverticulitis, eat low-bulk foods while diverticula are still inflamed and sensitive, and make the following foods a significant part of your diet; cooked vegetables, cooked fruits, and apples – all of which will be soothing to the inflamed intestine. Avoid milk and milk products (yogurts and cheeses), which could worsen your illness, especially if you have diarrhea.

This article was originally published January 27, 2003 in The St. Tammany News.

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