As we age it is common to have small, bulging pouches called diverticula in the large intestine, when they become infected or inflamed, the condition is known as diverticulosis. Some people experience occasional bloating, cramping and constipation as a result. Change in diet can have a significant effect on the condition.
The main symptoms for diverticulitis include the following:
- Severe and sudden pain in the lower left side of your abdomen. Sometimes it can start as a mild pain and gradually get worse over several days
- Fever, nausea and constipation or diarrhoea
- Bleeding from your rectum
- Pain while urinating and increased frequency
- Tenderness in your abdomen when bending over
Why it happens?
There are naturally weak places in your colon that give way under pressure causing diverticula to develop. The pouches are about the size of a small marble that stick out through the colon wall.
The most common sites for diverticula to form are in your sigmoid and descending colon. These sites are part of your large intestine and located on the left side of your abdomen, hence the pain being located on the left side during an acute attack.
Years of straining during bowel movements over a number of years can cause the pouches to form.
A low fibre diet can cause constipation, straining and small, hard stools that are difficult to pass. This increases pressure in your colon.
Let’s face it as we age there are some things we can’t control. Narrowing occurs in the colon due to natural thickening of the outer muscle that places more pressure on your colon, increasing the likelihood of constipation and pouches forming.
When a diverticula turns to diverticulitis, a small amount of stool may become lodged in one of the pouches, leading to infection. If the infection is limited to the location of the diverticula, you may develop an abscess.
To complicate matters if an infected or inflamed pouch ruptures, the contents can leak into your abdomen and lead to peritonitis. This is an inflammation of the lining of your abdominal cavity (peritoneum).
What natural therapies can help?
Psyllium husks 10-20g daily has been shown to help ease constipation.
Aloe latex works well as a laxative and the effect should be seen 10 -12 hours after taking aloe latex. Liquorice also exerts a laxative effect.
Probiotics provide a protective barrier in your digestive system, thus helping prevent bad bacteria residing in these areas. Studies show that Lactobacillus plantarum and Bifidobacterium infantis improve symptoms such as abdominal pain, bloating and stool frequency or constipation.
Milk thistle, dandelion root and globe artichoke all stimulate bile flow, aid digestion, support the liver and can help with bowel regularity.
Slippery elm – has a soothing action on lining of the digestive system.
Iodine – lack of iodine can cause hypothyroidism, which is characterised by a slow metabolism which may result in constipation.
Did you know?
- Always seek professional advice if you experience any of the symptoms of diverticulitis. Your healthcare practitioner will determine whether you should be hospitalised.
- If your condition is a mild case, you may be sent home to rest, take antibiotics and a liquid diet to rest the colon.
- Increasing fibre intake may reduce symptoms or in fact prevent diverticulitis. Fibre is the part of foods that the body cannot digest. It is referred to as soluble or insoluble. The bulk and soft texture of fibre helps prevent hard, dry stools that are difficult to pass. Both types of fibre are important in the diet and provide benefits to the digestive system by helping to maintain regularity. Soluble fibre has some additional benefits to heart and gastrointestinal health.
- Increase fibre in the diet slowly to give the gastrointestinal tract time to adapt and minimise gas, bloating or cramping.
- Adults should aim to consume 25 to 35grams daily of dietary fibre. High-fibre foods include legumes, whole grain cereals, fruits, and vegetables.
- As you increase your fibre intake drink more fluids. Aim for about two litres daily. Alcohol and caffeine containing products such as coffee have a dehydrating effect, so should be avoided.
- Be careful with foods that may lodge in the diverticula and cause inflammation. These may include nuts and sunflower, linseed and pumpkin seeds. Grinding these foods may help avoid the problem.
- Limit foods that have don’t contain much fibre such as ice cream, meat, and processed foods.
- Get up and go for a walk – lack of exercise can lead to constipation. It is very common for people to get constipated when they cannot exercise due to illness.
- Only resort to laxatives when it is absolutely necessary – your bowels can slacken off due to laxative abuse!
- Bowel movements should be easy. Straining to have a bowel movement can lead to haemorrhoids or anal fissures (tears in the skin around the anus).
- Never ignore the urge of a bowel movement – ignoring the urge can place pressure on the colon and lead to constipation.