Treating & Preventing Diverticulitis
Diverticula are small bulging pouches found in the lining of our digestive tract (anywhere from the esophagus to our colon). They are found, for the most part, in the lower part of the large intestine called the Sigmoid Colon. These pouches form at points where the intestinal wall muscles are the weakest and start to bulge outwards, resembling little air pockets. When diverticula in the gastrointestinal tract, like in the colon, become inflamed or infected it is called diverticulitis. The inflamed pockets accumulate fecal waste as it passes through the intestine and, in time, this can cause infection and become a seedbed for the production of powerful toxins.
Diverticulitis is a condition that typically affects the mature and elder adult population, but it is certainly preventable, and existing cases can be improved or reversed without the need for invasive surgeries or rounds of antibiotics used in conventional treatment. There are many natural and holistic actions that can be taken to encourage gentle healing while targeting the causes of diverticulitis and improving the health of the digestive tract overall.
Causes of Diverticulitis:
• The structural weakness of the intestinal wall (this could also be genetic)
• Leaky gut syndrome
• Food Allergens
• Overconsumption of refined grains, sugar, meat, and bad/damaged fats
• Improper toilet posture (applying too much pressure during bowel movements)
• Diet lacking in fiber
• Risk increases after the age of 40, with the highest incidence after the age of 60
• Use of pharmaceuticals
• Lack of exercise
The most effective way to treat diverticulitis is to increase your fiber intake, which would help bind to and remove waste stuck in the diverticula. However, increasing your fiber intake is only recommended once the digestive tract has had a chance to rest and recoup, usually done by starting with a liquid diet first. Let’s look into this in detail in the healing protocol below.
3-phase healing protocol for the treatment of diverticulitis
Phase 1 (Duration: 3-5 days or until severe symptoms subside)
Start a clear liquid diet (meaning no solid foods) as an immediate treatment of symptoms of diverticulitis. Being on a liquid diet gives your gastrointestinal tract time to rest and clear itself out. This should be done for a minimum of 2-4 days. After symptoms subside move onto phase 2. This may vary from person to person, so pay attention to how you feel and what your body is telling you.
The following foods are best for this phase
Bone broth: Start by eating homemade bone broth made from lamb, beef, chicken or fish, and with some cooked vegetables and meat. This will help heal any possible leaky gut syndrome, boost your immune system and heal the digestive tract overall.
Herbal teas like ginger, peppermint and chamomile aid in digestion and hydrate the body. Drinking tea, like ginger tea at least 2-3x a day is an amazing way to reduce inflammation.
Water, water and more water! In most cases, individuals who drink less water are at higher risk of diverticulitis. Drinking at least 8-11 glasses of water helps clear the body of toxins and built up waste, and hydrates the body.
Once symptoms subside and the bowels are moving better, move onto to phase 2
Phase 2 (Duration: 4-5 days)
Now that your gut has had a chance to rest and remove built-up waste, you can start to incorporate fruits and vegetables in the form of juice (without the pulp and fiber). Some of the best choices are carrots, beets, grapes, apples, and watercress. You can juice them, leaving out the fibrous parts until your body has adjusted to them.
Green juices are also a good idea and packed with nutrients.
You can also introduce easily digestible foods which have been steamed, boiled, pureed, or grated like:
Yellow squash, zucchini, or pumpkin - peeled, seeds removed and cooked
Cooked beets, carrots, asparagus or spinach
Fish, eggs, and poultry
Continue drinking herbal teas as mentioned in phase 1 to aid in digestion.
• Avoid foods with tougher skins and small seeds which have a chance of getting stuck in the diverticula, such as whole flax seed, popcorn kernels, and foods with small seeds like cucumbers and strawberries.
• Excess sugar, processed foods, and refined grains.
• Excess animal fat.
• Full fat dairy
• Fried foods
Phase 3 (Adding one new food, high in fiber, every 3-4 days)
Once your body has gotten used to the addition of fruits and vegetables (your symptoms will have improved), you can start to include foods higher in fiber content such as unrefined grains, fermented grains, whole fruits and vegetables, and sprouted lentils.
Some high fiber foods which would be beneficial during this phase are:
• Kidney beans (⅓ cup)
• Lentils (½ cup)
• Black beans (½ cup)
• Chickpeas (½ cup)
• Baked beans (½ cup)
• Pear (1 medium)
• Sweet potato, with skin (1 medium)
• Green peas (½ cup)
• Raspberries (½ cup)
• Blackberries (½ cup)
• Almonds (1 ounce)
• Spinach, cooked (½ cup)
• Apple (1 medium)
• Dates, dried (5 pieces)
It is key to not overload on fiber all at once. This should be done gradually to let your intestines adjust. It is preferable to build your fiber intake up slowly to 20-30 g per day.
Try to include more insoluble than soluble fiber in your diet (though both are essential for a balanced diet). Soluble fiber retains water and forms a gel during digestion. This gel then slows down digestion to enable greater absorption of nutrients (this type of fiber also keeps you feeling full longer). Conversely, insoluble fiber helps to bulk up the stool by allowing it to absorb water and hence move through the digestive tract easily.
The following foods are a good source of both soluble and insoluble fiber:
Add in fermented foods rich in natural probiotics which are easily digested, such as organic sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, miso, etc. Do not introduce fermented foods before phase 2 is complete.
Return to phase 1 at any time if symptoms worsen.
Lifestyle Support and Preventative Measures
Arguably, the best way to prevent further incidents of diverticulitis is to make sure you consume a diet rich in fiber (+ plenty of water, of course). An adequate amount of fiber can prevent constipation and allow waste to pass through the intestines better, thus reducing the chances of pressure build-up.
Other ways to help prevent diverticular disease of the colon include:
Use of probiotics and prebiotics are essential to building a healthy gut flora
Avoid overconsumption of red meat.
Avoid fried foods and food high in bad fats (trans fats/ damaged fats)
Avoid eating excess sugar/sugar-containing foods
Exercise regularly (walking, hiking, swimming, running or use of a rebounder every day has shown to relieve symptoms and reduce flare-ups)
Drink enough water, at least 8-10 glasses per day. Drinking clear fluids is especially important when consuming high amounts of fiber.
Maintain a healthy body weight
Do not smoke
Do not take NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), as they have been linked to diverticular bleeding.
Reduce caffeine intake as it is a diuretic and can cause your stool to harden and thereby preventing smooth bowel movements.
Correct toilet posture is important. Sit in a squatting position or lift knees to chest height with a stool when having a bowel movement. This prevents excess pressure being placed on the intestines and anus.
Stress management is so essential as psychological health plays a huge role in overall wellness. Try meditation or yoga for a grounding effect and to relieve stress.
Supplements to help treat & prevent diverticulitis
Psyllium husk - Take 1 tbsp in 8 oz of water or fresh juice 1-3x a day. This should be taken from phase 4 onwards to maintain a healthy gut and to prevent further symptoms. Also helpful for the prevention of diverticulitis.
Probiotics - To be taken 3x daily from Phase 3 onwards or as a preventative measure
Full spectrum digestive enzymes - Take 1-2 tablet, 10 minutes before each meal.
Omega-3s to combat inflammation - Take 1 tsp with food daily.
Vitamin D + Vitamin K - Low levels have been linked to intestinal disorders - Take 1 capsule once daily with food. Try to get 15-20 minutes of natural sunlight daily.
A quality multivitamin to compensate for poor nutrient absorption.
L-glutamine is great for gut healing. For correct dosing, use the following formula: (body weight) x (0.5 g L-Glutamine) = x g of L-Glutamine per day. Mix this amount in water, ideally, and drink it before a meal. You can start with a lower dosage and work your way up.
Magnesium is a very effective relaxant. Taking it can help relax overall tension in the bowels, therefore, preventing constipation. It is best taken before bed to help get good sleep and promote a proper bowel movement in the morning. Dissolve 250 g-1000 g (depending on tolerance) in hot water and drink warm or cold.
Herbs to treat diverticulitis
There are also herbal supplements that may help treat diverticulitis, relieve the pain it causes and promotes healthy digestive processes. You can take these anytime during the protocol to help manage symptoms. These include:
Slippery Elm - both soothes and promotes digestive healing. 500 mg can be taken in powder form 3x daily. It can be taken from phase 1 onwards to aid in gut healing. Be sure to take with at least 1 glass of water or other clear liquid.
Licorice root (DGL) - increases bile production, lowers stomach acid and acts as a mild laxative which helps cleanse the colon. It also reduces inflammation and pathogenic bacteria. You can chew 1 tablet up to 3x per day 20 minutes before each meal. *not to be used long-term.
Aloe vera - regulates pH and can relieve symptoms of both constipation and diarrhea associated with diverticulitis by decreasing inflammation in the gut. You can drink 100 mL- 200 mL 2x daily for up to 4 weeks