New research is challenging the long-held belief that eating a high-fiber diet can lower the risk of the intestinal disease diverticulosis.
A new study of more than 2,000 people, conducted by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine, found that consuming a diet high in fiber actually raises, rather than lowers, the risk of developing diverticulosis.
The findings, published in the journal Gastroenterology, also challenged the commonly-held belief that constipation increases a person's risk of the disease.
“It looks like we may have been wrong, for decades, about why diverticula actually form," said Dr. Anne Peery, study's lead researcher in a statement. "While it is too early to tell patients what to do differently, these results are exciting for researchers. Figuring out that we don't know something gives us the opportunity to look at disease processes in new ways."
Diverticulosis, a disease of the large intestine in which pouches develop in the colon wall, strikes about one-third of Americans over age 60. Most people don’t have any symptoms, but when complications develop they can cause infections, bleeding, intestinal perforations and even death. Health care associated with such complications costs an estimated $2.5 billion per year.
Since the late 1960s, doctors have recommended a high-fiber diet to keep patients regular and reduce the risk of diverticulosis.
The UNC study involved 2,104 patients aged 30-80 years who underwent outpatient colonoscopy at UNC Hospitals from 1998-2010.
The study also found no association between diverticulosis and physical inactivity, diets high in fat or red meat. The disease's causes are unknown.