I inadvertently got diagnosed with Diverticulitis a couple of years ago, when I started back working at the office while I finished acupuncture school. Every night for the first two weeks back to work I woke up with a racing heart, anxiety and chest discomfort that wouldn’t let me go back to sleep. Finally I went to the ER, and my heart was just peachy keen, thank you very much.
So I expected to get diagnosed with panic attacks (which I’m pretty sure it was) but there was one puzzling symptom – my pain improved when I held my arms above my head for the MRI. (If I had figured that out earlier, I could have saved myself a middle-of-the-night trip to the ER!) The MRI comes back, and it turns out I had diverticulosis in my upper left quadrant. According to the ER doc, it was pushing up against my diaphragm and causing the chest discomfort.
Well, OK, I’m in my 40s, it’s certainly plausible, but I hadn’t had any abdominal distress. It took me awhile to piece together that the ongoing cramping, gas and discomfort was probably a sign something was amiss more than just lactose intolerance.
Along with this new diagnosis came a new sensitivity to foods, or a sensitivity I hadn’t noticed before. Popcorn and nuts were no longer my friends. After studying for my boards with a bag of kettle corn by my side, I spent the next three days in abdominal agony. Ditto with nuts. Or the bag of plantain chips that helped me get through a Saturday workday at home. Small, crunchy foods were the enemy – an enemy I loved and wanted more of.
Fortunately, slippery elm was my knight in shining armor.
Slippery elm is an unusual herb. It comes from a tree that grows in the north, and can be used as a food, much like you would eat oatmeal, but with a hint of maple under the blandness. It’s been said the battle of Valley Forge was won by Washington’s troops because they were able to live on this porridge through the winter. Back in the day, the bark was chewed on much like we chew gum today.
The mucilage properties of slippery elm improve conditions where coating mucous membranes is needed: sore throats, acid reflux, IBS, diverticulitis or bronchitis. As it coats, it also draws out toxins and reduces inflammation, giving those sensitive tissues time (and a barrier) to heal. It’s like putting a band-aid on the inside of the body. A poultice can also be made for exterior inflammation such as boils, skin diseases or infections.
The other important property of slippery elm is its ability to expand. The tea, when steeped, will swell like any other fiber. As the slippery elm absorbs water in the digestive tract, it expands and gently cleans out the intestines. So when I over-indulge in those foods I know I shouldn’t, out comes the slippery elm tea, and I’m feeling better within a day or so. Really, though, I should also be drinking this as a maintenance tea once or twice a week as well. And why not? It’s loaded with nutrition. Remember how I said slippery elm is a food? It can be a protein source for vegetarians, and contains vitamins A, B-complex, C, E, and K. It also contains minerals like calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, silicon, selenium, sodium, and zinc.
Some other random things I do to help my diverticulosis are:
- Mixing nuts or chips with softer foods instead of eating them straight, or eating them in very small handfuls and small amounts.
- Chewing food thoroughly is an often overlooked, but important lifestyle change. I’m usually a quick eater, which puts strain on the digestive system. If you don’t chew your food to a near-liquid, your digestive system has to work harder and your intestines are processing lumps of food, not the ideal near-liquid consistency it needs. Try to chew 50 times before swallowing. Whatever number you get to, it’s probably better than what you’ve been chewing. A little extra time in the mouth is worth less discomfort in the abdomen.
- Aloe juice can also be a big help, but it’s not tasty. It coats the intestines much like slippery elm, although it does not have its fibrous qualities. If you do try aloe juice, remember more is NOT better. Start with an ounce or so. If you take too big of a serving it will clean you out in more ways than one!
Be kind to your belly, and if it’s having a rough time, soothe the savage pains with a dose of slippery elm. It’s a gentle and inexpensive way to get relief.
Nicole Noles Collins is a licensed acupuncture physician and massage therapist at Vitalichi Acupuncture in Port Charlotte, Florida. Nicole has two bachelor’s degrees – Alternative Medicine and Professional Health Sciences – as well as a master’s degree in Traditional Chinese Medicine. She has a passion for both writing and natural health. Please visit her website at www.pcacupuncture.abmp.com and like her Facebook page at Vitalichi Acupuncture. For more information, call 941-979-9793.