Diverticular disease essentially results from eating a diet with too little fiber.
Fiber itself is not digested. It passes through the intestines pretty much unchanged, softening the stools and their passage. Lack of fiber begins a sequence of events:
- Without fiber, the stools are dry and small, and the intestinal muscles must contract with greater force to pass the stools along, generating a higher pressure in the large intestines.
- The excess pressure leads to weak spots in the colon walls that eventually bulge out and form pouches called diverticula.
- Existing weakness in the colon walls-either from age or, in younger people, or from collagen disorders like Marfan's syndrome-also contribute to the development of diverticula.
- Most often, the pouches form in the sigmoid colon, which is the lower left part of the colon that connects to the rectum. This area of the colon is subject to the highest amount of pressure because it is the narrowest portion of the large intestine.
No treatment has been found to prevent diverticular disease from developing. And, once formed, diverticula are permanent.
But a diet high in fiber increases stool bulk and prevents constipation, and experts believe it may:
- Help keep more diverticula from forming
- Help keep the condition from worsening
Who Is At Higher Risk?
You more likely to develop diverticular disease if:
- your diet is low in fiber
- you have a family history of diverticular disease
- you are over age 50
- you are obese
- you use laxatives on a regular basis