It’s still not actually known what causes diverticulitis, but most experts agree that dietary fiber – or rather, the lack of it – plays a significant role.1
Studies support this, as they found that in Western countries, where people consume mostly processed food diets that are low in fiber, diverticular disease is becoming widespread. Meanwhile, in parts of the world where high amounts of dietary fiber is a regular part of people’s meals, such as in South Asia or Africa, diverticulosis and diverticulitis are quite uncommon.
The Link Between Insufficient Fiber Intake and Diverticular Diseases
Fiber is crucial to keeping the stools soft, allowing them to pass through the digestive tract smoothly. So when your diet lacks this nutrient, your stool hardens, leading to constipation. This puts more strain on your colon, as the muscles in the intestines need to work harder to push the stool down.
When the weak spots in the outside layer of the colon muscle give way (as the stuff in the inner layer manage to squeeze through), diverticula form (diverticulosis). Diverticula remain symptomless and painless, but once fecal matter lodges in them and causes an infection, it then leads to diverticulosis.2
Since fiber is the primary cause of diverticulitis and diverticulosis, it’s only obvious that eating a high-fiber diet is essential in avoiding this illness. Eating fresh vegetables, psyllium, and bran products can significantly boost your fiber intake. The recommended amount falls between 20 to 35 grams of fiber per day,3 but most people actually need upwards of 50 grams of fiber per 1,000 calories consumed.
Watch Out for These Other Risk Factors
Other factors that can increase your risk of diverticulitis include:4
• Obesity. Obese diverticulitis patients usually require more invasive treatments than healthy weight patients
• Lack of exercise
• Diet high in unhealthy fat and low in fiber
• Certain medications. Drugs such as steroids, opiates and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (ibuprofen and naproxen) can increase your risk of diverticular disease
Some claim that consuming nuts, seeds, and corn may also lead to diverticular disease, but a study published in the Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA) has refuted this claim.5