We spend a fortune on anti-wrinkle and gray hair products and there is always a lot of information out there about what you can do to look younger.
Our gut also ages, but we often don’t think about it until the symptoms show up in their bleak form.
The classic example is diverticular disease, which many of you have written to me about (remember, you can contact me at the address listed at the bottom of this page with any gut or diet related questions).
Basically, diverticular disease starts from a weak spot in the gut, usually in the lower part of the colon called the sigmoid colon. It is pushed out, forming a small pouch (with a narrow opening) that is usually no larger than a pea. This pouch or pocket is known as a diverticulum.
We spend a fortune on anti-wrinkle and gray hair products and there is always a lot of information out there about what you can do to look younger. Our gut also ages, but we often don’t think about it until the symptoms show up in their bleak form.
Most people — about 70 percent of us by age 80 — develop at least one diverticulum due to a weakened bowel.
But it’s actually not “just” an aging problem anymore, as it develops in younger people (I’ll explain why later).
Medically, this condition is known as diverticulosis, but most people who have it don’t know about it because it doesn’t cause any symptoms.
Did you know?
Walnuts are one of the best plant sources of anti-inflammatory omega-3s. They have also been shown to reduce the risk of colon cancer and “bad” LDL cholesterol.
Often, diverticulosis is only discovered because someone is having a bowel scan for other reasons. In fact, this condition is usually the most common finding on a colonoscopy (where a tiny camera is inserted through your butt).
However, up to 20 percent of people with diverticulosis experience problems ranging from bloating, stool changes, and cramping to more severe symptoms, including stabbing pains, nausea, and vomiting.
Milder symptoms can often be confused with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). But while there is some overlap, unlike IBS, the pain caused by diverticular disease is usually long-lasting (lasting more than 24 hours) and is localized to the left lower bowel.
If you are experiencing these symptoms, it is worth talking to your healthcare provider. (Just to get technical, if you have symptoms, your diverticulosis is classified as diverticular disease.)
In a small proportion—about 5% of people with diverticulosis—the pockets become inflamed.
This causes severe abdominal pain, diarrhea and fever, and in severe cases, abscesses or ruptures of the intestinal wall with symptoms such as rectal bleeding (a sign that one of the pockets has burst, rupturing a blood vessel).
The standard treatment for this condition, known as diverticulitis, is a course of antibiotics, as the inflammation is often due to microbial entry and pocket irritation.
You may have heard that diverticula are a sign of a lack of fiber in the diet; the idea is that the hard stools induced pockets.
In fact, we now know that a lack of fiber is just one component in a complex mix of factors that cause diverticulosis, including lifestyle, genetics, and gut bacteria—yes, they are again!
This is because when gut bacteria break down food, they produce a compound called butyrate, which helps nourish and strengthen the intestinal lining.
Constipation, inflammation (associated with smoking and being overweight), and type 2 diabetes are also risk factors for developing these pockets, which may help explain why we are seeing more young people with diverticulosis.
One theory about type 2 is that it affects blood flow (and therefore tissue health) and bowel movements.
So the big question is what can you do to prevent diverticula from forming; or if you already have diverticular disease, how can you prevent a flare-up (i.e. diverticulitis)?
I have suffered from IBS for many years. Is it true that a special diet is needed to treat each blood type?
The Blood Type Diet first became popular in the 1990s – your blood type was supposed to dictate what foods you should and shouldn’t eat for good health.
While it is true that certain blood types can affect the risk of certain diseases (for example, blood type 0 appears to be associated with a lower risk of heart disease), there is no strong evidence that your diet has anything to do with it. .
One study of over 1,400 people did show that while some “blood type” diets (high in fruits and vegetables and low in red meat, as recommended for blood type A, for example) were associated with better health outcomes (such as lower cholesterol levels), the benefits of this diet were seen in everyone who followed it, not just those with blood type A.
Given that all blood type diets are mostly based on whole foods and reduced processed foods, they are much healthier than the average person’s diet so are unlikely to be bad.
But just know that the “personalized” aspect is not supported by science.
Of course, there’s not much you can do about genetics, but including more plants in your diet, avoiding constipation (see below), exercising regularly, and not smoking will help keep your gut lining healthy and therefore help reduce the risk of these sacs forming.
In terms of preventing diverticulitis, regular bowel movements and preventing constipation are even more important.
A high-fiber diet of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains is thought to protect against it by increasing the size and speed of your stools, as well as softening them, which reduces pressure on your intestinal wall.
Many of my clients with diverticular disease have found that establishing a morning routine that encourages healthy bowel movements is the key to preventing flare-ups.
This routine usually includes a morning cup of coffee (which gives their bowels a slight kick), a few tablespoons of psyllium husks or flaxseeds in oatmeal (see my overnight oatmeal recipe above), and light exercise after breakfast (ten minutes of yoga or quick walk around the block).
Historically, it has been thought that people with diverticular disease should avoid nuts, seeds, and popcorn. In fact, this is based on nothing more than the theory that because these foods often enter the colon undigested, they can end up in the diverticulum.
The good news for all nut, seed, and popcorn lovers is that there is no actual evidence to support this.
In the case of diverticulitis, a general practitioner and dietitian may recommend a short-term, low-fiber diet.
But once the inflammation subsides, you’ll really want to switch to a high-fiber diet, so nuts, seeds, and popcorn are sure to be back on the menu.
Try This: Oatmeal Carrot Cake Overnight
There’s something comforting about going to bed knowing that millions of microbes will keep working all night turning your breakfast into a fragrant jar of goodness. Not only does this recipe provide good bacteria, but it also provides a hefty 8g of fiber per serving — and it really does taste like a carrot cake for breakfast.
- 45 g oatmeal
- 1 teaspoon mixed seeds
- 1 tbsp flaxseed
- 1 tablespoon dried coconut
- 1 very ripe banana, mashed (100 g without peel)
- 50 ml live yoghurt without added sugar
- 200 ml milk of your choice
- 1 medjool date, thinly sliced, or sweetener of your choice
- 40 g carrots, grated
- 1 tbsp walnuts, chopped l ½ tsp cinnamon
Combine all ingredients in a bowl and mix well. Divide into two 300 ml jars and cover with lids, then leave on the counter for up to four hours to let the microbes work their magic.
Stir before placing in the refrigerator overnight. Breakfast is served!
Not ready to ferment? Replace yogurt with your favorite milk and refrigerate immediately.