DEAR DR. DONOHUE: This past year I had a lower-GI X-ray, and my doctor sent me the report. It says I have diverticulosis. I have no stomach problems, and my doctor has said nothing about this. Should I get another opinion? What does this mean for me? – J.R.

It means that you are like most of your fellow citizens. By age 60, half of us have diverticulosis, and by age 80, two-thirds do. Diverticula are pea-sized protrusions of the colon lining through the colon’s muscular wall. They look a little like warts on the skin. They are soft and hollow.

Diverticulosis is a colon with many diverticula. The reason why diverticulosis is so prevalent in our society is our overly refined diet. The fiber that is removed from grains has a dietary purpose. It keeps waste material moist in its passage through the colon. To propel dry, rock-hard waste, the colon has to generate great force, and that force is responsible for the colon lining’s herniation through the colon wall. Diverticulosis rarely creates problems.

Diverticulitis is inflammation of the diverticula due to plugging where they open into the colon. When that happens, bacteria in the diverticula multiply, distend the diverticula and cause abdominal pain, often felt in the lower left section of the abdomen. Diarrhea or constipation also occurs. Severe pain lands people in the hospital, where intravenous feedings allow them to rest their colons and intravenous antibiotics can eradicate the bacteria.

Fiber is the answer to keeping diverticulosis from becoming diverticulitis. Whole grain breads and cereals, fresh fruit with skins on and many vegetables are sources of fiber. Bran, the stuff removed from refined grain, is another excellent fiber source. People can buy it in health food stores.

Readers who would like a more complete discussion of diverticulosis and -itis can order the pamphlet on those topics by writing: Dr. Donohue – No. 502, Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475. Enclose a check or money order (no cash) for $4.50 U.S./$6.50 Can. with the recipient’s printed name and address. Please allow four weeks for delivery.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: Can aluminum pots and pans put a person in danger of coming down with Alzheimer’s disease? My neighbor says this is so, and she warns me to junk my pots and pans. Is this necessary? – A.M.

The brains of Alzheimer’s patients have more aluminum than do normal brains. Whether aluminum brings about Alzheimer’s or whether Alzheimer’s permits aluminum to harmlessly accumulate in the brain is a point that needs clarification. If aluminum has a hand in Alzheimer’s, it’s not the sole one.

Aluminum is the second-most abundant metal on earth. It finds its way into water, food and dust. There is no escaping it. Our exposure to aluminum in nature is greater than our exposure to it in cookware or antiperspirants – another often-cited cause of Alzheimer’s.

I don’t have a final answer for your question. I am not the least bit reluctant to use aluminum products. If aluminum cookware makes a person nervous, the exposure to this metal can be minimized by not cooking highly acidic foods in aluminum pots and pans. Tomatoes are an example of such food. When these foods are cooked in aluminum pots and pans, aluminum is leeched into them.

Dr. Donohue regrets that he is unable to answer individual letters, but he will incorporate them in his column whenever possible. Readers may write him or request an order form of available health newsletters at P.O. Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475.

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