When constipation can be life-threatening…


Being constipated is one of the most frustrating situations to find yourself in – it’s uncomfortable, painful and affects stress levels, quality of life and our overall health and wellbeing.  Although it can often be treated at home with a few over the counter remedies and paying a bit more attention to what we’re eating and drinking, for many constipation is a serious medical condition that can lead to complications and life-threatening diseases. For the purpose of this article, I would like to focus on one in particular – diverticular disease.

Diverticular disease and diverticulitis are related digestive conditions that affect the large intestine (colon).   In diverticular disease, small bulges or herniated pockets (diverticula) develop in the lining of the intestine.  Diverticulitis describes the condition that occurs when these pockets become inflamed or infected.

The presence of diverticular pockets, sometimes quite large ones, in the bowel are quite commonly found as a result of bowel scoping procedures such as sigmoidoscopy or colonoscopy, especially in the over 50s. These pockets develop in the bowel wall and can be quite innocuous, small and shallow, but they can also be large and deep – sometimes so deep that they are able to accommodate and trap faeces. These larger, deeper pockets can penetrate through the layers of bowel tissue, allowing harmful substances from the bowel to enter the bloodstream, sometimes with devastating consequences.

Diverticular pocketing isn’t only found in the bowel; it can also appear in the oesophagus, stomach, duodenum (the first section of the small intestine), jejunum (the middle section of the small intestine) and the ileum (the final section of the small intestine).  However, the most common area to find diverticula pocketing is the large bowel, particularly the descending sections of the sigmoid area (the part of the colon closest to the rectum).  In one British study, sigmoid diverticula were found in 443 out of 461 cases of diverticulosis.

Diverticular disease of the colon can be serious if not managed well, particularly when the diverticular pockets become inflamed, causing diverticulitis. If these pockets become infected, serious medical attention is required, as complications can carry an increased risk of bowel perforation, leading to diseased and infected parts of the bowel having to be removed, and even death if sepsis is indicated.

Rupture of the diverticula can lead to infection, bacteria and toxic wastes spewing into the abdomen’s cavity lining – this is a medical surgical emergency. Often a colostomy has to be performed where the bowel is brought to the patient’s side, and collected directly into a bag that has to be emptied down the toilet and changed regularly.

Because the sigmoid area of the colon tends to contain the driest parts of the stool, it has to withstand a considerable amount of pressure in trying to get rid of the stool. It may be this action that weakens the bowel mucosa/wall in this area, contributing to the formation of diverticular pocketing.  However, it’s a fact that a diet that consists of too much processed and junk food, and is deficient in nutrients and vitamins, will eventually impact the strength of the bowel wall. After all, bowel tissues are connective tissue, which needs nourishment to stay strong and healthy – just like our ‘outer’ skin.  Poor diet will lead to tissue that is weak, sagging and prone to pustules and ulcerations.

I’m not going to mince my words when it comes to management of diverticular disease – one of its number one causes is chronic idiopathic constipation ­(so called when the condition that has caused the constipation is unknown). I do not include in this category individuals that have other health conditions contributing to their constipation, such as Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (a group of rare inherited conditions that affect connective tissue), or bowel stasis as a result of spinal injury etc. I am referring to the millions of people in the UK and beyond that get chronically constipated due to their diet and lifestyle.

junk food

When the diet lacks bulk and fibre, the muscles in the colon have to work very hard to force the faeces through the lower bowel, and when there is a weakness in the bowel wall, a herniation can manifest, causing a diverticulum.  It’s common for diverticula to retain some faecal wastes. As time goes by, these diverticular pockets accumulate more and more faecal matter, becoming the perfect breeding ground for the production of powerful toxins, adding to an already burdened toxic body, due to the constipation. In blunt terms, you become like a backed-up sewer.

The key to prevention is to stop your body becoming such a perfect environment for the onset of diverticulitis.  Since a diet that is low in fibre and high in acid-forming, hard-to-digest foods is such a common cause or factor in the development of diverticular disease, the answer is to eat more high fibre, alkaline foods and easier to digest meals – not exactly rocket science!

When your stomach can easily and efficiently break down your foods, the likelihood of poor digestion, constipation, straining of the colon and the resulting diverticula formation is reduced. In addition, efficient elimination of wastes makes it less likely that any existing diverticula you may already have become infected and lead to a diverticulitis attack.

I’ve treated thousands of people with constipation and I am still staggered that many of them think it’s normal not to have a daily bowel movement. I ask them how long would they leave it before they took some kind of action to relieve the constipation, and the average appears to be around 5 days.  This is simply not acceptable if you value good health. Would you have a poo in the toilet and leave it there to ferment and putrefy, giving off poisonous gases and substances, giving off an unbearable stench for 5 days or more?  No!  Of course you wouldn’t!  So don’t do that to your colon and your overall health!

If you suffer with constipation, do something about it before it develops into diverticular disease.  If you already have diverticular disease, ensure you don’t get constipated. The three most important supplements to help reduce the risk of constipation and diverticular disease are multi-strain probiotic capsules, one twice daily before meals, an Omega 3 fish oil capsule, one daily with a meal and Fibre tablets, two half an hour before food.  Check out the Just For Tummies Live Bacteria probiotic capsules, Omega 3 fish oil capsules and Fibre tablets here: https://justfortummies.co.uk/shop/

If you need more help managing your diverticular disease and/or constipation, contact a registered naturopathic colon hydrotherapist. See here for a full list of registered colon hydrotherapists: www.colonic-association.org

A naturopathic colon hydrotherapist can help manage your diverticular disease by carrying out colon hydrotherapy treatments to help keep the diverticular pockets free of trapped disease-causing faecal matter, as well as educating about the importance of diet (which should include a balance of fibre, vegetables, fruits, wholefoods, brown bread, wholewheat breakfast cereals, essential fatty acids – oily fish etc) and lifestyle (exercise and bowel management to prevent constipation), and taking daily probiotics that contain important bifidi strains for the overall health of the large bowel. By taking these simple measures to manage constipation, you prevent diverticulitis flare-ups that may necessitate a course of broad-spectrum antibiotics or put you in hospital with life-threatening peritonitis (inflammation of the tissue that lines the abdomen), which is caused by an infection that can rapidly spread throughout the body. It requires immediate attention and is a medical emergency.

I don’t wish to cause alarm, but it is too important not to mention what the potential consequences are of not taking action if you are chronically constipated.  Yes, it’s a pain in the behind, but you mustn’t ignore it.


Linda Booth


Just For Tummies