Home Cures That Work for Diverticulitis
Bob came in with left-sided abdominal pain. He didn’t actually come in willingly. His girlfriend dragged him in against his will. He reluctantly consented because he was in so much pain. Being a cowboy, he thought he could tolerate a little pain. “It’ll go away,” he said. But the pain didn’t go away and it was getting worse.
The pain on the left side of Bob’s abdomen was making it hard to ride his horse. All that bouncing made him wince with every step. And for Bob to wince in pain meant it really hurt! He had also been getting fevers, mostly at night, with uncontrollable chills that shook him to his bones. His girlfriend could hardly touch his belly without hurting him, and she could feel that there was a hardness inside. That’s what prompted her to bring him in.
After some blood tests and a CT scan of his abdomen, we found a rupture on the left side of his colon. It had formed an abscess inside his abdomen, which could be very dangerous. Similar to appendicitis (which happens on the right side), this kind of abscess may require surgery. But Bob the cowboy would have nothing to do with that! When he found out that he might come out of the surgery with a colostomy bag to collect his stool, he declined. “That ain’t gonna happen, doc.”
So, I gave him the non-surgical option.
- He had to take antibiotics.
- He had to drink a special shake that included only green leaves and fresh pineapple.
- He could eat no other food, but needed to drink water.
The amount he drank was not important. The greens (kale, spinach, chard, mustard greens, collard greens, and so forth) contain fiber and lots of nutrients to improve immune function. The pineapple has fiber and enzymes that decrease inflammation and improve bowel function.
Since he was overweight, he would have the added benefit of losing fat in the process. After a couple of weeks, he had lost ten pounds, and had no fevers for over a week. His abdomen was no longer painful, but was still a little hard and tender so I had him go another two weeks on both the antibiotics and the green drink.
“I’m beginning to hate this green slime so sometimes I skip it,” he remarked after I wondered why he had lost another fifteen pounds in only two weeks. He looked good and his abdomen was normal. He felt much better, too. A repeat CT scan showed no more diverticulitis. The abscess had cleared without surgery.
“How did this happen? I don’t want it to happen again,” he asked. I explained that the colon has muscles to move the stool out. On the left side of the colon, the stool collects and waits until you have a bowel movement. If you have constipation, the left side of the colon gets stretched-out and causes gaps between the muscles that allow the inside of the colon to poke through. These little pouches of colon are called diverticula.
I explained that his CT scan showed that he had multiple little pockets on the inside of his colon poking through the outside, a condition known as diverticulosis. While the “green slime,” as he called it, did help him clear the infection, he still had the condition that started it all, and it could happen again.
I explained that it takes years of chronic constipation to create diverticulosis. But only one of those little pockets needs to swell, get blocked, and become infected. As it gets bigger, the pocket can “pop” and an abscess can form outside the colon, “This is what happened to you.”
“How can I prevent it, then?”
In the past, doctors told patients with diverticulosis not to eat nuts or seeds because they could block the diverticula and cause an abscess. However, research has shown that those who eat lots of nuts and seeds have LESS chance of getting diverticulitis.The key is to have a lot of fiber.
I joked that Bob would do well to be on a vegan diet that had no processed foods. He looked up at me with a very serious look, “I eat meat.” Luckily, his girlfriend was vegetarian and familiar with a high-fiber diet. She could find ways to get more fiber down him. He would eat beans, peas, and lentils, nuts and seeds, and have whole grains instead of white bread and rice. It turns out that one of the best ways to get fiber is with beans, and, of course, all fruit and vegetables have lots of fiber.
I also had him start taking a probiotic, because good bacteria decrease inflammation. If there is no inflammation in the colon, then the diverticula can’t get blocked and infected. He later found he also had to give up cheese because it caused constipation. I have found milk to be constipating for many people. Some can tolerate a little cheese, but many have to give up all dairy products to have a soft stool.
Bob made significant changes. He still ate meat but had beans with every meal and salads that included more than just a wedge of iceberg lettuce. His girlfriend also gave him more fruit. His biggest complaint now was that he had to use a lot of toilet paper to clean himself! He was having soft bowel movements every day, instead of hard stools every week. “GOOD!” I exclaimed, “That is exactly the way to heal the diverticulosis so you never get diverticulitis again.”
I went on to tell him that he could manage his own care by always keeping his stools soft. If he started getting constipated, then he could go back to the “green slime” for a few days, and include more fruit, vegetables, and legumes in his diet. He would no longer need a doctor for this condition and wouldn’t have to worry about needing a colostomy bag, a fate worse than death for him. (Adding that little bit of fear helps keep him on track with his diet, which he continues.)
For those who have diverticulitis, it’s important to consult a physician and get timely treatment. Not everyone can avoid surgery. However, most cases can get better with antibiotics. Clearly, the best treatment for diverticulitis is prevention, which is simple: soft stools. Avoiding constipation will keep you from getting diverticulosis, and if you don’t have any diverticula, you will never get diverticulitis.
Keys to Preventing Diverticulitis Tips
- Eat plenty of fiber, including green vegetables and beans
- Aim for a “soft” (not hard) stool every day
- Take a quality probiotic