Diverticulitis occurs when one or more diverticula, which are small, bulging pouches in your digestive tract, become inflamed or infected and protrude your intestinal wall. Diverticula can form anywhere along your digestive tract, although they are most commonly located in the large intestine, especially in the lowest part of the colon known as the sigmoid colon. Most likely to occur after the age of 40, diverticulitis symptoms include abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, and even rectal bleeding and bloating. Infection can occur when a diverticulitis attack is severe.
Outdated Conventional Wisdom
In years past, doctors told diverticulitis patients to avoid foods with small, hard food particles. This included foods like nuts, seeds of all types and even corn. Conventional wisdom of the past was that these food granules could trap in the diverticula and cause blockage or irritation. Research never backed this notion up, however, and many doctors no longer believe that these foods cause an increased diverticulitis risk.
There are several theories as to what causes diverticula to become inflamed or infected. Some theorize that pressure on the colon causes diverticular walls to break down and become inflamed. Others speculate that infection occurs after narrow diverticula openings inadvertently trap fecal matter. Another theory is that obstructions near the narrow diverticula openings reduce blood supply to the area and, in turn, cause inflammation.
Foods that contain soluble and insoluble fibers soften stools and make them easy to pass, thus easing the strain of constipation. Some believe that the lack of fiber, combined with the resultant straining, may cause increased pressure in the colon and eventually lead to diverticulitis. Adding credence to this theory is the fact that diverticulitis is widespread in countries where low fiber diets are the norm like the U.S., the U.K. and Australia, and rare in Asia and Africa where a fiber-rich diet is commonplace.
Until diverticulitis symptoms subside, doctors often recommend a liquid diet together with medication. Once you are symptom-free, a high fiber diet is usually the best defense against another attack, although the amounts and what types of foods are best varies from person to person. Keeping a food journal to help identify which foods help and which cause symptoms will help you determine what works best for you.