When talking about our health, it’s important we include the colon in the discussion. The colon is a very sensitive organ, and it plays an important part in your digestive system. When seeking optimal health, we need to better understand diverticular disease and a common sub-condition, diverticulosis, and whether conditions like diverticulitis are hereditary.
Diverticulosis is a very common colon problem. It may cause serious follow-up conditions. The colon is very affected by our dietary choices. If we are eating healthy and protecting our colon, we can avoid many serious medical issues. However, with the state of the typical American diet, poor colon health has led to an increase in colon-related issues like colon and rectal cancer, diverticulosis, and the resultant diverticulitis.
What is diverticulosis?
Diverticulosis is a condition of the colon where small pockets form in the colon due to the weakening of the colonic wall. This is a very common condition, especially in those over age 40. Diverticulosis itself isn’t necessarily a big problem. The problem comes as it increases the risk of a common follow-up condition: diverticulitis.
So what is diverticulitis?
Diverticulitis occurs when the small pockets formed in the colon in diverticulosis become inflamed and infected. This can cause severe abdominal pain, fever, nausea, and a marked change in your bowel habits.
Symptoms include pain, typically in the lower-left side of the abdomen. (Some people, however, will experience greater pain on the right side.) Additional symptoms include nausea and vomiting, fever, and constipation. Occasionally diverticulitis may cause diarrhea as well.
Mild cases can be treated with changes to your diet, rest, and antibiotics. Severe cases, however, often require surgery. Partial removal of the colon, called a colon resection or colectomy, is often necessary, with the potential for a colostomy. It all depends on the overall health of the bowel.
Is diverticulitis hereditary?
Most issues that affect our intestines are impacted by heredity. Our DNA plays a role in the development and the severity of most of these conditions, including diverticulitis. This means that if you have family members who struggle with diverticulitis, your risk may be a bit higher for developing it.
That said, your family history isn’t the major player here. There are many individual factors that contribute.
What increases my risk of developing diverticulitis?
One major risk factor is age. As we get older, our risk of diverticulitis increases. This is because our musculature and tissue strength begin to diminish as we age.
Another factor is how much we strain during bowel movements. This causes pressure on the colonic walls. Extra strain can be caused by chronic dehydration and a lack of fiber in the diet. Both of these make the colon work harder to create bulk and expel it from your body.
This means that diet is a major player when it comes to diverticulitis. In fact, countries with diets that are typically high in fiber have the lowest incidence of diverticular disease.
Preventing diverticular conditions
Although your particular DNA might mean you are at higher risk for a condition like diverticulitis, there are many things you can do to lessen your chances of developing it. If you know you are genetically predisposed for diverticulitis, you should improve your hydration and fiber intake.
As a Certified Functional Nutrition Counselor, I find that very few people are actually drinking sufficient water for their health. Most of my clients say they know how important drinking water is, but very few of them are actually drinking the amount necessary for optimal health. How much water you need depends on a variety of factors, including where you live, how active you are, body size, etc. Water is especially important to the health of your colon and intestinal system.
A healthy, high-fiber diet is also important. Did you know that the same issues that increase your chance of diverticulitis also increase your chances for colon and rectal cancer? Cancers of the bowel occur more frequently in patients who have a poor diet. A diet that is consistently high calorie-low nutrient and filled with low fiber foods and drinks gives you an increased chance of all of these colon/intestinal problems.
Diverticulitis is hereditary– but it’s also preventable
As with all serious medical conditions, prevention is so much better than any potential treatment. Colon issues are actually some of the most preventable, but many of us neglect to think much about the health of our large intestines. Instead, we continue to eat processed, high-calorie, low-fiber foods that beat us up on the inside, never giving our poor colon and bowels a thought.
There are many healthy and delicious food choices that could help prevent a myriad of future health issues. At More Than Healthy we can help put together a meal plan and coach you to optimal health. There are many delicious, healthy recipes available on our website. Try our Seared Ahi Tuna Salad or Roasted Root Vegetables, one of our winter favorites, for a delicious and fiber-filled meal.
The best thing you can do is prevention, and it’s easier than you think.
You can read more about the best ways to heal your gut and achieve optimal health in our best-selling book, Eating to Live: Unlocking the Leaky Gut Code.