FRIDAY, Jan. 27, 2012 (HealthDay News) -- Eating a high-fiber diet does not lower a person's risk of diverticulosis, but a low-fiber diet might, according to a new study that contradicts what doctors have believed for decades.
Diverticulosis is a disease of the intestines in which pouches develop in the colon wall.
Researchers at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine analyzed data from more than 2,100 patients, aged 30 to 80, who underwent outpatient colonoscopy between 1998 and 2010. The patients were interviewed about their diet, bowel movements and level of physical activity.
Patients with the lowest fiber intake were 30 percent less likely to develop diverticulosis than those with the highest intake, according to the study published in the February issue of the journal Gastroenterology.
The findings also showed that constipation was not a risk factor and that having more frequent bowel movements was linked to an increased risk. Those with more than 15 bowel movements a week were 70 percent more likely to develop diverticulosis than those with fewer than seven bowel movements a week, the investigators noted.
However, while the study uncovered an association between fiber consumption, bowel movements and diverticulosis risk, it did not prove a cause-and-effect relationship.
In addition, no association was seen between diverticulosis and physical inactivity or intake of fat or red meat.
"While it is too early to tell patients what to do differently, these results are exciting for researchers," study lead researcher Dr. Anne Peery, a fellow in the gastroenterology and hepatology division, said in a university news release. "Figuring out that we don't know something gives us the opportunity to look at disease processes in new ways."
Diverticulosis affects about one-third of U.S. adults older than 60, according to the news release. Most cases don't cause symptoms, but the condition can cause complications such as bleeding, infections, intestinal perforations and even death.
The U.S. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases has more about diverticulosis and diverticulitis.