Preventing diverticular disease, from Harvard Men’s Health Watch

Diverticulosis is an extremely common condition that affects the colon. Yet it is often overlooked because it produces few if any symptoms. When diverticulosis becomes diverticulitis, though, blissful ignorance gives way to pain or bleeding. You can avoid these problems by taking several simple steps, reports the August 2010 issue of Harvard Men's Health Watch.

Diverticula are saclike pouches that protrude from the smooth muscular layer of the colon. They tend to develop where the muscles are weakest, at the places where blood vessels cross through the muscles. The appearance of these pouches is called diverticulosis. The condition usually develops after age 40; about one-third of Americans develop diverticulosis by age 60, and two-thirds have it by age 85. In 15% to 20% of people with diverticulosis, the pouches become inflamed (diverticulitis), causing symptoms.

Diverticulosis was uncommon in the United States 100 years ago. The principal factor driving its increase is diet, especially the consumption of refined carbohydrates. Refined carbohydrates deprive you of fiber, which is needed to speed and ease the process of elimination. Without enough fiber, the colon must contract with extra force to expel stool. That puts more pressure on the colon wall, which increases the risk for diverticulosis and its complications. Other possible risk factors include high consumption of fat and red meat, obesity, cigarette smoking, and the use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen or naproxen. Regular physical activity appears to reduce risk.

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