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Diverticula Risk Factors: What Causes Diverticulitis?

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  • It’s still not actually known what causes diverticular disease and diverticulitis, but many experts claim that dietary fiber — or rather, the lack of it — could play a significant role
  • In parts of the world where high amounts of dietary fiber are a regular part of people’s meals, such as in South Asia or Africa, diverticulosis and diverticulitis are quite uncommon

It’s still not actually known what causes diverticular disease and diverticulitis,1 but many experts claim that dietary fiber2 — or rather, the lack of it — could play a significant role.

The Role of Fiber in the Development of Diverticular Disease

Researchers 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 are a regular part of people’s meals, such as in South Asia or Africa, diverticulosis and diverticulitis are quite uncommon.3,4

When your diet lacks fiber, it causes your stool to harden, 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.5

When the weak spots in the outside layer of the colon muscle give way (as the stuff in the inner layer manages to squeeze through), diverticula form, which is known as diverticulosis.6 Diverticula remain symptomless and painless, but once undigested food or fecal matter lodges in them and causes an infection, it then leads to diverticulitis.7

The role of fiber on the development of this digestive illness is still hotly debated, though, with some studies saying that high-quality evidence about this is still lacking.8 Even so, fiber is a crucial aspect of your diet. Fiber helps keep your stools soft, allowing them to pass through the digestive tract smoothly.9

Eating fresh vegetables, psyllium and bran products can significantly boost your fiber intake. The recommended amount falls between 20 and 35 grams of fiber per day,10,11 and should average about 14 grams per 1,000 calories eaten.12

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion, gender also plays a part in the amounts of fiber consumed, with a recommendation of 38 grams a day for young men under age 50 and 25 grams for women under 50 years of age.13 However, I believe most people actually need upward of 50 grams of fiber per 1,000 calories consumed, especially if you’re trying to lose weight.

Other Risk Factors of Diverticulitis

Other factors that can increase your risk of diverticulitis include:14

  • Smoking
  • Lack of exercise
  • Diet high in unhealthy fat and low in fiber
  • Certain medications like steroids, opioids and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)15

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)16 has refuted this claim.17

MORE ABOUT DIVERTICULITIS

Diverticulitis: Introduction

What Is Diverticulitis?

Diverticulitis Causes

Diverticulitis Types

Is Diverticulitis Hereditary?

Diverticulitis Signs and Symptoms

Diverticulitis Treatment

Diverticulitis Prevention

Diverticulitis Diet

Diverticulitis FAQ

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