Using the Paleo Diet to Manage Diverticulitis

Diverticulitis is a condition of inflammation of the diverticuli, tiny pouches that “divert” the flow of digested food so that it stays in contact with the lining of the intestine while nutrients are absorbed. Diverticulitis may produce barely noticeable symptoms, or it may generate a constellation of symptoms very similar to irritable bowel syndrome, including both constipation and diarrhea, both bloating and flatulence, and both nausea and vomiting, along with persistent abdominal pain. Diverticulitis typically causes pain on the left side of the abdomen, but it can (like appendicitis) cause pain on the right. People of Japanese descent are especially likely to develop diverticular pain on the right side of the abdomen.

By the age of 40, about 1 person in 20 has diverticulitis. By the age of 85, about 2 people out of 3 have diverticulitis. This condition results from the cumulative effects of low-fiber diet. Recurrent attacks of diverticulitis can result in the formation of scar tissue, interfering with the flow of stool, and making all symptoms more severe and more persistent. When fecal matter gets trapped in the diverticuli, infection can result, and the most severe cases can require hospitalization.

How can the paleo diet help diverticulitis?

When you are having an attack of diverticulitis, chances are that eating is the last thing on your mind. Most diverticulitis attacks require 2 or 3 days of consuming nothing other than broth, light juices, and maybe gelatin to keep up electrolytes, but certainly no solid food.

When you recover from your diverticulitis attack, then it can be helpful to add high-fiber vegetables (like salad greens, celery, radicchio, and vegetables in the cabbage family) to your diet, but not to eat a lot of high-fiber vegetables all at once. It is important to let the bacteria in your small intestine and colon grow to match your input of fiber. It is actually the bacteria feeding on fiber that make stools larger and bowel movement easier. If you eat lots of fiber before your gut is ready, you make your symptoms worse rather than better.

Most experts counsel a low-fat diet for people who have diverticulitis, and just because low-fat eating is frequently recommended doesn’t mean it is wrong. When you do eat fatty meat—in small amounts—on your paleo diet, be sure to eat a salad first. Bitter tastes in salad greens activate the secretion of gastric juices in your stomach. Both fat and fiber will be more completely digested before they reach your gut, minimizing problems of getting semi-digested food caught in your bowel.

A specific probiotic can also help in cases of diverticulitis.

The bacterium Lactobacillus casei is especially useful in treating diverticulitis. In one clinical trial, about 77% of patients who were given a Lactobacillus casei supplement were free of symptoms for 12 months. However, in that same trial, 100% of patients who took both Lactobacillus casei and their prescription meds were free of diverticulitis pain for twelve months. Use diet and supplements with your prescription medications, not instead of them. Lactobacillus casei is included in Nexabiotic 20-Strain Multi-Probiotic Supplement. Take the probiotic supplement first, and then gradually increase the fiber in your diet, eating at first 1 or 2 servings of vegetables per day to eventually eating 5 servings per day, not all at the same meal.

About Andy Williams

Andy Williams has a Ph.D. in biology and a strong interest in health and nutrition. The Paleo Gut web site was created to explore the health benefits of the Paleo diet and see how it is changing lives. Also, get our free daily Paleo Gut newspaper delivered to your inbox.

Please feel free to contact me and let me know about your Paleo experiences or favorite recipes.

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