Photo of a mixed vegetable salad
Vegetarians have a 30% lower risk of diverticular disease.

Eat more fibre – or a veggie diet – for a healthy gut

20 July, 2011

Vegetarians are less likely to get a diverticular disease – a common bowel disorder – than their meat eating counterparts, according to a new study published online by the British Medical Journal.

Diverticular disease has been called a “disease of western civilisation” because of the higher numbers of cases in countries like the UK and the US compared with parts of Africa. The condition affects the large bowel or colon and is thought to be caused by not consuming enough fibre. Typical symptoms include painful abdominal cramps, bloating, wind, constipation and diarrhoea.

Previous research has suggested that a low fibre diet could lead to diverticular disease, and that vegetarians may have a lower risk compared with meat eaters, but there is little evidence to substantiate this.

So Dr Francesca Crowe and her team from the Cancer Epidemiology Unit at the University of Oxford set out to examine the link between a vegetarian diet and intake of dietary fibre with the risk of diverticular disease.

Their findings are based on a large study of 47,033 generally health conscious British adults of whom 15,459 reported consuming a vegetarian diet.

After following this group for more than 11 years the scientists found that vegetarians had a 30% lower risk of diverticular disease.

In addition, those with a relatively high intake of dietary fibre (around 25g a day) had a lower risk of being admitted to hospital with or dying from diverticular disease compared with those who consumed less than 14g of fibre a day.

According to the 2011 UK National Diet and Nutrition Survey 72% of men and 87% of women were not meeting the recommended average intake for dietary fibre of 18g per day and so, say the authors, the proportion of cases of diverticular diseases in the general population attributed to a low fibre diet could be considerable.