DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I am 72 and in good health except for occasional bouts of diverticulitis. The last bout was a month ago, when I had a good deal of pain and bleeding. My doctor prescribed Bactrim and metronidazole. Are they antibiotics? I realize this condition is caused by polyps, and I assume it is inherited. I told my doctor I avoid all pits, nuts and seeds. He said that is an old wives’ tale. Do you think I can safely eat nuts, berries and seeds? It seems that every time I do, I get an attack. Am I being an old wife? – C.P.

ANSWER: Seventy-two is a mature wife, but not an old one.

Diverticula are pea- to grape-sized protrusions of the colon (large intestine) lining through the muscular wall of the colon. When I was a kid, I had a bike whose tires had inner tubes. My bike tires were studded with diverticula. The inner tubes protruded from multiple gaps in the tires.

Diverticula are not related to polyps, and heredity has little to do with them. An overly refined diet is to blame. Without enough fiber, undigested food dries out in its passage through the colon. Fiber holds on to water. To push the dried food along, the colon has to generate maximum force. That force, in turn, causes the colon lining to pop through the colon wall and form diverticula.

Diverticulosis is the condition where many diverticula stud the colon. It is usually not painful.

Diverticulitis, on the other hand – inflammation of the diverticula – is quite painful, and it can cause rectal bleeding. Bacteria multiplying in diverticula cause the inflammation. Diverticulitis is treated with antibiotics, and the two medicines you took are antibiotics. Resting the colon by taking only liquids or bypassing the digestive tract entirely through intravenous feeding permits the inflammation to cool down.

At one time, a universal ban on nuts, seeds, kernels and such was issued to everyone with diverticula. Now there is a liberalization of that advice. However, if a person has an attack after indulging in those foods, as you do, that person should avoid them.

The diverticulosis pamphlet gives the details of this common condition. People can obtain a copy 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: As a result of a low hemoglobin count, I was given a bone marrow test and diagnosed with myelodysplasia. I am 79. Would you kindly explain this condition and its treatment? – F.C.

ANSWER: The bone marrow is the place where all blood cells are made. Medicine borrowed “myelo” from the Greeks; it’s their word for bone marrow. Myelodysplasia is bone marrow that doesn’t make adequate numbers of blood cells and often makes poorly formed (dysplastic) blood cells.

There are a number of myelodysplasia varieties, but most feature anemia – insufficient numbers of red blood cells. Anemia symptoms – weariness, weakness and shortness of breath – are common myelodysplasia symptoms. When there’s a white blood cell deficit, infections are common. And with a shortage of platelets – the clot-forming cells – bruises and bleeding arise.

The cause of this illness is not known. It usually strikes at older ages – in the 70s and 80s.

There is no one best treatment. Medicines that stimulate red blood cell production sometimes help, as do transfusions. Chemotherapy is often used because myelodysplasia can evolve into leukemia. Bone marrow stem cell transplants are avenues opened to a few myelodysplasia patients.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I am an active, healthy 72-year-old woman who has had to deal with calcium deposits. My doctor suggests I take calcium for osteoporosis. Wouldn’t that add to my calcium deposits? – P.S.

ANSWER: Calcium deposits, except in a very few and unusual circumstances, do not come from calcium in the diet or calcium supplements. They come from old injuries and old infections. The body uses calcium as its spackle to patch up defects.

Sometimes, calcifications indicate cancer. Those, too, are special circumstances, unrelated to diet.

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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