Diverticulitis, an inflammation of the small pouches found along the wall of your colon, is a very common yet painful condition. More than half of gastrointestinal hospital admissions in the United States each year are due to diverticulitis. Until recently, there has been very little research on how to avoid this painful condition. Here, HealthCentral breaks down the most important things you can do to decrease your risk for this disease, based on a recent study on over 900 cases of diverticulitis:
1. Decrease your intake of red meat
In a study published in the American Journal of Gastroenterology, excessive red meat consumption was found to be a risk factor for developing diverticulitis. Men who consumed less than 51 grams (or 1.8 ounces) of red meat each day were found to be at the lowest risk.
If you are looking to lower your intake of red meat, try substituting chicken, seafood, and meat alternatives such as soy or tofu to decrease the amount of red meat in your diet. These high protein foods will give you the same amount of dietary protein with less saturated fat.
2. Increase dietary fiber intake
In this study, men who consumed more than 23 grams of fiber each day were at the lowest risk for developing diverticulitis. Fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and legumes are among the best sources of dietary fiber. A high fiber intake is also linked to a lower risk of both heart disease and some types of cancer.
3. Increase physical activity
Subjects in this research study at the lowest risk for diverticulitis exercised vigorously for at least two hours each week. This means that you only have to do about 20 minutes of daily aerobic activity such as running, cycling, brisk walking, or swimming to dramatically decrease your risk of disease.
4. Don’t smoke
Men in the lowest-risk group for diverticulitis in this study had never smoked. But if you currently smoke, it’s never too late to quit and reap the health benefits.
5. Get to a healthy weight
Participants in this study at lowest risk for disease had a normal BMI (18.5-24.9 kg/m2). If you are overweight, a modest weight loss can not only decrease your risk for diverticulitis, but also reduce your risk of other diseases including some types of cancer, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.
The bottom line
Though this study was conducted only with males, the large sample size of over 51,000 men over several years suggests that a healthy lifestyle can dramatically reduce your risk of developing diverticulitis. A healthy diet, regular cardiovascular exercise, abstaining from smoking, and maintaining a healthy weight are the best things you can do to reduce your risk of chronic disease. Talk with your healthcare provider or a registered dietitian if you need guidance on making positive lifestyle changes.