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Keep Things Running Smoothly naturalmedicinechest by Emily A. Kane, N.D., L.Ac

You may have never heard of it before, but diverticular disease is one of the most common bowel/intestinal disorders in people over 40. Diverticula are pouch-like projections in the colon wall caused by spasms in the bowel tissue. Approximately 40% of people over age 40 have them, 60% of people over age 60 and 90% over age 90. They are more common in men than in women. Often, they aren't a problem at all. But they are also the cause of diverticulosis, one of the most common bowel disorders. This occurs when fecal matter becomes lodged in the diverticula, making them subject to diverticulitis, characterized by inflammation, ulceration, bleeding or, more seriously, fistulas (abnormal tunnels) that can release fecal matter into the abdominal cavity. This causes peritonitis, which like appendicitis, requires urgent medical attention.

The most common symptoms of diverticular disease (which encompasses diverticulosis and diverticulitis) are pain in the left lower part of the abdomen, blood in the stools and irregular bowel habits mimicking irritable bowel syndrome (mostly constipation alternating with bouts of diarrhea). Pain can also be present in the lower right portion of the abdomen, or associated with other pelvic organs. Generally, asymptomatic diverticula do not cause problems. The likelihood of diverticula becoming irritated and then inflamed increases with age, however. This could be partly because diverticulosis can be caused by faulty food choices; the major offender is refined starches. Smoking and high stress are other known factors in creating inflamed diverticula.

For an acute episode of diverticular disease, a liquid diet for several days may be recommended, along with natural anti-inflammatories, to allow the colon wall to heal. Then, a high-fiber diet must be slowly introduced, and maintained, to prevent further episodes. The following remedies are useful in maintaining good bowel health after an acute phase is resolved.

What Remedies to Take

OAT BRAN (Avena sativa) is the best treatment for early diverticulosis, and for prevention of the disease, largely because of its fiber content. Fiber's purpose in the gut is primarily to hold water, which makes stools softer and easier to pass. This is particularly important as we age and the gut walls become less elastic.

Dosage: Take 2 to 3 tablespoons of oat bran daily. Since fiber can interfere with mineral absorption, don't take it with supplements.

FLAX SEED(Linum usitatissimum) not only provides a good source of fiber, but is also high in the healing and anti-inflammatory omega-3 essential fatty acid. When finely ground, flax helps gently clean out any pouches that trap bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract.

Dosage: Take 2 to 3 tablespoons, ground, daily, in water or pineapple juice.

SELECTED REFERENCES Balch, JF and Balch PA Prescription for Nutritional Healing (Avery Publishing 1997) 234-236 a Carlson, KJ, Eisenstat SA and Ziporyn, T The Harvard Guide to women's Health (Harvard University Press 1996) 213-214 0 Doress-Worters Ps and Siegal, DL The New Ourselves, Growing older (Simon & Schuster, 1994) 58 - 59 ; Gerras, c, Hanna, JE, Feltman et al The Encyclopedia of Common Diseases Rodale Press 1976) 494-500; Murray, M and Pizzorno J Encyclopedia of Natural medicine (Prima Publishing, 1998) 142-143