Diverticulosis – The common disease you’ve never heard of

Diverticulosis0001

A relatively common disease,  diverticulosis, is a disease that very few people talk about, but that still can cause plenty of problems.  Diverticula are small sacks and pockets that form in the colon as a result of years on a low-fiber diet. Lack of fiber in the diet means that stools tend to be small and hard, instead of large and soft.

When the colon has to move these small, hard stools, the muscles have to contract harder, and over the years pockets can form in the walls of the colon. Pieces of stool can become trapped in these pockets, or diverticula, causing them to become inflamed or infected, and so a very-similarly-named condition, diverticulitis, results. Diverticulitis is a serious disease, and one-quarter of patients with diverticulitis will develop potentially life-threatening complications.

Once a relatively uncommon disease, diverticulosis is now very common. In fact by age 60, two-thirds of all Americans will have developed diverticulosis and it’s getting even more common. Over only a 10 year period the rate of diverticulosis rose 15%.

In the latest study of almost 50,000 people living in England and Scotland, vegetarians were found to have a one third lower risk of the disease than meat eaters, and vegans an amazing two thirds lower risk of the disease. It’s easy to see why. The difference is the amount of fiber in the diet. Plant foods contain lots of fiber, while meat, fish, dairy and eggs have none at all.

Fiber Content in Animal and Plant Foods

Plant Food Fiber Animal Food Fiber (grams)
Whole wheat bread (2 slices) 3.8g Beef 0.0
Spaghetti, whole wheat (4oz cooked) 5.1g Pork 0.0
Corn (1 cup cooked) 4.6g Chicken 0.0
Broccoli (4oz) 3.0g Fish 0.0
Peas (3oz cooked) 4.7g Eggs 0.0
Sweet Potato (1 medium cooked, baked in skin) 3.3g Milk 0.0
Lentils (1/2 cup cooked) 7.8g Cheese 0.0
Black beans (3oz cooked) 7.5g    
Banana (1 large) 3.5g    
Orange, fresh (2 7/8” diam) 3.1g    
Pear (1 large) 7.1g    

(Source: USDA National Nutrient Database)

The benefits of a high fiber diet are many. In addition to much lower rates of diverticulosis, vegetarians also have much lower rates of constipation, hemorrhoids and even appendicitis. It all adds up to give us yet another vegetarian advantage for health.