What is diverticular disease?
Diverticular disease and diverticulitis are related digestive conditions that affect the large intestine (the bowel).
'Diverticula' are small bulges or pockets that can develop in the lining of the intestine as you get older. While 'diverticulosis' is the name given to those people experiencing no symptoms.
Diverticular disease symptoms
For patients with diverticulosis, the disease is found incidentally during tests for other intestinal problems. However, the presence of diverticula (or diverticulitis) can cause episodic cramping, abdominal pain, bloating and excess wind in some people. These are often accompanied by a change in normal bowel patterns, with constipation or diarrhoea, or both at different times.
What causes diverticulitis?
It is thought that diverticula disease is caused by a low fibre intake and the lack of fibre in a typical Western diet increases the chance of getting diverticular disease.
Fibre is the part of plant foods (cereals, fruit and vegetables etc) that we don’t digest and which passes through us. However, fibre has several important functions, as it produces the fuel that keeps our digestive tract working effectively.
This is achieved by bacteria in our gut that uses the fibre to produce short-chain fatty acids, which our gut cells use for energy. This helps keep the digestive tract healthy and lowers or prevents inflammation. In addition, some forms of fibre (such as the fibre from oats) perform other important functions, such as helping to lower your cholesterol and recirculation of other toxins.
Recent guidelines for fibre intake has changed from around 18-24g to 30g daily being an optimal level, which would normally be achieved by increasing your fruit and vegetable intake as well as switching completely from white refined carbohydrates to whole grains (e.g. brown rice, bread and wholegrain cereals, such as sugar-free muesli).
Working with a nutrition professional
However, if you have diverticulitis, you may find it difficult to work out from your diet how best to achieve this, especially as different types of fibre can affect your symptoms in different ways or in some cases too much fibre may aggravate diverticulitis. There may also be other foods, that may be aggravating your condition, so undertaking a short-term dietary elimination programme, to work out how best to manage your symptoms may be helpful.
Asking a trained nutritional therapist to carry out a dietary evaluation is a sensible step, as they will be able to work out from your diet history how to improve what you are eating and your fibre content or if you may be low in certain minerals or vitamins, which are important for gut health and may improve your symptoms.