If you're over age 60, your chances are fifty-fifty that you have diverticulosis, a condition marked by numerous small pouches (diverticula) in the wall of the colon.

Virtually everyone over age 80 is affected by the disease, and even 10% of people age 41 to 60 have it.

The good news is that the vast majority of people with diverticulosis are symptom-free, The condition becomes a problem only when one or more of these pouches get inflamed, becoming diverticulitis—due, for example, to weakening of the gastrointestinal wall and/or poor diet. With diverticulitis, you are likely to experience a sudden onset of pain and tenderness in the lower left abdomen. Diarrhea or constipation and a fever can also occur, as well as rectal bleeding. Fortunately, diet and lifestyle can significantly reduce the likelihood of diverticulosis turning into diverticulitis. My advice…

  • Eat the right foods. We now know that the old notion that diverticulitis is caused by small, fibrous foods is simply not true. Many doctors had believed that certain foods, such as poppy seeds, lodged in the diverticula and became inflamed. However, an 18-year study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association conclusively showed that eating foods such as nuts, seeds or popcorn does not increase the risk for diverticulitis. In fact, a high-fiber diet, including fruit, vegetables, nuts and seeds, offers good nutrition and promotes regular bowel movements, both of which reduce the risk for diverticular disease.
  • Get vigorous exercise. People who routinely run, hike, walk briskly, swim and/or do aerobics are significantly less at risk for diverticular problems than those who are sedentary—perhaps because vigorous exercise promotes circulation and helps fight constipation.
  • Try probiotics. These "friendly bacteria help keep colon inflammation at bay. Three times a week, eat eight ounces of plain yogurt with "live cultures" or take a probiotic supplement containing at least five billion units of acidophilus and 2.5 billion units of bifidus.

If you are diagnosed with diverticulitis…

  • Drink tea. Most doctors recommend a liquid diet, including water, soup and juice, for three or four days. To reduce abdominal pain and speed healing, include tea made from peppermint, slippery elm and marshmallow root.

What to do: Blend equal parts by weight of each herb (chopped, shredded or powdered), and use two teaspoons of the mix per 10 ounces of boiling water. Have up to one quart of the tea daily

  • Take Oregon grape root. This herb has a sedating and antiseptic effect on the gastrointestinal tract and will ease cramping and reduce inflammation. Take 60 drops of Oregon grape root tincture in two ounces of water on an empty stomach, three times a day for up to seven days.

If you have abdominal pain and a fever of 101°F or higher, rectal bleeding...or even mild days, see your doctor-each could signal an ailment that needs medical attention.

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