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Fiber May Not Prevent Diverticular Disease

Study Questions Prevailing Wisdom About Fiber, Diverticulosis

Fiber, Constipation, Red Meat Off the Hook?

All the participants had colonoscopies to confirm or rule out the presence of diverticula, and all were interviewed regarding their diets, bowel habits, and activity level.

Among the surprising findings:

  • People with the lowest fiber intake were 30% less likely to develop diverticula than people whose diets included the most fiber.
  • Constipation was not associated with an increase in risk. In fact, people who had more than 15 bowel movements a week were 70% more likely to develop the pouches than those who had fewer than seven a week.
  • Neither lack of exercise nor eating a diet high in fat or red meat appeared to increase the risk for diverticula.

The study appears in the February issue of the journal Gastroenterology.

Expert: ‘Look Elsewhere for Cause’

Researcher Lisa L. Strate, MD, MPH, of the University of Washington School of Medicine in Seattle, called the study “important and provocative.”

Strate’s own research, published in 2008, also turned conventional wisdom about diverticular disease on its head, finding no merit to the prevailing wisdom that patients at risk for diverticulitis should avoid nuts, corn, and popcorn.

“We have been stuck on the idea that fiber is a major player in diverticular disease for too long without really being able to back it up,” she says. “This study tells us that we need to look at other potential risk factors.”

Digestive disease specialist David Bernstein, MD, agrees. Bernstein is chief of the division of gastroenterology at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, New York.

“This is a very important paper that questions what has been our dogma,” he says. “We now have scientific evidence that does not back up what we have been telling people.”

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