The People's Perspective on Medicine

Show 1171: How Can You Avoid the Pain of Diverticulitis?

To avoid the pain of diverticulitis, keep your diverticulosis under control with a high-fiber diet rich in vegetables and fruits, beans and legumes.
Dr. Robynne Chutkan, The Microbiome Solution
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How Can You Avoid the Pain of Diverticulitis?

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Diverticulitis can cause excruciating pain. What causes this problem, and how can you prevent it?

As we grow older, many of us acquire little pouches, pockets or potholes in the large intestine. Doctors have a term for the presence of these diverticula: they call the condition diverticulosis. However, if food or feces get trapped in one of these potholes, the result can be infection and inflammation. Physicians term this inflammation diverticulitis.

The Pain of Diverticulitis:

The pain of diverticulitis can really get your attention. What can you do about it? In the midst of a diverticulitis crisis, you probably won’t feel like eating anything. Moreover, you shouldn’t; bowel rest with just liquids for a day or two is a good plan. If you start to run a fever or the pain is worsening, you should seek medical attention. Diverticulitis can be serious in itself, and it might also be confused with appendicitis, so it shouldn’t be ignored.

Managing Diverticulosis with Diet:

You may be able to sidestep the pain of diverticulitis by following a high-fiber diet for your diverticulosis. (Remember: diverticulosis is a chronic and painless condition, while the pain of diverticulitis signals an acute inflammation.) Plenty of vegetables, fruits and whole grains are appropriate to keep your large intestine healthy. They also are good food for your intestinal microbiota. In fact, if you don’t offer your intestinal microbes enough fiber, they may start to chomp on the mucus lining the intestines themselves. That could set you up for more trouble. If you have been told to avoid nuts and seeds, stay away from partially popped popcorn kernels.

Drugs That Make the Pain of Diverticulitis Worse:

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen, naproxen or diclofenac are popular for pain relief, but they can be irritating to the digestive tract. Other medications that could cause trouble in the large intestine include antidepressants and anticholinergic medicines. (Here’s a list.) Consequently, if your doctor prescribes one of these drugs, have a conversation about alternatives and explain that you want to avoid the pain of diverticulitis.

This Week’s Guest:

Robynne K Chutkan, MD, is on the faculty at Georgetown University Hospital and is founder of the Digestive Center for Wellness in Washington DC. Dr. Chutkan is a board-certified gastroenterologist and the author of three books on digestive health: Gutbliss, The Microbiome Solution and The Bloat Cure.

Her website is

Listen to the Podcast:

The podcast of this program will be available the Monday after the broadcast date. The show can be streamed online from this site and podcasts can be downloaded for free. CDs may be purchased at any time after broadcast for $9.99.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
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I smoke marijuana about every three-four days to maintain an appetite and keep diverticulitis at bay. I’m sure it’s not right for everyone but I’ve had more severe symptoms than others, and it works for me.

I am the first person in my family to have diverticulosis/itis. I took NSAIDs for neck degeneration/injury with Gabapentin when in a high stress job – otherwise grew up with the adage: “If brown flush down, unless it floats add more fiber.”

My diverticulitis presented with little pain but a partial bowel obstruction where liquids only passed. I thought my 11 yrs since a colonoscopy had caught up with me like all the men in that line. Diverticulitis was the best news – was resolving. I took a few days of Amox/Clavulanate and finished with thyme/sage/ginger/elderberry and am waiting for the next episode.

I developed diverticulitis right after a colonoscopy. My sister recommended slippery elm. The pain was gone within a few minutes of taking it, and I’ve never had a recurrence.

I had many bouts of diverticulitis, around 5 and a hospital trip. The only way it went away and I believe it’s because my immune system begin to take over better, was stopping gluten all together. It’s been over a year since I’ve had an attack now, and I don’t even catch a cold anymore. I would have never dreamed it could be so simple to stop those attacks.

I’m a longtime listener and love your show. I’ve been fascinated with the gut microbiome for years and am involved with making and researching fermented foods, knowing their many benefits. A show on prebiotics and probiotics would be wonderful, as although I’ve become quite knowledgable about them, I’m sure the general public is confused. My understanding now is that the great majority of probiotic supplements are of absolutely no use to our guts! There are still any number of aspects of pre and pro biotics that I question and would love to hear you talk with a professional. Thank you!

This was one of your best shows ever — jam-packed with helpful science. In contrast with last week’s guest, who spoke mostly in metaphors, Dr. Chutkan packed so much information into each sentence that I found myself taking notes furiously! Please bring her on again in the future!

What do you think about colonics to keep the digestive tract clean?

For me, one of the best ways to deter diverticulitis is to take a magnesium capsule every day. It keeps the bowels moving and is also good for bone health. I was worried about magnesium overdose, so I’ve had my magnesium blood levels checked and they seem to be fine. I do eat nuts, but chew them thoroughly, because they are good for you and have fiber. The main thing to prevent diverticulitis is not to strain when having a bowel movement.

I noticed mom having diverticulitis after eating a lot of almonds. Now when I serve nuts in a salad, I first grind them exceedingly small; best option is pecan meal which I keep in the freezer, a big bag lasts a long time.

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