Diverticulosis happens when pouches, or diverticula, form in the wall of the colon. If these pouches become infected or inflamed, it is called diverticulitis and it can be very painful. Most of us have diverticulosis, the small pouches that form, but they usually cause no problems for most people. As we age they can become more of an issue with most cases of diverticulitis developing over the age of 40. Waste products get caught in the pouches of the intestinal lining and bacteria grow creating an infection. This infection is what is happening when you have an episode of diverticulitis. If pressure in the pouches build it may lead to small perforations or tears in the wall of the intestine leading to peritonitis, an infection in the abdominal wall. There is much to consider when choosing natural remedies for diverticulitis.
Treatment of diverticulitis depends on the severity of your symptoms. If the pain is mild with no complications then you may be prescribed an antibiotic and diet changes. Currently, the diverticulitis diet recommendations are to eat high fiber food and avoid seeds, although more information is telling us that seedy foods may not be the main culprit. If symptoms are severe and you are unable to drink liquids then you may be hospitalized for intravenous antibiotics and nutrition or possibly surgery to remove damaged parts of the colon.
Problems can arise from either form of treatment with no resolution as to the cause of the diverticulitis. Repeated antibiotics create a bacterial imbalance within the intestines which can further exacerbate the condition and removing parts of the colon cause issues with your ability to properly eliminate because of damage to the signals in the muscles of the colon, which move waste down and out of the rectum.
When Treatment Doesn’t Work
I recently had a client come to see me after being diagnosed with diverticulitis. She was quite desperate for relief because she had been suffering with chronic and recurring episodes that caused debilitating pain, bloating, fever, and nausea. She had undergone treatment with her conventional doctor that included having several sections of her colon removed and many rounds of antibiotics. After a year of struggle, she was having a diverticulitis flare every two weeks. She was also having extreme difficulty having bowel movements because the sections of the colon that were removed left her with muscle fibers in the colon that could not communicate with each other well enough to create peristalsis, the muscle contractions which move waste from the colon to be expelled from the rectum. After these treatments did not work, she was told she would just have to live with it.
She was now desperate for a more sustainable solution to relieve her diverticulitis. The block to treatment is that doctors aren’t sure what causes diverticulitis so they have very few effective answers for patients. Alternative treatments have promise in this area and I have seen dramatic results with clients I have worked with.
An alternative approach to diverticulitis uses natural remedies and encompasses several strategies; it should be viewed as a lifestyle rather than a medication. Herbs and natural remedies work differently than pharmaceutical medications because of their complexity compared to the single synthetic compounds of pharmaceuticals. While medications target a specific chemical pathway in the body, herbs offer a more generalized, approach with the ability to support the whole person and strengthen the different systems of the body leading to better health overall. It’s not a magic bullet or quick fix but the results in the body are non-toxic, sustainable and supportive of the human body.
The first strategy is to give digestion a break for a short time period. In the first two weeks of treatment I usually recommend a bland, mostly liquid, diet. Foods such as white rice, bone broth soups, and very cooked (stewed) vegetables are able to provide nourishment without stressing the inflamed digestive tract. It is important to avoid anything the body needs to work hard at breaking down like raw vegetables, meats, and processed foods.
Bitter herbs and digestive enzymes are helpful as foods are added back in to the diet. Herbs and enzymes assist the body in breaking down food in the stomach so that it is easier for the small intestines to extract nutrition and break food down to become waste to be removed from the body.
I turn to herbal antibiotics when dealing with this type of infection. Often times, the bacteria have become resistant to pharmaceutical antibiotics and you will require repeated rounds of increasing dosage with less results each time. You may even find you have more frequent episodes because the bacteria have not been taken care of. Herbs are such complex creations containing thousands of phytochemicals that bacteria are unable to become resistant to them. Some favorite choices are garlic (Allium sativum) and goldenseal (Hydrastis candensis) but there are many herbs with antibiotic action and my choice depends on each individual.
The next target is reducing the general inflammation of the intestinal lining to avoid further episodes. As inflammation is reduced, the pouches can have a chance to shrink, or even disappear. The more the pouches shrink the less frequent your episodes. Turmeric (Curcuma longa) is an herb that has been extensively studied for it’s beneficial action on inflammation. Aloe juice soothes inflamed tissue and helps with breaking down food and elimination of waste.
Creating a strong defense in your intestinal tissue is the next piece of the puzzle. Herbs such as marshmallow (Althaea officinalis) or slippery elm (Ulmus rubra) are demulcent and protective to the mucosal tissue of the digestive tract. Plantain (Plantago majus) and Oregon grape root (Mahonia spp) rebuild the integrity of the tissue so that it is less permeable and also support the immune system so that it can better handle bacteria on its own. A unique blend of immune and digestive support herbs is created depending on the specific needs of each individual.
While I can’t promise that these strategies will completely reverse diverticulitis, I have several clients who have found dramatic relief and reduction in frequency of episodes, also finding the ability to eat normally again. The client I spoke of above found miraculous relief almost immediately. After beginning her protocol she was immediately able to go without a flare for over four weeks and now for months at a time. As long as she continues to support her immune system and control inflammation she remains free of episodes.
There is Hope
Remember that you are a unique individual with very specific symptoms, causes, and needs and your treatment strategies should be just as unique. If you suffer with diverticulitis and have not found the answers you need, let me say I am sorry. Let me also tell you that there is hope for a better quality of life. If you would like to explore alternative options, contact me for a consultation to get started.
Did you find this article informative or helpful? Have you been suffering with diverticulitis or know someone who is? I would be honored if you would leave a comment below and share your thoughts.