New evidence shows that eating nuts and popcorn may not raise diverticulitis risk

Buy Me Some Peanuts…

About half of all people over the age of 60 develop diverticulosis. If you’re among them, I have some surprising good news that you should talk to your doctor about.

And an added bonus: You might find yourself including nuts and popcorn in your diet again.

Hot pockets

In diverticulosis small pockets occur at weak points in the colon wall. Colonoscopy reveals diverticulosis, but most people are unaware they even have this condition because symptoms don’t arise until diverticulosis turns into diverticulitis (also known as diverticular disease).

Diverticulitis commonly occurs when a food particle gets lodged in a diverticulosis pocket, prompting infection, inflammation, fever, abdominal pain, and cramping, as well as constipation or diarrhea. In severe cases bleeding may occur.

For many years, doctors have advised diverticulosis patients to avoid eating nuts, popcorn, and foods that contain small seeds, based on the theory that seeds or small bits of these foods may find their way into a diverticulosis pocket and set the stage for diverticulitis.

But this food restriction is only based on theory. So researchers at the University of Washington School of Medicine in Seattle decided to put the theory to the test. When they searched medical histories for more than 47,000 men who participated in the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study, they found 801 cases of diverticulitis and 383 cases of diverticular bleeding.

Dietary habits, recorded for the study, showed that nut and popcorn consumption didn’t increase risk of diverticulitis. In fact, researchers actually found that these foods were linked to LOWER risk.

In the Journal of the American Medical Association the authors write: “The recommendation to avoid these foods to prevent diverticular complications should be reconsidered.”

These results will need further study before doctors can comfortably advise their diverticulosis patents that it’s fine to enjoy peanuts and Cracker Jacks on their trips to the ballpark.

Other dietary factors

The rise of diverticulitis cases throughout the 20th Century closely parallels the rise in consumption of processed foods that are stripped of natural fiber. This may be a coincidence, but researchers have also found that diverticulitis is most common in industrialized countries where processed foods make up a large part of the diet.

When dietary fiber intake is reduced, the bowels work harder to keep food moving. This puts excess pressure on the colon. Eventually, weak spots on the colon wall develop into diverticulosis pockets.

Whole grain products can cause problems too. UK nutritionist David Crawford warns that wheat and rye (along with dairy products) prompt mucous development in the digestive tract. Pressure on the colon wall increases when mucous builds up and solidifies.

Many people are also sensitive to wheat gluten. They react to the consumption of pasta, bread, and cereal with symptoms that may include anemia, fatigue, sinusitis, insomnia, autoimmune problems and digestive disorders such as diarrhea, constipation and…diverticulitis.

“Nut, Corn, and Popcorn Consumption and the Incidence of Diverticular Disease” Journal of the American Medical Association, Vol. 300, No. 8, 8/27/08, jama.ama-