Diverticular disease is believed to be caused by increased pressure in the colon. The colon weakens with age and pressure creates small pouches called diverticula. This condition is called diverticulosis. Diverticulitis occurs when undigested food becomes trapped in the pouches, causing them to become inflamed or infected.
The causes of this pressure that creates the diverticula are constipation from inadequate fiber in the diet, lack of exercise, not getting enough fluids, stress, or pregnancy.
About half of all Americans over the age of 60 have diverticular disease.
People with diverticulosis require no medications, but are advised to eat fiber-rich foods to reduce pressure in the colon and avoid a possible flare-up of the diverticulitis. Traditionally, it was advised to avoid seeds such as okra or strawberries because seeds were believed to get trapped in the pockets and cause irritation. However, evidence to support this theory is lacking.
During periods of active diverticulitis, antibiotics serve to treat the infection. A soft, low residue (low fiber) diet is prescribed until the irritation subsides.
Fiber comes in two different types, soluble, and insoluble. Soluble fiber forms a gel-like substance in water which helps maintain regularity. Good sources include oats, beans, peas, and many types of fruit. Insoluble fiber does not dissolve in water and moves through the digestive tract like small "scouring pads" that bind particles and create "bulk." Good sources include wheat bran, whole grains, and many types of vegetables.
Be sure to increase fiber intake gradually, giving your body time to adjust. Bloating or cramping can occur with too much fiber all at once. Also be sure to get plenty of fluids, as fiber absorbs fluids.