Wednesday, August 18, 2010

"Diverticulitis": My Story

In my twenties I got really sick; lying in bed for 5 days, bleeding from the lower part of my digestive tract: not pretty. I didn't see a doctor at the time because I had no health insurance, so I have no idea what the diagnosis might have been.

Delirious days later and ten pounds lighter and I was recovered, except for one problem: I had diarrhea for the subsequent 14 years. That's right, 14 years. When I got back into active sports it was a real problem, I had to bring a roll of toilet paper along everywhere, just in case.

And then two years ago I passed out on the toilet on a ski weekend.  The emergency room at Bennington Hospital told me it was a stomach flu.

Four weeks later I got cramps at work. I had to lie on the flloor until it passed. Then I drove to my doctor's office, and he told me that I had diverticulitis, and I had to go to the emergency room. I drove myself, and barely made it. I was in agony; I nearly passed out again while they were interviewing me to see if it was "serious".  (That's a good trick to get through triage quickly, by the way.)  A little while later I had a doctor screaming, "Morphine!" down the hall, I was in so much pain.

Turns out I had a perforated colon. That's right, a hole in my colon, with bubbles of air in my abdomen. I spent the next four days in the pre-operative ward, so if it got worse they could cut me open immediately. I lost 10 pounds. Then I started bleeding, and I realized these were all the same symptoms that I had had 14 years before. My blood pressure got so low that the automated blood-pressure machine wouldn't work, it thought I was dying, and would alarm immediately.

Diverticulitis is supposed to be age-related in industrial countries. (People in non-industrial countries don't get it.)  80% of of people have it by the time you reach 80, which is why all the old folks eat fiber. It usually starts occurring at 40; I had turned 40 a week earlier!  But the first attack in the 20s...  I mentioned to all three of the doctors I saw that I had had constant diarrhea for the last 14 years, since the first attack, and they shrugged. They told me to eat more fiber, and whole wheat, even though that was what I had been eating for the last 20 years. So I avoided surgery, started eating salad with salad dressing (containing industrial seed oils) and lots of whole wheat. And lots of running, since I'd read running helped diverticulitis. (Got my 5k PR at that point, still haven't beaten it. As I was telling people, I was running from a man with a knife!)

But the more salad and whole wheat I ate, the worse it got. I couldn't understand why. Finally had to have eight inches of my colon removed. The diarrhea continued, so obviously the cause remained.

So a few months ago, I stopped eating industrial seed oils (veggie oils). In two days the diarrhea stopped. Eat the oils, it started again. I no longer craved starch or sugar, so I didn't eat any wheat for a week, without meaning to. Then I had a sandwich, felt like crap, and had diarrhea the next morning. Hmm... but I didn't have a problem with wheat! I ate tons of it!  How could I have a problem with wheat?  Another week went by, and I had two slices of pizza. I thought I was having a heart attack. So now I could turn the symptoms of the last 16 years on or off, based on eating veggie oils or wheat. Wow!

Stephen Guyenet says that chronic intestinal issues are an excellent indicator of a wheat problem, and now I believe him.  I read Real Food one year before my surgery, and now I realize that if I'd just followed what that woman said, I could have avoided the whole thing, most likely.

Now I've learned that diverticulitis is one of the most common misdiagnoses of celiac, and erroneous bowel resections are common for people who are subsequently found to be celiac (some have died.)   And the 14 years of chronic diarrhea?  Chronic diarrhea of the sort I had (I'll spare you the details) are also typical of a wheat problem.

And none of my doctors ever mentioned any of this as a possibility.

Lots of people have serious problems with wheat, and come back negative on celiac tests. I think celiac is just one aspect of wheat poisoning (yeah, I know, a strong term) for people with a specific immune system profile. Apparently wheat causes leaky gut syndrome in almost everyone... I mean heck, it took them over 2000 years just to figure out that celiac was caused by wheat! Science and Medicine know very little about it.

Hopefully this story will help my readers out, but after going through all this, and then realizing not only I, but my wife and daughters, all have wheat problems, it's been quite an eye-opener. And the veggie oils are just plain toxic. Not fit for human consumption.

So that's just part of the introduction.  Next I'll go into more detail on how I figured out what was going on.


  1. All veggie oils, like corn/canola/palm are bad and why? Also, what do you use as an alternative when you cook?

  2. Veggie oils is really too broad a term, "Industrial seed oils" is correct, but gets tiring to say.

    Basically the distinction is between traditional oils, made using a hand press, and modern oils made using an industrial process.

    Palm, coconut, and olive are all traditional oils that can be produced by hand, and have been used safely for thousands of years.

    Corn, canola (rapeseed), cottonseed, etc, are produced using industrial equiptment, and contain high quantities of linoleic acid.

    Stephen Guyenet has a great post on corn oil here:

    His entire collection on the topic is here:

    My family now cooks with olive oil, butter, lard, beef tallow, and occasionally coconut.

  3. There's a brand at my local Whole Foods called Spectrum which makes cooking oils. What's interesting is that for each kind of oil is says on the bottle "Refined" or "Unrefined". Some of the oils (like coconut oil) can be either.

    I'm starting to see this on other cooking oils as well.

  4. Unrefined toxic oils are no better than refined toxic oils. Given the additional plant toxins that can be concentrated in them, they may be worse.

    Just remember, poison ivy is "natural", and "unrefined". I'd still advice against eating it.

  5. I don't know how you could run with the condition you describe. Actually, I don't know how you were able to sit up in bed, much less run. I've just come out of a second attack of diverticulitis in the last six weeks and the ER doctor's call for morphine sounds very familiar. When it happened with me, I refused it. The pain is awful, but morphine? Isn't that what they use now to slowly steal the life out of dying people in the Hospice situations? I refused it on that principle alone. When I'm ready to go, I want to go with all my faculties, not stealthily and in a stupor. I want everyone to know I'm dying, including me.

    Luckily, I've not had any bleeding. The diarreah sounds awfully familiar, though. It's distressing when one must find excuse after excuse to run out of company meetings. Eventually, one runs out of credibility.

    Lately, I've been cooking with avocado oil, using it for salads and most everything else. I started with coconut oil, but read somewhere it breaks down when cooking at high temperatures and that its chemical breakdown is equally as bad as olive oil when it too breaks down at high temperatures, so I opted for avocado oil with its chemical composition that allows it to be used at high temperatures without breaking down. It's expensive, though.

    My most recent bout with diverticulitis has subsided; of course, with large quantities of antibiotics. I was told to eat chicken and pasta, to stay away from salads and all vegetables for at least four to six weeks after the end of the episode. The doctor claims I had a second attack immediately after the first a month ago because I started to eat leafy vegetables and salads too soon after the symptoms of the first attack subsided. So far, sticking to the chicken and pasta has worked for me, but I also eat saltine crackers. This indicates to me that I'm not Celiac. Were I suffering from the disease, my intestinal tract would not have returned to normal.

    What do you think? Are our conditions similar or is the only similarity that we were both suffering from gastrointestinal issues that appear to be but are not similarly related?

  6. "This indicates to me that I'm not Celiac. Were I suffering from the disease, my intestinal tract would not have returned to normal."

    My docs told me to eat a 'low residue' diet, which is what yours sounds like. This included white bread, and wheat bread. My condition also improved short-term after antibiotics, but it kept coming back.

    Now, I'm two years in to my new diet. I get symptoms reliably after eating wheat or seed oils, or food that contains a lot of seed oils (like conventional chicken, for instance). My last test was two months ago. I ate some pork with soy sauce (most soy sauce contains wheat). Within 45 minutes I was in the bathroom, it took several hours to get back to normal.

    I don't know if I would progress to celiac symptoms or not. I don't plan on finding out. Despite what your doctor will tell you, there are people who don't ever get the classic symptoms of celiac until after they've come down with other symptoms, if ever. (I suggest reading up on Alessio Fasano's research for more.)

    I've also encountered several other people with diverticulitis whose reactions to a wheat-free diet are identical to mine. I suggest giving it a shot, and ignore your doc's dietary advice. It's most likely worthless. I'll be posting a couple more diverticulitis posts here soon, keep an eye on the blog. Hopefully you'll find it helpful.

    Good luck, FGS.