Once you turn 50, your odds of having this dangerous medical condition are better than a coin flip...
That's right, more than half of older folks have it. And most don't even know it. By the time you're 80, you're up to a 70% chance.
Worse, the rate of new cases increases every year, with more and more young folks getting it.
I'm talking about a condition known as "diverticulosis."
Diverticulosis forms when you develop little pouches in the wall of your colon. It comes from the Latin word diverticulum, or byway... In essence, these are little tube-shaped sacs that branch off from the main colon cavity. The pouches form when the outer layer of the colon weakens and breaks and the inner layer pushes through. The resulting pouches may interfere with digestion, leading to pain, irregular bowel movements, and even infection.
What's startling is that although so many folks develop these pouches, researchers haven't found the exact cause...
For years, researchers believed a lack of dietary fiber causes the problem.
That's because studies of different populations found an association between a lack of dietary fiber and diverticulosis. Diverticular disease is most common in countries with low-fiber diets. For instance, the U.S., England, and Australia have much higher rates than countries in Asia (where fiber is a staple in the diet).
However, in more recent years, research connected diverticula with changes in "gut microbiota" – the bacteria that live in our intestines.
First, these bacteria play a role in keeping the lining of your colon intact. What's more, the bacteria also mediate your immune system, and also control inflammation. And there's some evidence that these bacteria help stool pass easily.
If the bacteria die due to illness, antibiotics, or changes in diet, your overall colon health suffers. That invites diverticulosis...
About 25% of folks with diverticulosis will experience pain in the lower abdomen, constipation, diarrhea, and bloody stools. (The remainder usually don't have immediate symptoms.)
If you have these symptoms and your doctor rules out other problems like food allergies, he may recommend a barium X-ray or CT scan to diagnose diverticulosis.
The most common diagnostic test, however, is a standard colonoscopy. Since most folks start regular colonoscopies at 50 to check for colon cancer, they often find out they have diverticulosis as well during the test.
The more severe problem is diverticulitis. That happens when the pouches get infected (-itis means infection). That causes constant pain, fever, frequent urination, nausea, and vomiting.
If left untreated, the pouches can rupture, sending bacteria out into the body where it can cause bigger, life-threatening infections.
Keep Your Colon Healthy
Although low-fiber diets have some evidence to tie them to diverticulosis, other studies refute the connection. In fact, a few researchers have found connections to family history and high levels of inflammation.
Whatever the true cause (or combination of causes), it's vital to keep your colon healthy. Not only will you lower your risk of diverticulosis, but you can prevent diverticulitis, boost your immune system, and improve your overall health.
As we wrote in our article on constipation, things like drinking plenty of water and getting enough exercise keep you regular. Similarly, taking care of your gut bacteria will help overall health as well as keeping your colon walls healthy. My favorite way to get healthy bacteria is unsweetened yogurt... I add a handful of blueberries to get a bit of natural sweetness.
In addition, swap bad fats for good fats. Eating foods high in trans fat or artificial saturated fat irritates your colon, causing inflammation and damage. For example, olive oil is not only great for heart health, it also protects the lining of your colon and reduces your risk of colon cancer.
Fiber is a great way to keep your bowels regular. And there are two forms of fiber...
Insoluble fiber – the kind your body can't break down – helps food and waste move through your digestive system. However, it can also lead to bloating and gas. That's why I've recommended that you should get plenty of soluble fiber instead.
Soluble fiber is better for relieving constipation, which is a symptom (and possible cause) of diverticulitis. Plus, soluble fiber helps slow the absorption of sugar, meaning your blood sugar won't spike as much.
The best way to add soluble fiber to your diet is to start including natural sources in your meals. Good sources include split peas, black beans, green peas, and raspberries. Avoid loading up on bad sources of fiber, like processed foods and baked goods that also contain tons of starches and sugars.
And skip the fiber supplements with psyllium. As a study in the Lancet found, these pills lead to higher rates of precancerous colon tissue called polyps.
Finally, cut back on the painkillers. If you have diverticulosis, cut back or avoid nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs, (like aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen). These drugs cause diverticular bleeding and increase infection risk. Those who took NSAIDs four to six days a week had the highest risk of bleeding. If you take painkillers for other problems like arthritis, talk to your doctor about your risk.
What We're Reading...
- Medical News Today breaks down the ins and outs of diverticulitis.
- Turns out you can still enjoy nuts when you have diverticular disease.
- Something different: Does your height measure up?
Here's to our health, wealth, and a great retirement,
Dr. David Eifrig and the Retirement Millionaire Daily Research Team
June 8, 2017