Diverticulitis: Causes, Symptoms & Natural Support Strategies
Is it possible to heal diverticulitis naturally? Let’s say a routine colonoscopy has confirmed that the abdominal complications you have been experiencing is a consequence of diverticulitis. You have been prescribed antibiotics as the recommended conventional treatment for the disease but is this approach in your best interest?
Antibiotic treatment has its own risks and can cause pain within the first few days of treatment in which patients are then usually prescribed narcotics. So what should you do?
Ignoring signs of the failing health of your digestive tract can lead to worsening symptoms, weakened immunity, and the possibility of interventions like unnecessary surgery in the future. Fortunately, there are many things you can do to support gut and digestive health and in this article I will go over my top 4 steps.
What Causes Diverticulitis?
Small, tubular shaped bulging sacs along the gastrointestinal tract increase in prevalence with age affecting 70% of individuals before they reach 80 years old (13). These pouches are called diverticula and usually concentrate along the colon. Inflammation of one diverticulum or several diverticula can be triggered by a hard mass of feces causing bacteria overgrowth and a resulting infection known as diverticulitis. (1)
Various influences contribute to impacted diverticula and infection. One of the greatest factors believed to affect incidence rates is diet. Today our bodies are burdened with managing poor dietary habits in a culture consumed by processed goods, sugar, and trans-fats. Our busy lifestyle has us neglecting the healthy lifestyle choices we should be making.
As a consequence we deny ourselves sufficient time to exercise, lack antioxidant and fiber rich plant based foods in our diet and temporarily mask the stress and pain we feel with anti-inflammatory drugs, laxatives and poor habits like smoking. For these reasons diverticulitis is referred to as a “disease of modern man” (12).
A combination of these poor lifestyle habits causes inflammation of diverticula sacs. As fecal matter hardens and bacteria accumulate, these pouches grow increasing pressure on the intestinal wall leading to worsening symptoms. Abnormal gut flora are also associated with impaired mucus membranes along the intestines and the upregulation of inflammatory cytokines (13).
Diverticula are rare to cause problems but when they do they cause significant abdominal pain and discomfort. Many people mistake diverticulitis with appendicitis, but diverticulitis typically shows up with pain on the left side of the bowel. Appendicitis is characterized by pain on the lower right side of the stomach and may be a medical emergency. Diverticulitis symptoms may include: (13)
- Change in bowel habits
- Bowel pain, typically on the left side
- Red coloring or blood in stool
1) Remove Gut Irritating Foods
Common food allergens associated with diverticulitis include gluten, grains, corn, soy, nuts and seeds. These foods, commonly GMO crops, disturb the balance of beneficial bacteria present in the gut leading to gastrointestinal disturbances and a weakened immune response.
Clinically, diverticulitis is comparable in symptoms to irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). In study these patients have low concentrations of good bacteria, heightened inflammation, and weakened immune systems. By addressing food sensitivities through an elimination diet, the patients’ symptoms significantly improved. (14)
Some patients report experiencing pain in the lower left lower abdomen when consuming foods like seeds and nuts feared to become lodged into a diverticulum (12). However, diverticulitis can be accompanied by other bowel complications like irritable bowel syndrome making the cause of diverticulitis hard to identify.
Learn what food irritants trigger your diverticulitis symptoms by learning these 5 Steps to Following an Elimination Diet. Giving your gut the rest it needs from food irritants can help you heal your gut and improve digestive health.
2) Gut Soothing Nutrition Plan
Eating foods that have anti-inflammatory properties and support the immune system is one of the best lifestyle changes you can make to heal diverticulitis. These foods are inexpensive, effective and safe.
It is important to note that these foods are not currently FDA approved to prevent, mitigate, treat or cure diverticulitis. With that said, I believe they can be a very helpful part of a healing plan.
Sip on bone broth as you would drink tea throughout the day or add it to your favorite meals to give your soups and stews a health boost. Bone broth prepared from 100% grass-fed meat bones is loaded with benefits for the digestive tract.
It contains essential nutrients like magnesium, potassium and calcium to stimulate healthy gut function. It is also high in collagen and amino acids glycine, glutamine and proline which inhibit bacterial inflammation by fueling macrophages and lymphocytes to support wound healing. (2, 3)
Incorporating bone broth into your day is simple. You can drink it at any time of your day or even use it as a meal replacement. You may make homemade broth with the recipe in the image below or you can buy organic bone broth at health food stores and online.
My favorite pre-made brand is Kettle & Fire which uses grass-fed bones, organic vegetables & herbs and slow cooking process to extract all the minerals and nutrients into the broth. You can find Kettle and Fire at many grocery stores or check it out here for 20% off your order.
The medium chain triglyceride, lauric acid, is broken down in the body into an antibacterial compound called monolaurin. Monolaurin can help alleviate concerns with indigestion and constipation by reducing inflammation and inhibiting pathogenic bacteria build up (10, 11).
Apple Cider Vinegar:
Due to its high acetic acid content, apple cider vinegar has potent antimicrobial properties that can reduce the overgrowth of bacteria in the colon and aid in the removal of waste from the body (15). Acetic acid promotes colonic transit by improving alkalinity in the digestive tract and providing immune support by regulating homeostatic factors that limit oxidative stress and inflammation (16).
This therapeutic plant has been traditionally used for its medicinal properties for thousands of years. You too can use it to help with symptoms of nausea and indigestion you experience during a flare up. Used regularly, ginger contains over 100 different chemical compounds that relax the lining of smooth muscle in the gut and aid in cleansing the digestive tract. (9)
In individuals with acute diverticulitis, inflammation is believed to be the major cause of symptoms. Treating diverticulitis with anti-inflammatory agents like turmeric is one of the best strategies to find relief from symptoms and heal. Turmeric has been shown to heal inflammation associated with bowel diseases and heal tissue damage along the digestive tract (17).
When anti-inflammatory supplements are taken, individuals with diverticulitis can find complete remission from symptoms (13).
Fermented Foods and Drinks:
Foods like sauerkraut, coconut water kefir, kimchi and pickles are excellent for intestinal health because of the healthy bacteria they contain. These probiotic foods reduce inflammation in the gut and decrease permeability of the intestinal lining that can promote digestive diseases (4).
3) Gut Healing Supplements
In diverticulitis, the gut is severely worn down and needs the help of advanced supplementation in order to heal and rebuild. Clinically, I will use a wide variety of key supplements to help support gut health.
It is important to note that these supplements are not currently FDA approved to prevent, mitigate, treat or cure diverticulitis and they should not be confused as such. With that say, I believe they can be very helpful to include in your healing plan.
Low hydrochloric acid (HCL) in the stomach can give rise to a variety of digestive disturbances that fuel bacteria overgrowth and infection in the intestines (22). As we get older, the production of HCL in the stomach begins to naturally decrease and may be partly to blame for the increase incidence of diverticulitis following age 40.
Supplementing with Betaine HCL during a meal is important to stimulate digestive enzymes so that foods, especially protein compounds, are broken down more easily improving digestive motility and preventing bacterial fermentation. We use acid prozyme for the Betaine HCL support.
Abnormal bacterial flora in the gut is associated with slowing colonic transit which increases the risk for stagnation of fecal matter in diverticula. Supplementing with live probiotics can support your immune system in fighting infection.
Taken regularly, probiotics can reduce gas, bloating, diarrhea and constipation. When used in conjunction with anti-inflammatory agents, probiotic treatment resulted the treatment of 100% of individuals in study following 1 year. (13)
Individuals with diverticulitis could use any extra help to improve digestive function. Enzymes enhance the ability for food to be metabolized and easily absorbed into the body.
To ease digestive disturbances, digestive enzymes help your gut function optimally and can include a multi-complex of enzymes such as protease, amylase and lipase. I recommend Super D-Zyme to help support digestive health.
Aloe vera is a potent medicinal plant used for enhancing detoxification pathways, modulating the immune response and stimulating healthy gut function. Aloe vera extract inhibits pathogenic bacteria in the intestines thus encouraging regular bowel movements (19).
Aloe vera regulates pH and can relieve symptoms of both constipation and diarrhea associated with diverticulitis by decreasing inflammation in the gut (18). The aloe vera I personally use can be found here
DGL (Deglycrrhizinated Licorice Extract):
DGL enhances digestive function by releasing secretin to thicken intestinal mucus. It is an adaptogenic herb that can heal gastric lining by reducing pathogenic bacteria and suppressing inflammatory responses. (23)
Preserve your gut health with the essential amino acid, L-glutamine. The addition of L-glutamine into your diet can repair tissue damage and improve the mucosal lining that is needed to prevent the obstruction of fecal matter in diverticula.
L-glutamine can also reduce your food sensitivities by repairing gut problems associated with leaky gut. In addition, it reduces gut inflammation and supports the healing of the intestinal cells (20, 21).
Gut Repair Supplement:
Consider supplementing your diet with Gut Repair which combines aloe vera, DGL, and L-glutamine with other essential nutrients identified in improving colon health. The powerful impact of these nutrients work to heal your digestive tract through soothing the intestinal membrane, enhancing gut flora and reducing inflammation.
This supplement is not currently FDA approved to prevent, mitigate, treat or cure diverticulitis and should not be confused as such. With that said, this is a fantastic supplement to support and soothe your digestive system.
4) Lifestyle Strategies
These lifestyle strategies are critical to supporting your digestive health and reducing the risk of diverticulitis problems in the future. Be sure to put these all into action on a daily basis to keep your bowels healthy and strong.
Reduce Stress and Move Your Body:
The vagus nerve which runs from the brain to the gut is responsible for the secretion of stress and inflammatory hormones like cortisol and histamine into the gut. Therefore, stress directly contributes to the inflammation of the gut and strain on the immune system which can cause flare ups with diverticulitis. (7, 8)
Incorporating physical activity into your life can help alleviate stress emotionally and physically. Exercise decreases the circulating levels of the stress hormone cortisol in the body, increases oxygen flow to cells improving circulation and natural detoxification pathways. Studies show that exercise improves regularity and reduces pain. (6)
Consuming The Right Amount of Fiber:
Eating fiber rich foods promotes regularity by acting as a cleaning agent for the digestive tract. Although harder to digest, raw fibrous foods like celery, carrots and apples contain enzymes that support digestion. Some of these foods can be challenging on people with diverticulitis.
However, other forms like avocados, artichokes, jicama, bananas and steamed broccoli and cauliflower may be easier on the digestive tract and can help eliminate your reliance from taking laxatives that can cause harm (4, 5).
Individuals whom consume a plant based diet have been found to carry fewer toxic agents in the gut microflora than those who primarily eat meat (6). For some individuals they do better with more fiber while others need less. Try to find the right amount for your body.
Decrease your alcohol and caffeinated beverage intake and swap them with purified water. Both alcohol and caffeine dehydrate the colon and alcohol can increase the accumulation of mucus in the colon contributing to infection.
Drink at least 1 gallon of water a day to super hydrate the digestive tract and add bulk to stool. Water also contributes to a healthy mucus barrier along the intestines for efficient waste elimination. The more fiber you consume, the more water you must consume as these work together to remove waste material from the body.
Healthy Bathroom Habits:
Avoid straining to go the bathroom which puts more pressure on the intestinal wall. Instead, use the toilet in a squatting position by placing your feet around the toilet or using a stool to lean forward relieving tension off the intestines.
When you do feel the urge to go, don’t hesitate to use the bathroom because holding it in encourages bacteria and toxins to be reabsorbed back into the gut and body.