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Study Pokes Holes in Nut Ban

In medicine as in politics, sometimes an idea gets repeated so often it takes on the aura of fact.

So it's been with the advice offered for more than 50 years to people diagnosed with diverticulosis, the development of pockets in the lining of the colon, or its relative, diverticulitis, in which those pockets become inflamed or infected: Don't eat popcorn, nuts or corn. Received wisdom in the medical community has held that such foods, which typically aren't fully broken down during the digestive process, might scrape or cut the inside of the colon as they pass through or lodge in and block one of the pockets, potentially worsening the condition.

But nobody had actually ever determined whether that were true.

Until now. In a study released today in the Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers led by Lisa Strate of the University of Washington School of Medicine in Seattle looked at the connection between nut, corn and popcorn consumption and diverticular disease among 47,228 men ages 40 to 75 whose health and food-consumption data had been collected from 1986 to 2004.

Guess what? This large study, which Strate says is the first to actually examine these foods' link to diverticular disease, found that men who consumed the most nuts (eating them at least twice a week) had a 20-percent LOWER risk of diverticulitis compared to those who at the least nuts, and men who at the most popcorn had a 28-percent lower risk than those who ate the least. (They found no association one way or another between regular corn consumption and diverticulitis.)

So much for the accepted wisdom.

The study notes that it's not clear whether these findings will translate to women or to younger people; nor is it clear what it is about nuts and popcorn that might lower risk of diverticulitis. (One possibility -- that these fiber-rich foods help prevent constipation, which is thought to be a leading cause of the condition -- was not supported by the research.)

In this case, the original notion seemed so plausible, it was easy to accept: Of course those undigested popcorn kernels and peanuts could wreak havoc in your colon. So it serves as a particularly good reminder of the value of cold, hard science as the basis for medical care.

Still, I'm guessing that there are lots of people out there convinced that their diverticular disease was caused by a stray peanut or errant piece of popcorn. Let's hear from you.

By Jennifer LaRue Huget  |  August 27, 2008; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  General Health  
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Next: Are There Toxins in Your Herbs?


As a working physician for 30 years I have always suspected that ingestion of nuts and seeds had no correlation with bouts of diverticulitis... In fact I have long noted that the folks who have the most attacks of diverticulitis are the ones most scrupulous in avoiding intake of nuts and seeds - and still have the most attacks...

Posted by: Dr. O | August 27, 2008 7:44 AM | Report abuse

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