Stomach ulcers, also called gastric or peptic ulcers, are open sores in the lining of the stomach and duodenum – the upper section of the small intestine. They often cause discomfort or dull pain in the stomach, bloating, nausea, and unexplained weight loss. If untreated, stomach ulcers may bleed causing severe pain in the upper abdomen and, as a result, may severely damage the digestive tract.
Stomach ulcers develop in highly acidic environment that can be caused by several issues such as overuse of certain medications like ibuprofen and aspirin, which irritate the stomach lining, alcohol, nicotine, stress, poor diet, and food allergies. However, the most common culprit of stomach ulcers is an infection caused by bacteria, Helicobacter pylori (H.pylori).
Before starting any at-home treatment, you should be properly diagnosed by a physician. The diagnostic tests usually include the upper GI series (x-rays), endoscopy, and a test for H. pylori, which is either a blood, breath, or stomach tissue (gathered during endoscopy) test. The bacteria is a very common cause of stomach ulcers and can be easily treated with antibiotics. It is important to have the test done because elimination of H. pylori is usually enough to cure the ulcers.
If H. pylori is not present, other treatments are administered. There are three types of traditional drugs that your doctor may prescribe: antacids that help to neutralize stomach acid, acid inhibitors that limit the stomach's acid production, and drugs that protect the stomach's lining.
These medications may eliminate the ulcers temporarily, but unfortunately, there is no guarantee that the ulcer will not recur. In fact, some sources claim that the recurrence rate exceeds 80%. Also, acid blocking drugs tend to block nutrients from being absorbed, as well and may cause nutrient deficiency. That's why it is important not to rely on commercial drugs alone, but implement some of the alternative treatments that are known to be helpful. It goes without saying that you should talk to your physician first. Many doctors are familiar with alternative treatments for stomach ulcers and may even suggest you to implement some of them.
The first step in treating stomach ulcers is to eliminate all the factors that could potentially irritate your stomach, increase acid production and, as a result, hinder the healing process. They are: alcohol, smoking, coffee (regular and decaf), tea, milk, spicy foods, refined sugar, salt, aspirin, and ibuprofen. Contrary to the belief, milk does not help in healing stomach ulcers. It actually adds to the stomach's acid production and should be avoided. Also, as spicy foods alone may not cause ulcers, but they may irritate the existing ulcers.
Food allergies and food intolerance have been known to cause a lot of damage to the stomach and/or intestines, including stomach bleeding and ulcers. And, on the other hand, eliminating allergens brings on faster healing.
The next step is to enrich your diet in foods and supplements that are known to be beneficial in treatment of stomach ulcers. Here are some of the most effective:
Vitamin A helps to heal the lining of the stomach. However, high doses of this vitamin are toxic so, it is recommended to take it under your doctor's supervision. However, beta carotene, which the body converts into vitamin A, isn't toxic and can be taken in large amounts. You can either take it in the form of a supplement or include beta carotene (pro-vitamin A)-rich foods in your diet, like carrots, yams, cantaloupe, spinach, egg yolks, liver, etc.
Zinc helps to repair damaged stomach tissue and protects against stomach ulcers. It is a common component of drugs used in stomach ulcer treatments in Europe. Some of the zinc rich foods are: nuts, bananas, avocados, lettuce, liver, fish, onion, etc.
Glutamine is an amino acid that is naturally present in the cells of the lining of the stomach and small intestine and provides energy for those cells. Without it the cells deteriorate. Taking a glutamine supplement - generally, 500 to 1,000 mg – could speed up the recovery process and prevent further deteriorating of the lining. The amino acid is also present in cabbage and raw cabbage juice is one of the simplest way to treat stomach ulcers.
Fiber is an indigestible complex carbohydrate that helps to regulate food movement (along with acid fluids) through the digestive system. It reduces acid rush from the stomach to the intestine, which allows for healing and also preventing duodenal ulcers.
Licorice root has been used in medicine for thousands of years due to its anti-inflammatory properties. It has a soothing effect on the mucous membranes of the digestive tract by increasing the number of mucus-producing cells and, therefore, it may protect the stomach and duodenum from stomach acids and other irritants. Some studies have shown that flavonoids present in licorice may also inhibit growth of the bacteria H. pylori.
Licorice root has some undesirable side effects, like increased blood pressure and water retention. That's why a licorice root supplement in the form of chewable tablets, called DGL (deglycyrrhizinated licorice), was created which helped to eliminate most of the side effects. It is recommended taking one to two chewable tablets of DGL (250 to 500 mg) 20 - 30 minutes before meals and one to two hours before bedtime.
Bananas have always had beneficial effect on the digestive system. In India, dry banana powder is used by Ayurvedic doctors to treat stomach ulcers. It is recommended to take two dry banana capsules four times a day for eight weeks.
Chamomile soothes the inflamed lining of the stomach. It is also high in flavonoids that help to inhibit growth of bacteria H. pylori. You can either drink chamomile tea (two to three cups a day) or take chamomile capsules (two three times a day).
Calendula has anti-inflammatory properties and is used in healing ulcers. Just like chamomile, it may be used as tea or in capsules.
Raw unprocessed honey is also a great treatment for ulcers. Honey has been known for its healing properties, especially in healing wounds. While ingested, it helps to protect the lining of the stomach and kill harmful bacteria, as well.
There are many other plants being researched that may be helpful when it comes to ulcers. For example, several Japanese studies revealed that ginger contains more than six anti-ulcer compounds. Also, marshmallow, cinnamon, slippery elm, comfrey, corydalis, and agrimony are some of the herbs that help to lower stomach acids and may be beneficial in curing ulcers.
To sum up, stomach ulcers are very serious and cannot be left untreated. Before starting any alternative treatment, you should see a doctor to find out if the ulcers are caused by H. pylori and then, depending on the test results, consult about an appropriate treatment. One thing is certain, your diet and lifestyle will require some changes. At first, those changes may seem to be sacrifices, but in reality they are improvements that will allow you to reclaim your health.