Does Obesity Increase the Risks of Diverticulitis?

Obesity is a condition that affects a huge percentage of people worldwide. (1) Americans and members of  other developing countries seem to be affected more than other nations and it has often been noted as a disease of the developed world.

Diverticulitis is when small, bulging sacs or pouches form on the inner lining of the intestine, which then become inflamed or infected. (2) These pouches are most often found in the large intestine (the colon). (3) The causes of diverticulitis have largely been unknown, but recent research has linked them to obesity as well as the all-encompassing metabolic syndrome. (4) Thus, it can be said that diverticulitis, like obesity, is another symptom of the condition known as metabolic syndrome, which is being understood more and more.

Understanding diverticulitis

The main culprit that has been identified as being responsible for diverticulitis has been pinpointed as a lack of fiber in the diet, or a low-fiber diet. (5) The function of fiber in the human (and in many other omnivores’ and carnivores’) diet is to act as a kind of ‘scrubbing brush’ for the intestines. (6) Extra food or fecal matter that has not been properly digested or that cannot be digested is picked up by the fiber, which is converted to a kind of gel in the large intestine. (7) This collects the particles, increasing the size of feces and also makes it easier to ferment. The fermentation process releases gases and other byproducts which can be used in the digestion. (8) With a low-fiber diet, or in a diet that does not include fiber, there’s a high chance that these leftover indigestible fragments end up causing the tiny bulges or the sacs that lead to the condition known as diverticulitis. (9) So eating a diet that includes adequate amounts of fiber can help keep the intestines clean and act as a preventative method for this condition.

While a lack of fiber can certainly be a factor in the development of diverticulitis and a variety of other ailments, this condition is often noticed in people who have many or even just a few problems with their metabolism. (10) Metabolic syndrome is the name given to this condition that is just beginning to be understood in greater detail. This is where any or all of the aspects of the metabolism can become unbalanced and lead to other problems. One of the most visible signs of the disorder known as metabolic syndrome is obesity. (11) (12) Obesity is intimately related to many other conditions, such as insulin resistance, pancreatic disorders, liver disorders, cardiovascular disease, gastrointestinal maladies, deep vein thrombosis, gout, lower-back- and spinal pain. (13)

Symptoms and side-effects of diverticulitis

Many of the symptoms of this painful disorder are similar to ones associated with obesity, so it can be hard to tell that a patient actually has diverticulitis or another similar condition. Even though most of the symptoms of diverticulitis are hard to see, there may be some cramping in the lower part of the belly. (14) Rarely, there may even be blood in the stool or on toilet paper. (15) When diverticulitis starts to become very serious, then some more painful and difficult symptoms start to appear. There can be tenderness in the left lower side of the abdomen, bloating or gas, fever and chills, nausea and vomiting, and a lack of hunger and generally not eating. (16)

Treating and preventing diverticulitis

Treatment usually goes hand in hand with prevention and often the best treatment for any condition that is part of the general one known as metabolic disorder is to treat those aspects of the condition that are easy to tackle. With diverticulitis, this means introducing adequate amounts of fiber to the diet.  If you are overweight or obese, one of the first steps is to alter your diet to something more appropriate. Foods that have a lot of sugar and salt are generally thought of as unhealthy. (17) A lot of people are also often deceived by carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are now understood more than they have been in the past and it is known that in essence they are equivalent to sugar. Carbohydrates are converted in the liver to glucose, which is then converted and stored as body-fat. (18) Therefore, if carbohydrates make up a large part of your diet, then you are consuming far more sugar than your body needs as well as putting on excess body-weight in the form of adipose tissue. (19) It is frequently recommended that you change your diet to whole carbohydrates (whole wheat, whole grains) (20) rather than simple carbohydrates (white bread, white rice) or even to drastically reduce the carbohydrate intake altogether. (21) Heavy starchy foods such as potatoes, carrots or turnips also count as carbohydrates. (22) (23) Consuming these kinds of foods can contribute to obesity and a diet should be comprised of a balanced mix of different types of natural and organic foods, as opposed to processed ones. (24) There should be plenty of vitamins and minerals obtained from fruits and vegetables as well and even though fat has been recommended to stay away from, it is now known that it is the trans-fats and hydrogentated vegetable oils that are the real culprits that contribute to obesity. (25)

After an evaluation of the diet has been undertaken, another important step is to introduce regular exercise into your routine. With a combination of a healthy diet, regular exercise and even working out, you can begin converting most of that body-fat to useful muscle! Adipose tissue is not entirely malignant, either. It’s important to understand that body-fat releases several hormones into the body that regulate appetite, (26) so having some is useful. Adipose tissue hormones, insulin from the pancreas, glycogen from the liver and other hormones released by various organs such as the thyroid gland and the hypothalamus are all part of the delicate balance that is our metabolism. (27) (28) Metabolic syndrome is an all-encompassing term for a general disorder in the body whose symptoms can be obesity and even diverticulitis. In general, it’s important to get your metabolism back in order, because serious diseases such as cardiovascular disease, liver failure, pancreatic failure, diabetes and even some cancers have been shown to be caused by disorders in the metabolism.