Peptic ulcers most frequently affect the stomach and the duodenum, which is the upper part of the small intestine. Both the stomach and the duodenum process high quanti- ties of gastric juices. These juices have to be strong in order to break food down into digestible particles; in fact, they’re composed largely of hydrochloric acid, a substance that can dissolve not just last night’s dinner but body tissues as well. To protect the stomach and duodenum walls against damage from gastric acid, both organs are coated with a protective mucus layer. In addition, bicarbonate ions are secreted by the lining of the stomach and the duodenum. Under normal conditions, this mucus layer and the alkalinizing bicarbonate ions prevent the acid from eating away at the digestive tract lining. But when the lining is too weak and there is decreased bicarbonate secretion, some of the stomach tissues may be eroded. An eroded spot is called a peptic ulcer.
Most people know that stress increases the output of gastric acid. If you have an ulcer, reducing the levels of tension and anxiety in your life will go a long way toward healing the physical wound. But many other factors can cause or contribute to ulcers as well. Some drugs are notorious for increasing acid production—most notably, aspirin and the class of medications called nonsteroidal anti-inﬂammatory drugs (NSAIDs, for short). People who take aspirin or NSAIDs like ibuprofen on a regu- lar basis are at a high risk for getting stomach ulcers. Smokers develop ulcers much more often than nonsmokers do. And as with every digestive disorder, a poor diet, especially one that includes spicy foods, citrus fruits, soda pop, caffeine, and alco- hol, is frequently at the root of the problem. Food allergies or sensitivities can cause problems as well. One must also consider that low antioxidant status appears to pre- dispose one to ulcers.
The bacteria Helicobacter pylori has been strongly linked to ulcer formation. Stud- ies show that some people with ulcers have this bacterium in the affected organ, and elimination of H. pylori often helps with healing. Antibiotic therapy, as well as nat- ural therapies, can be very effective for this infection. Make sure to supplement with probiotics to replace the helpful bacteria that antibiotics destroy. These good bacte- ria also play a role in preventing H. pylori infection.
Conventional therapy generally focuses on antacid medications. This group of med- ications suppresses stomach acid formation. For severe acute ulcer problems, such as a bleeding ulcer, these medications can be very effective and warranted. However, for many people these medications are prescribed on a long-term basis that does not treat the cause of the ulcer. In addition, long-term use can contribute to digestive problems in other areas of the digestive tract, as hydrochloric acid is required for protein diges- tion and the liquefaction of foods. Without proper stomach acid digestion, there is additional stress on the rest of the digestive organs. Also keep in mind that stomach acid is a natural barrier to bacteria such as H. pylori, as well as to other microbes. Sup- pression of this acid in the long term theoretically makes you more prone to an infec- tion in the digestive tract. Finally, you require stomach acid to absorb minerals, so with long-term acid suppression you are prone to mineral deﬁciency.
Ulcers are a common complaint, but that doesn’t mean they should be ignored. Without treatment, the pain and the burning will only get worse. In fact, the eroded area may grow larger and deeper until it begins to bleed. The ulcer may even perfo- rate the stomach or intestinal wall. Bleeding or perforating ulcers should be treated as medical emergencies; if left unattended, they can be fatal.
• Burning or gnawing pain in the upper abdomen that usually occurs when the stomach is empty or about an hour after eating. Pain may also come on at night.
• Loss of appetite
• Increased appetite (sometimes food actually soothes the ulcer)
• Medications, including aspirin and nonsteroidal anti-inﬂammatory drugs
• Dietary factors, including food allergies
• Alcohol use
• Infection with H. pylori (you are
more susceptible if you have low
stomach acid and not enough friendly ﬂora)
Caution: If your stools or vomit are dark or bloody, or if you have intense abdomi- nal pain that doesn’t go away, you may have a bleeding or perforating ulcer. Consult a doctor immediately.
The following tests help assess possible reasons for ulcers:
H. pylori—blood, stool
Digestive function and microbe/parasite/candida testing—stool analysis
Antioxidant status—blood, urine
Food and environmental allergies/sensitivities—blood, electrodermal
Know Your NSAIDs
Nonsteroidal anti-inﬂammatory drugs—NSAIDs, for short—are some of the most commonly used medications in the world. Millions of people are dependent upon them for relief of back pain, headache, arthritis, and other conditions. Unfor- tunately, these drugs also increase the amount of gastric acid and can lead to peptic ulcers.
Following are some common and brand names for NSAIDs. If you’ve been using any NSAID for a prolonged amount of time, you may be at risk for peptic ulcers. Consider switching to an herbal preparation for effects that are just as potent but far gentler to your body.
If a doctor has prescribed an NSAID for you, consult with him or her before changing your regimen.
Popular NSAIDs include
Although you may not feel like eating, good nutrition is essential for healing ulcers. Eat several small meals a day to avoid placing a heavy burden on your diges- tive system.
Eat plenty of ﬁber. Although the smooth foods of the famous “bland diet” were once thought safest for ulcer patients, increased ﬁber intake has been shown to repair ulcers. Focus on sources of soluble ﬁber, such as oats.
Vitamin K has been shown to repair damage from gastric juices. Eat several serv- ings of green leafy vegetables a day, and drink lots of green juices.
Studies have shown that cabbage juice has remarkable healing powers for ulcers. Drink a quart of cabbage juice daily. It may be diluted with water or carrot juice.
Cultured products will provide the friendly “bacteria” that ﬁght H. pylori. Drink keﬁr milk or eat some live cultured yogurt every day.
Zinc is healing to the digestive tract. Good sources include pumpkin seeds and whole grains.
Consume garlic with your meals; test tube studies show it has anti–Helicobacter pylori properties.
Food to Avoid
Avoid sugar, spicy foods, citrus fruits and juices, coffee, black tea, and alcohol. They all contribute to high levels of gastric acid or are irritating to the stomach lining.
Consult the Food Allergies section, and use the elimination diet to determine whether a food allergy is causing or aggravating your ulcer. Although a reaction to any food can conceivably cause an ulcer, milk allergies are strongly linked to gastric problems.
In a single-blind study of 100 people with peptic ulcers, participants took DGL (760 mg three times daily) or the pharmaceutical Tagamet (cimeti- dine). Researchers found that both groups showed equal healing of ulcers after 6 and 12 weeks. Another study of 874 people found DGL as effective as antacids and the anti-ulcer medica- tion Tagamet.
Tne double- blind trial compared 1 gram of mastic gum per day with a placebo in the treatment of thirty-eight people with duodenal ulcer. After only two weeks of treat- ment, symptoms improved signiﬁ- cantly in 80 per- cent of those receiving mastic gum. Endoscopic
(visual exam with a scope) examination veriﬁed healing in
70 percent of the mastic group but in only 22 percent of the placebo group.
Doctors once prescribed milk as a remedy for ulcers, but that practice has largely stopped. We now know that milk actually encourages stomach acid to form. In addi- tion, many cases of ulcers are linked to a milk allergy.
Do a three-day juice fast to alkalinize your digestive tract. Stay away from acidic fruit juices during this time, and focus on green drinks and vegetable juices instead.
To keep your colon clean, take an enema on the ﬁrst and last day of your fast and then once a month afterward.
Super Seven Prescriptions—Ulcer
Super Prescription #1 Licorice root (DGL) (Glycyrrhiza glabra)
Chew 500 to 1,000 mg twenty minutes before meals or between meals, three times daily. DGL (deglycyrrhizinated licorice) stimulates the regeneration of the mucus layer and has anti-inﬂammatory effects. Preliminary research shows an inhibiting effect on the growth of H. pylori.
Super Prescription #2 Mastic gum (Pistachia lentiscus)
Take 500 mg three times daily. This supplement comes from the mastic tree and has been shown in test tube studies to destroy H. pylori and in human studies to be effective in healing ulcers.
Super Prescription #3 Aloe vera
Drink 1⁄4 cup three times daily. Aloe promotes healing of the lining of the intes- tinal tract and has antimicrobial beneﬁts.
Super Prescription #4 Homeopathic Nux Vomica
Take a 30C potency three times daily. This is the most common remedy for ulcers. See Homeopathy in this section for other helpful remedies.
Super Prescription #5 Probiotic
Take a product containing at least 4 billion active organisms twice daily, thirty min- utes after meals. It supplies friendly bacteria, such as Lactobacillus acidophilus and biﬁdus, that prevent infection and aid digestion. It is particularly important to take if you are using antibiotics.
Super Prescription #6 Slippery elm (Ulmus fulva)
Take 3 ml or 500 mg of the capsule form or suck on a lozenge three times daily between meals. Slippery elm has a soothing and healing effect on the lining of the digestive tract.
Super Prescription #7 Chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla)
Drink a fresh cup of tea four times daily. Animal studies show that it has anti-ulcer activity, and it also relaxes the nervous system.
Zinc promotes tissue healing. Take 30 mg daily, along with 2 mg of copper.
Vitamin A stimulates the healthy growth of intestinal cells and improves immune function. Take 25,000 IU daily, with a doctor’s supervision. Note: Pregnant women or women planning for pregnancy should avoid doses above 5,000 IU.
Vitamin C acts as an antioxidant in the stomach lining and has been shown to retard H. pylori growth. Take 500 to 1,000 mg three times daily. Make sure to use a nonacidic vitamin C. Reduce your dosage if loose stools occur.
Essential fatty acids have been shown to help heal gastric and duodenal ulcers. Take
4,000 mg daily of ﬁsh oil or 1 tablespoon of ﬂaxseed oil daily. Also, take 400 IU of vitamin E to prevent oxidation of these essential fatty acids.
L-glutamine promotes healthy intestinal cells. Take 1,000 mg three times daily on an empty stomach.
Pick the remedy that best matches your symptoms in this section. For relief of acute ulcer pain, take a 30C potency every ﬁfteen minutes, up to four doses. For chronic ulcer problems, take a 6x, 12x, 6C, 12C, or 30C twice daily for two weeks to see if there are any positive results. After you notice improvement, stop taking the remedy, unless symptoms return. Consultation with a homeopathic practitioner is advised.
Arsenicum Album is helpful for a burning sensation in the stomach that is allevi- ated by drinking milk or frequently sipping warm water and sitting up. The person feels anxious and restless.
Lycopodium (Lycopodium clavatum) is for gas and bloating, as well as for stom- ach pain. Symptoms are usually brought on by anxiety and a lack of conﬁdence. The person feels worse when wearing tight clothes and better when sipping warm drinks. There may be a sour taste in the mouth. Symptoms are often worse in the late after- noon and the evening.
Nux Vomica is for people with heartburn and reﬂux that occur from stress, spicy foods, and alcohol. They are generally chilly, irritable, and oversensitive to stimuli (noise, light). Constipation is often a problem as well.
Pulsatilla (Pulsatilla pratensis) is helpful if your ulcer feels worse after you eat rich and fatty foods. Your symptoms feel worse in a warm room and better with fresh air. You also tend to feel tearful when ill, and you greatly desire comfort.
Phosphorous helps when you have a burning pain in the stomach that feels better from cold drinks. However, soon after drinking, you feel nauseous and may vomit.
Sulphur is for burning pain and belching, accompanied by diarrhea. You tend to be very warm and get relief from ice-cold drinks.
• To strengthen your entire gastrointestinal tract, work Stomach 36.
• Another point that beneﬁts the digestive system is Spleen 16. Work it on a daily basis to relieve the pain of ulcers and to restore your appetite for healthful food.
The primary beneﬁt that massage offers the ulcer sufferer is stress relief.
Work the areas corresponding to the stomach, the duodenum, the diaphragm, and the solar plexus.
Side effects from the use of antibi otics are quite com- mon. One study found that people supple- menting probiotics while on antibiotic therapy (three antibi- otics concurrently)
had a signiﬁcant reduction in diarrhea, nausea, and taste dis- turbance, as com- pared to those taking
a placebo with their antibiotics.
See a qualiﬁed practitioner for acupuncture and Chinese herbal therapy.
Constitutional hydrotherapy is an excellent treatment that focuses blood ﬂow back to the stomach to promote healing. See pages 676–677 for directions.
Lavender, ginger, and clary sage will calm gastric upset. Try them in a massage or add them to a bath or a warm compress.
Many oils have potent stress-relieving properties. Refer to page 658 for more infor- mation on aromatherapy oils; you may want to start with one or more of the following: lavender, rose, bergamot, and jasmine. Find a few that you like, and rotate them so that you don’t become immune to their effects. You can use these oils in any preparation.
General Stress-Reduction Techniques
General stress-reduction techniques, such as deep breathing, prayer, yoga, and posi- tive mental imagery, are helpful for recovery.
Bach Flower Remedies
If the following suggestions don’t apply to you, consult the chart on pages 648–650. Once you’ve chosen a remedy, place 10 drops of the liquid under your tongue. Hold the drops in place for thirty seconds and swallow. Use as often as needed.
If you are strong-willed to the point of being inﬂexible, Vine will help you develop more tolerance.
Centaury will help quiet, kind people who take on too much work in order to please others.
Willow is for people who are bitter and resentful. Those who beneﬁt from Willow often feel that life has been unfair to them.
• Tobacco smoke causes ulcers. Don’t smoke or expose yourself to secondhand smoke.
• Do not take any NSAIDs or aspirin if you have a history of ulcers. If your doctor has prescribed these for you, check with him or her about a less-irritating alternative, or, better yet, work with a holistic doctor for a natural alternative