Vegetarians are 30 percent less likely to develop the bowel disorder diverticular disease than meat eaters, according to a recent study published by the British Medical Journal. Diverticular disease involves the development of pouches in the wall of the large intestine. Diverticulitis describes the inflammation of these pouches, which can be a painful condition, and may lead to further complications like peritonitis, an infection of the abdominal cavity following the rupture of diverticular pouches.
A low-fiber diet is known to contribute to the development of diverticular disease, and thus, a vegetarian diet has been suggested as beneficial. This new study, based on 47,033 participants, provides strong evidence to support a vegetarian diet. Over 15,000 participants in the study reported consuming a vegetarian diet. After 11.6 years follow up, and adjusting for other contributing factors like smoking, alcohol consumption and body mass index, vegetarians fared better than meat eaters in terms of risk of diverticular disease.
In addition, those participants with the highest dietary fiber intake—over 25 grams per day—had the lowest risk of being admitted to the hospital with, or dying from, diverticular disease compared with those only consuming 14 or less grams per day. The researchers suggest, “the opportunity for preventing the occurrence of diverticular disease and other conditions, such as colorectal cancer, probably lies in the modification of the diet.”
They also stated, to my dismay, that far more evidence is needed before dietary recommendations can be made to the general public. Sure, they do need to replicate this study and continue to learn about what specific dietary factors can have the greatest impact before recommending vegetarian diets to all, but they could certainly recommend increasing fiber-rich fruits, vegetables and whole grains, while decreasing unhealthy meats, in the meantime. I certainly do.