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Nuts Don't Up Risk of Diverticulitis

Researchers Say Nuts, Popcorn, and Corn Don't Increase Complications of Diverticular Disease
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Aug. 26, 2008 -- There is good news for people with diverticular disease who have been told to avoid nuts, corn, and popcorn.

Instead of increasing the risk for the digestive disorder diverticulitis, as has long been suspected, these foods may actually lower risk of the condition, according to findings from the first large study to address the issue.

The study was published Tuesday in TheJournal of the American Medical Association.

About a third of Americans will develop small pouches of the colon, a condition known as diverticulosis, by the time they reach age 60; two-thirds have the pouches by age 85.

Most people with diverticulosis experience no symptoms, but as many as one in four will develop diverticulitis, a potentially serious condition characterized by intense pain in the lower, left side of the abdomen and possible nausea, vomiting, cramping, and bleeding, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Since at least the 1950s many doctors have advised patients who have diverticular disease to restrict nuts, corn, popcorn -- and even vegetables with seeds like tomatoes -- on the theory that the indigestible components of these foods would lodge in the pouches, causing symptoms.

"It is not exactly clear where this idea came from because there are no studies showing this to be the case," researcher Lisa L. Strate, MD, MPH, tells WebMD. "It just became a part of medical lore."

Using data from an ongoing Harvard School of Public Health study of male health professionals, Strate and colleagues were able to examine the association between eating nuts, corn, and popcorn and diverticular disease.

Their analysis included 47,228 study participants who were between the ages of 40 and 75 at enrollment and had no history of diverticulosis, diverticulitis, or related diverticular complication.

All the men completed detailed questionnaires every few years designed to examine the foods they ate and their health status.

Nuts, Seeds, and Diverticulitis

During 18 years of follow-up, there were 801 cases of diverticulitis diagnosed and 383 cases of diverticular bleeding.

Men who ate nuts, corn, or popcorn frequently were found to have no greater risk for developing diverticulitis or diverticular bleeding than men who rarely ate the foods.

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