Peptic ulcers, which can affect both the stomach (gastric ulcers) and the first part of the small intestine (duodenal ulcers), blight the lives of millions of people. In the UK, 10 to 15 per cent of the population are affected by this condition, with men being more susceptible than women.
Peptic ulcers do not always cause sufferers to experience any pain but, in the majority of cases, they cause a dull, gnawing ache in the upper abdomen that comes on two or three hours after meals and is normally relieved by eating something. Other symptoms can include nausea, bloating, wind, weight loss and fatigue. It is important to see your doctor for a diagnosis, particularly if you experience black, tarry stools – as this can indicate that an ulcer is bleeding.
If you are diagnosed with having a peptic ulcer, your doctor will probably write you a prescription for a cocktail of drugs, all of which can cause unpleasant side effects. Yet, a combination of dietary changes and natural herbs and nutrients can clear up the problem just as quickly and prevent its recurrence.
Could your lifestyle be putting you at high risk of developing a peptic ulcer?
A peptic ulcer occurs when hydrochloric acid and digestive enzymes (produced by glands in your stomach lining) attack the inner surface of your stomach or duodenum, causing small, open sores. If left untreated, there is a risk that the ulcer can become ‘perforated’ – this occurs when the ulcer eats right through the wall of your stomach or duodenum and can be fatal.
The current theory held by most medical practitioners is that ulcers are caused by a bacterium called Helicobacter pylori. However, the presence of this bug is not the only factor involved. In fact, while around 40 per cent of the UK population is estimated to carry H. pylori, only one person in five who carries it will develop a peptic ulcer — and a significant proportion of people with peptic ulcers show no signs of H. pylori infection.
Two other major factors in the development of peptic ulcers are dehydration and stress. If you don’t drink enough water, the lining of your stomach and duodenum are unable to produce the thick layer of mucus needed to protect them from powerful digestive juices. To avoid this you should drink a large glass of water about 30 minutes before each meal, and drink about two litres of water in total each day.
Stress increases the production of acid in your stomach and also suppresses your immune system so that it is less able to keep H. pylori under control. Caffeine and nicotine further increase stomach acid. The ideal candidate for a peptic ulcer is someone with a stressful lifestyle, who rarely drinks any water but usually has a cup of coffee in one hand and a cigarette in the other.
Orthodox treatments can cause impotence and breast enlargement in men
The conventional approach to treating peptic ulcers usually involves a combination of strong antibiotics to kill off H. pylori, and ‘acid pump inhibitors’ to reduce stomach acidity (such as Zantac or Tagamet).
However, this combination can cause a range of problems. Antibiotics damage your immune system and wipe out the natural ‘friendly’ bacteria in your gut, which can cause symptoms like diarrhoea. Both Tagamet and Zantac (ranitidine) can cause headaches, dizziness, nausea and diarrhoea. More disturbing still, Tagamet (cimetidine) interferes with liver function and can lead to breast enlargement and impotence in men.
Being careful about your diet and lifestyle can help enormously in treating a peptic ulcer (see the ‘Dos and Don’ts’ box above). There are also several natural herbs and other supplements whose anti-ulcer effects are well documented.
Natural remedies can banish ulcers safely and effectively… and stop them coming back
One of the most effective natural remedies is deglycyrrhizinated liquorice (DGL). DGL is liquorice from which an ingredient called glycyrrhizin (which can cause high blood pressure and water retention) has been removed.
DGL has an amazing ability to heal ulcers – it stimulates the normal defence mechanisms against ulcer formation, increases the quality and quantity of protective substances that are secreted to line the digestive tract and there is some evidence that it inhibits the growth of the bacterium H pylori – and has compared favourably in clinical trials against the conventional anti-ulcer drug Tagamet (cimetidine) (Drugs, 1974; 8: 330-9).
Another study found that peptic ulcers were less likely to recur after treatment with DGL than after treatment with Tagamet (Gut, 1985; 26: 599-602). Chewable tablets of DGL appear to be more effective than capsules, and the recommended dose is 250 to 500mg 15 minutes before each meal and an hour before bedtime.
A natural resin called mastic gum, from the tree Pistachia lentiscus, has been shown to effectively eradicate H. pylori and even to kill those strains that are resistant to antibiotics (NEJM, 1998; 399: 1946). In one placebo-controlled clinical trial, a staggering 80 per cent of patients taking a gram of mastic gum a day reported an improvement in their overall symptoms. In the same trial, endoscopy (where a telescopic camera tube is inserted down the digestive tract) revealed that normal cells were replacing ulcerated areas in 70 per cent of those who had taken mastic gum (Clin. Exp. Pharmacol. Physiol., 1984; 11: 541-4). Mastic gum is available as the supplement ‘Mastika’, produced by Allergy Research Group. Take four 250mg capsules before bed.
Abdominal pain alleviated in just 10 days after taking Sano-Gastril
A preparation called Sano-Gastril, produced by fermenting a soya bean extract with a special strain of the yoghurt-producing bacteria, Lactobacillus bulgaricus, has a buffering effect on stomach acidity and helps maintain normal levels. It also helps to heal and regenerate the ulcerated areas of the stomach or duodenum lining (Am. J. Clin. Nutr., 1987; 45: 432-6).
As an added bonus, the L. bulgaricus strain used produces a natural antibiotic that is lethal to H. pylori but harmless to the ‘friendly’ gut bacteria (Infection, 1990; 18: 9-13). In extensive clinical trials carried out by the manufacturer, 83 per cent of patients reported freedom from abdominal pain after using Sano-Gastril for just ten days, and an incredible 99 per cent of patients were symptom-free after one month. The recommended dose is two of the 1,500mg tablets three times a day, 30 minutes before meals.
Several other natural supplements have been shown to assist in healing ulcers or in killing H. pylori. Bioflavonoids such as quercetin not only inhibit the growth of H. pylori, but also have anti-inflammatory properties that help ease ulcer pain (Arzneim-Forsch. Drug Res., 1995; 45: 697-700; Naunyn-Schmeidbergs Arch. Pharmakol., 1980; 313: 238). The recommended dosage is 500mg of quercetin a day.
A peptic ulcer needn’t dominate or ruin your life. The supplements listed above, together with the specific dietary and lifestyle changes recommended, can make sure your ulcer goes away and stays away for good.
Simple Lifestyle Changes Can Help Prevent And Overcome Peptic Ulcers
- Drink 2 litres of water daily
- Drink camomile herbal tea, which has a soothing effect on inflamed gut linings
- Follow a high fibre, low carbohydrate diet – fibre aids ulcer healing but sugar prevents it
- Eat a banana each day, to protect the stomach lining from acid attack
- Eat cabbage or broccoli every day. These vegetables contain ulcer-healing compounds
- Eat several small meals to prevent a large amount of acid being produced at one time
- Avoid foods to which you are allergic, since allergies may be a factor in some ulcers
- Drink alcohol
- Drink coffee or normal tea
- Include sugar in your diet in any form
- Add salt to your food or eat salty snacks
- Regularly take aspirin or other painkillers
- Let stress get to you, or eat when stressed
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