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Popcorn, Nuts and Seeds Do NOT Cause Diverticulitis!

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One of my greatest pleasures in life is disproving strongly held myths.  I remember clearly in First Grade the soul-satisfying pleasure of telling little Danny Johns that Santa was not real, and that his Mom was the one doing all that stuff.  Of course he cried and asked Ms. Sharp, our all-knowing teacher, if this were true and she quickly corrected me by telling him, "Santa is real if you believe in him..."

Today I will delight in such pleasure once again by screaming loudly from the roof of our little clinic,
"Eating nuts, popcorn and seeds will 
NOT increase your risk of Diverticulitis!"  
I don't care what your doctor or your gastroenterologist (Ms. Sharp) said; this is one of those medical myths that just won't die, but really needs to...  You would think that a concept such as nut-and-seed-induced diverticulitis would have quickly fallen by the wayside in the face of the overwhelming research findings against it, and with absolutely no research supporting the false idea.  There are many such medical myths, widely believed by both doctors and patients, sadly, the doctors often profit from such myths while the patients sometimes suffer.

I have to admit it seems to make common-sense, popcorn pieces and little seeds would seem to stop up the openings of those little out-pouches in the large intestine called diverticuli.  Once stopped up, the little pouch would become inflamed and lead to an attack of diverticulitis.  For several years I thoughtlessly repeated this medical myth to my own patients.  This is a perfect example of how a Medical Myth is created and perpetuated, without any real supporting facts.  This idea/mental image seemed to make so much sense, it must be true.  Well guess what?  Not only is this Medical Myth untrue, it appears that the exact opposite is true, according to a very large study, eating seeds, nuts and popcorn actually decreases one's risk of having diverticulitis.

This study was published a few years ago but evidently many doctors didn't get the memo.  At least once per week, while explaining to a patient what a healthy diet actually is, I am interrupted at my suggestion that eating nuts and seeds is very healthy by the patient's indignant admonition that their GI Doctor told them to never eat nuts, seeds or popcorn.  As you might imagine, this places a stumbling block in the path of our continued discussion of what a healthy diet actually is...

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The Study I'm referring to followed over 47,000 subjects at least 40 years old, for 18 years.  You may recall from my previous posts that the larger and longer a medical study is, the more reliable the results it will give us.  Not only did this study fail to find a direct link between eating nuts, seeds and popcorn and bouts of diverticulitis, it actually found the exact opposite; the more nuts, seeds and popcorn one eats, the less likely they are to ever have diverticulitis!  My patients who are beginning to follow a more Primal way of eating will find this to make perfect sense.

But still, I have patients returning from their visits with a gastroenterologist reporting they have been told to avoid food containing nuts and seeds.  I would encourage anyone about to keep an appointment with a gastroenterologist to print out a copy of this study and take with them in order to educate the doctor just in case they are given such "advice".  So, what did this very large, very long study find actually caused  diverticulitis?  That's a very good question.

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The study states, "other known or potential risk factors, including increasing age; body mass index; red meat consumption; lack of physical activity; cigarette smoking; and the over-use of NSAIDs and acetaminophen."  Now we can't do much about getting older, but we can definitely take charge of and improve our weight to height ratio (BMI).  We can add diverticulitis to the long list of bad things caused by smoking.  We can certainly increase our physical activity, and cut down on the total amount of over-the-counter pain relievers we take.

So now we know; and wasn't that fun?

Please forward this message to any friend or relative who is currently afraid to enjoy a tasty, healthy snack containing popcorn, nuts or seeds, their colon will thank you!


  1. Doris Flowers27 December, 2011

    Thanks, Dr. Ken - I've always eaten nuts etc. and never have had any stomach problems. But then, I've never smoked either.

  2. Anonymous02 May, 2012

    Well, when I eat peanuts, corn, or popcorn I end up with a major diverticulitis flare. I have been able to eat the "hull-less" popcorn in small amts and have no problems with any other nuts or fruits. I enjoy almonds, fresh fruit, pecans, walnuts, pinenuts, and whole grains. Apparently, it depends on the individual and your history of acute diverticulitis vs. diverticulosis.