Medical herbalist Nicola Parker explains which herbs can manage painful gut feelings
Diverticular disease is a common condition that affects the bowel. In developed countries, between one-third and a half of our population are likely to be affected.
Some people may go their whole lives without knowing that they have it, while others suffer from severe flare-ups that cause them to monitor their diet closely.
Diverticular disease occurs when hard stools or gas cause enough pressure to push against the bowel wall, stretching it to form an additional “pocket”. In my head, I imagine those long balloons that are used to create balloon animals and how if you push enough air into a certain section, it will bulge out and enlarge. Pockets can be up to 2cm or more in size and they don’t always cause symptoms.
Many diverticular pockets are discovered while undergoing tests for something completely unrelated and it’s possible to live with the condition while blissfully unaware.
For those who experience symptoms, these range from stomach pain and bloating to constipation and diarrhoea. Pockets may become inflamed or infected, causing blood and mucous in the stool. This is known as diverticulitis.
The symptoms of diverticulitis are much worse and can include fever, nausea, severe pain and an altered heart rate. It’s important to see your GP if you experience symptoms like these as it signifies an acute flare-up. Outside of these attacks though, your local herbalist may be able to help more long term, working with diet and soothing herbs to reduce the frequency and severity of these flare-ups.
When trying to manage or prevent diverticular flare-ups, it’s very important to keep your stool soft and avoid constipation. To do this, it’s necessary to include lots of water and fibre in your diet. Fibre absorbs water and carries it into the bowel, so it’s important that you have both of these elements.
This can be confusing, as certain fibres that are difficult to digest can get trapped in the diverticular pockets and cause irritation. Foods that irritate one person may be fine for another, so I work closely with people to ensure their diet is full of the types of fibre their body can handle. If you are prone to flare-ups or experiencing one now, choose easy-to-digest fibres that are well cooked, remove seeds and skins from vegetables and blend up what you can in soup and stew-type recipes.
To avoid constipation and maintain a healthy bowel, try taking a probiotic capsule on a regular basis.
A probiotic does for the bowel what vitamin C does for the immune system. It looks after the area, giving your colon extra support to reduce the likelihood of excess gas and hard stools that create or worsen the pockets.
By colonising the area with the friendly bacteria in probiotics, it makes it more difficult for problematic bacteria to survive and take up space.
I have previously helped a lady after a diverticulitis flare-up had left her hospitalised. After being discharged, her diarrhoea was so severe, she’d had to take time off work and the financial stress of this was doing nothing to settle her stomach.
Since the initial flare-up and infection had been treated, I offered her some anti-inflammatory bowel herbs, including marigold (pictured) and chamomile, two of my favourite wound healers. Bowel herbs like these work like a soothing bandage on the inside of the body, protecting the inflamed tissue so that it can heal more effectively.
In less than a week, not only had her diarrhoea settled, but she admitted that this was the first time in 20 years that she’d been pain free.
Her diverticular disease had been causing problems for so long, she had just assumed that the pain and discomfort were lifelong symptoms that she would have to live with.
Diverticular disease and other bowel problems could be more manageable than you think. If you have explored what your GP can offer you and still feel unsatisfied with your options, don’t give up. While the condition cannot be reversed, learning to manage it through diet and nutrition can lead to a much healthier and happier gut.
l For more informationon diverticular disease, or to book an appointment with Nicola, contact her clinic on 01524 413733.