Diverticulosis runs in my husbands family. His sister had two feet of her colon removed a few years ago, and my husband suffers from this disease as well. Here are the lifestyle changes that made a difference for our family.
What Is It?
What is diverticular disease? I had never heard of it until a five years ago when both my husband and sister-in-law were diagnosed with it. According to my book the American Medical Association Family Medical Guide, people who have diverticular disease develop small pouches in the colon. If you have this disease it is called diverticulosis, and if the diverticula are inflamed it then becomes diverticulitis.
Symptoms in my husband were bad cramping and abdominal pain. He felt nauseous and weak, and although his doctor suspected diverticulitis, she sent him for immediate tests (including a colonoscopy) which confirmed her suspicions. My husband was put on antibiotics and pain medication, but has managed his symptoms well by changing his diet.
High Fiber Diet
My doctor said he should increase his fiber content. My husband has learned that if he becomes constipated his symptoms generally start to make an appearance. He gets that nagging pain in his abdomen, and knows immediately that his diverticulosis is starting to act up.
It isn’t hard to get a high fiber diet, but it does take some diligence to read labels. Since my husband isn’t great at label reading, he leaves his diet to me. I try to give him a nice variety of foods that provide a nice source of fiber. He has his condition pretty much under control by eating whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables and adding a fiber source such as Metamucil on occasion.
The best tasting high fiber cereals I have found are the Fiber One cereals made by General Mills, and they are very high in fiber. He generally eats cereal for breakfast, and if he is feeling constipated he often eats a bowl of cereal for dinner.
We try to find natural foods to snack on, and raw almonds, dried California medjool dates and prunes are a tasty source of fiber. One serving of medjool dates is 2 to 3, and contain a fiber content of 3 grams. They do contain a significant amount of natural sugar so these should be eaten sparingly if you are watching your weight. We like to dip our dates in peanut butter for added protein and flavor.
Nuts are another good source of fiber, and we like to buy raw, unsalted almonds by the pound. Just one fourth cup of raw almonds contains 3 grams of fiber. The sugar content is only 1 gram, but there are 14 grams of fat, so that is something to consider depending on your dietary needs.
My husband loves to snack on prunes, and I buy the Sunsweet brand that comes in an 18 ounce canister. Prunes are simply dried plums, and 7 prunes contains 3 grams of fiber. We like to make “prune kisses” with these by spreading peanut butter between two prunes and making a sandwich out of them.
If you don’t feel you are getting enough fiber from your diet, there are products on the market that are made specifically for this purpose. There are fiber wafers as well as a variety of powders that you mix with water or juice. The ones in our kitchen cupboard contain psyllium fiber that is 100% natural.
Some brands contain a fiber called inulin, which is a 100% natural vegetable fiber, and some of these can even be used when baking.
Diverticulosis can be a debilitating disease for many Americans. A relative by marriage has diverticulosis which often turns into diverticulitis. Food gets stuck in these pouches and causes an infection, and she is often on antibiotics to treat it. She has the opposite problem that my husband has, in that she is often plagued with diarrhea instead of constipation.
My husband has two prescriptions available at all times, and when we go on vacation our doctor makes sure he has these at his disposal. In the six years he’s had diverticulosis he has only had to go on these medications twice. He has learned how to read his bodies signals, and when he gets that twinge he knows it’s time to start increasing his fiber intake and drinking more water to make his stools softer and to helo keep him regular.
Diverticulosis is very common in industrialized Western countries, and we all need to know the signs and symptoms of this disease. Some statistics say that most of us will have it to some degree by the time we reach 80 years of age.
The John Hopkins site says to watch for bloating, gas, nausea, and constipation, alternating with diarrhea, and tenderness or pain, most often in the lower left abdomen.
Be sure to eat a high fiber, low fat diet. Drink plenty of water and get regular exercise. If this turns into diverticulitis medications may be taken. In some people, such as my sister-in-law, surgery is necessary. However, my husband has successfully treated his diverticulosis through diet. The key is to be informed, and always ask your doctor about the newest ways of treating this condition.