Peptic ulcers are an extremely common health problem, affecting as many as 50% of Americans. Other terms used for this condition are gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) or Acid reflux disease. A popular symptom of acid reflux or an ulcer is “heartburn”, the burning sensation behind your breastbone that sometimes travels up your throat. In some cases, this pain is severe enough to be mistaken for a heart attack.
Along with discomfort and pain in the abdomen, a stomach ulcer can cause nausea, vomiting, heartburn, poor appetite, and weight loss. Stomach ulcers can even lead to a hole in the stomach, which causes an extremely painful stabbing pain in the stomach and requires immediate surgery. A very small fraction of ulcers might signal cancer.
What Causes Ulcers
Acid reflux and ulcers are thought to be caused by excessive amounts of acid in the stomach, which is why acid-blocking drugs are typically recommended and prescribed. However, this is a serious medical misconception that adversely affects hundreds of millions of people, as the problem usually results from having too little acid in your stomach. However, ulcers can have several different causes, so traditional treatments depend on the root of the cause. Stomach ulcers are often treated with antibiotics for an infection or medications to reduce, block, or neutralize stomach acid.
After food passes through your esophagus into your stomach, a muscular valve called the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) closes, preventing food or acid to move back up.
Acid reflux occurs when the LES relaxes inappropriately, allowing acid from your stomach to flow (reflux) backward into your esophagus. But it’s important to understand that acid reflux is not a disease caused by excessive acid production in your stomach; rather it’s a symptom more commonly related to:
- Hiatal hernia
- Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) infection (H. pylori bacteria is thought to affect more than half of the world’s population, and has been identified as a Group 1 carcinogen by the World Health Organization)
While these two conditions are unrelated, many who have a hiatal hernia also have H. pylori, which cause a chronic low-level inflammation of your stomach lining that can result in an ulcer and associated symptoms. If you have a hiatal hernia, physical therapy on the area may work and many chiropractors are skilled in this adjustment.
Stomach ulcers are open sores in the lining of the stomach. Because of the amount of acid present in the stomach, ulcers there are often extremely painful. Certain prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) medications can also cause stomach ulcers. Typically the use of painkillers, such as aspirin, and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory pills, such as ibuprofen or naproxen. Other common culprits include anxiety medications and antidepressants, antibiotics, blood pressure medications, nitroglycerin, and osteoporosis drugs.
If your heartburn is caused by a medication you’re taking, the answer is to address what, when, and how you’re taking that drug. Please do not make the mistake of simply adding yet another drug to counteract this side effect. Some helpful tips for how to address drug-induced ulcers/heartburn are:
- Avoid taking more than the recommended or prescribed dose
- Some medications are best taken on an empty stomach, while others are less likely to cause side effects when taken with a meal. Check the label for instructions, or ask your doctor or pharmacist for advise on when and how to take your medication
- Ask your doctor or pharmacist to review ALL the medications and supplements you’re taking to see if one or more of them cause heartburn.
- Avoid laying down right after taking your medication
Changing the dose or switching to another medication may be advisable to ease your discomfort. You can also drink some ginger tea.
Why Medication Isn’t Always A Good Idea
One of the most commonly prescribed drugs for heartburn and acid reflux are proton pump inhibitors (PPIs), which are very effective at blocking acid production in your stomach. While that may sound like an appropriate remedy, in most cases it’s actually the worst approach possible, as the problem is typically related to your stomach producing too little stomach acid.
Medication like Nexium, Prilosec, and Prevacid are made to treat a very limited range of severe problems, and according to Mitchell Katz, director of the San Francisco Department of Public Health, they are only warranted for the treatment of:
- Bleeding ulcers
- Zollinger-Ellison syndrome (a rare condition that causes your stomach to produce excess acid)
- Severe acid reflux, where an endoscopy has confirmed that your esophagus is damaged
Katz states that, “about 60 to 70% of people taking these drugs only have mild heartburn and shouldn’t be on them.” Part of the problem with PPIs is that when you suppress the acid in your stomach, you decrease your body’s ability to kill the helicobacter bacteria. So if your heartburn is caused by an H. pylori infection, it makes the condition worse. Also, reducing stomach acid diminishes the primary defense mechanism for food-borne infections, increasing the risk of food poisoning. PPI drugs can also cause potentially serious side effects, including pneumonia, bone loss, hip fractures, and infection by harmful intestinal bacteria.
You can also develop both a tolerance and dependence on PPI drugs, so you should not stop taking them cold turkey. You must wean yourself off of them gradually or else you might experience a severe rebound of your symptoms. In some cases, the problem may end up being worse than before you started taking the medication.
There are over 16,000 articles in the medical literature showing that suppressing stomach acid does not address the problem, and that it only temporarily treats the symptoms.
There are also natural home remedies you can use to help ease the symptoms of a stomach ulcer and help it heal.
Easy Natural Ulcer Remedies That Are Extremely Effective
Ulcers can flare up and become a chronic problem, that lead to a number of serious complications including bleeding, so it is important to treat them promptly. Instead of pursuing the most common conventional treatment, which only leads to further problems, following all-natural ulcer remedies is best and easiest.
The answer to this problem is to restore your natural gastric balance and function. Eat a lot of vegetables and other high-quality, ideally organic foods. Also, eliminate food triggers from your diet. Common culprits here include caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine products. Eating large amounts of processed foods and sugars is a surefire way to exacerbate ulcers, by further upsetting the bacterial balance in your stomach and intestine.
Consume Probiotics Daily
Make sure you’re getting enough beneficial bacteria from your meals. This will help balance your gut flora, and eliminate H. pylori bacteria without resorting to antibiotics. It will also aid in proper digestion and assimilation of your food. Ideally, you should get your probiotics from fermented foods, but if you aren’t eating fermented foods, you need to supplement with a probiotic on a regular basis. Ideally, you’ll want to include a variety of cultured foods and beverages in your diet, as each food will inoculate your gut with a variety of different microorganisms. Fermented foods you can easily add to your diet are:
- Fermented vegetables like sauerkraut
- Cultured dairy, such as Greek yogurt, kefir, and sour cream
- Pickled Veggies
Eat Your Cabbage
To get more beneficial bacteria in your body, and keep the disease-causing bacteria in check that can lead to ulcers. One of the best ways to fortify the “GOOD” bacteria in your gastrointestinal tract is by regularly including cultured and lactic acid–fermented foods in your diet, that I talked about above.
But when it comes to ulcer treatment in particular, one lactic acid food stands out above the rest: cabbage juice. Decades before antibiotics, cabbage juice was successfully used to prevent or heal peptic and duodenal ulcers. In one study, it was shown that cabbage juice alone had a cure rate of over 92% in the treatment of these ulcers. This compared to about a 32% cure rate in those using a placebo or other treatment.
The dosage in the study consisted of only 50 mL of raw cabbage juice derived from a quart of freshly pressed cabbage. Based on numerous studies and early clinical work, researchers have begun to refer to this unknown ulcer-healing factor in cabbage as vitamin U.
Although in the above studies the cabbage juice wasn’t fermented, keep in mind that vegetables that grow close to the soil are naturally rich in beneficial lactic acid bacteria. That’s why “starter cultures” aren’t needed to ferment these vegetables, only salt and water.
Cabbage is also a reliable source of vitamin C, which has been found to be lower in the gastric juice of ulcer patients. So if you have ulcers, cabbage juice is a safe, effective, and inexpensive remedy. If you “culture” it or give it a chance to ferment, you’ll experience even more benefits.
I’ve often written about the miraculous powers of garlic and I highly recommend its use in cooking for good reason. Research on its preventive and therapeutic benefits continues to grow. It now appears that garlic keeps levels of the Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) bacterium in check, that can contribute to the development of stomach ulcers. Researchers at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle discovered that garlic exhibits specific antimicrobial activity against H. pylori without entirely eliminating the strain, that can cause other digestive issues.
Pure Raw Honey
Honey possesses a number of powers and has been shown to be an effective ulcer treatment for two reasons. First, glucose oxidase, an enzyme in honey, produces hydrogen peroxide, that kills harmful bacteria that contribute to the development of ulcers. Antibacterial substances in honey add to honey’s effectiveness in eliminating bacteria.
Certain varieties of honey, however, can be more effective than others at healing ulcers. I have reports from Saudi Arabia, where local honey was used to cure ulcers, and from doctors in Egypt and Russia who have had positive results using their local honeys.
However, the key to successful ulcer treatment appears to hinge on it being natural, raw, unprocessed honey. Two tablespoons a day should do the trick, and when the problem has eased, 1 tablespoon daily should be enough.
All forms of Coconut are very helpful for people suffering from stomach ulcers, because of the antibacterial qualities kills the bacteria that causes the ulcers. Coconut milk and coconut water actually have anti-ulcer properties, so drinking a few cups of fresh coconut milk or coconut water daily is very helpful. Also, eating the meat of the tender coconut for at least one week to get positive results. You can even take one tablespoon of coconut oil in the morning and another at night for one week. As coconut oil is mainly composed of medium-chain fatty acids, it is also easily digested.
Compounds in dried, unripe bananas increase mucus in the digestive tract, that provides a strong protective coating to help prevent and heal ulcers. Unripe bananas also promote cell growth in the intestinal tract. And bananas contain water-soluble polysaccharides, the same compounds found in the anti-ulcer prescription drug Carafate.
For ulcer treatment, unripe whole bananas will have some effect, but the best results are obtained with banana powder. To make banana powder, peel the bananas and cut them into thin slices. Put them in the sun, an oven, or a food dehydrator, and dry them slowly. When dry, grind them into a fine powder. Mix 2 tablespoons of the powder with 1 tablespoon of honey. Take this mixture three times a day: mid-morning, mid-afternoon, and at bedtime.
Several studies have suggested that deglycyrrhizinated licorice (DGL) works as well as the drug cimetidine for treating and maintaining peptic and duodenal ulcers. It appears that DGL helps the stomach and intestines produce more protective mucus like bananas mentioned above. This is extremely beneficial for anyone who takes ulcer-producing drugs like aspirin, cortisone derivatives, or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories.
To be effective, however, DGL tablets must be chewed before swallowing. I recommend two 380-mg tablets three times a day between meals. Once ulcers have healed, the dosage can be reduced to two tablets a day (between meals). Enzymatic Therapy makes chewable DGL tablets. Look for them in health food stores.
Contrary to what many people believe, eating hot, spicy foods doesn’t cause ulcers. Actually, eating them prevents ulcer development. This is because peppers have been shown to trigger mechanisms that protect the lining of the stomach. Studies in Hungary found that consumption of capsaicin (the chemically active component in most peppers) actually decreased the acid output of the stomach, while at the same time increased protective secretions. So quite simply, peppers act as an antacid.
Capsaicin was also particularly effective at protecting the stomach from ulcerations caused by alcohol and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. So if you’ve sworn off jalapenos and other hot peppers thinking they caused your ulcers, it’s time to add them back into your diet as an effective ulcer treatment.
Ginger has been found to have a gastro-protective effec, as it blocks acid and suppresses helicobacter pylori.
In a 2007 study found it’s also far superior to lansoprazole for preventing the formation of ulcers, exhibiting six- to eight-fold greater potency over the drug! However, this is not all that surprising, considering the fact that ginger root has been traditionally used against gastric disturbances since ancient times.
Add two or three slices of fresh ginger root to two cups of hot water. Let it steep for about half an hour. Drink about 20 minutes or so before your meal.
Adding one-half to one full teaspoon of baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) in an eight-ounce glass of water may ease the burn of acid reflux as it helps neutralize stomach acid. I would not recommend this is a regular solution but it can sure help in an emergency when you are in excruciating pain.
The juice of the aloe plant naturally helps reduce inflammation, which can ease symptoms of acid reflux. Drink about 1/2 cup of aloe vera juice before meals. If you want to avoid its laxative effect, look for a brand that has removed the laxative component.
This is important for addressing any infectious component. Once your vitamin D levels are optimized, you’re also going to optimize your production of about 200 antimicrobial peptides that will help your body eradicate any infection that shouldn’t be there. You can increase your vitamin D levels through appropriate amounts of sun exposure, or through the use of a tanning bed. For those of you opposed to sun/tanning bed exposure, you can eat Oily fish, caviar, eggs, Greek yogurt, cheese, mushrooms, non-GMO tofu, and pork.
Reversing Low Acid Production
Due to the fact heartburn is typically a sign of having too little stomach acid, you need to try to encourage your body to make sufficient amounts of hydrochloric acid (stomach acid), and to do this, you’ll want to make sure to consume enough of the raw material on a regular basis.
High-quality unprocessed sea salt, such as Himalayan salt, will not only provide you with the chloride your body needs to make hydrochloric acid, it also contains over 80 beneficial trace minerals your body needs to perform optimally. Sauerkraut or cabbage juice is also a strong (if not the strongest) stimulant for your body to produce stomach acid. Having a few teaspoons of cabbage juice before eating, or better yet, fermented cabbage juice from sauerkraut, will do wonders to improve your digestion.
Raw, Unfiltered Apple Cider Vinegar
As mentioned earlier, acid reflux typically results from having too little acid in your stomach, but you can easily improve the acid content of your stomach by taking one tablespoon of raw unfiltered apple cider vinegar in a large glass of water.
More Tips to Avoid Ulcers
A diet centered on fruits, vegetables, and whole grains is not just good for your overall health, according to Mayo Clinic, a vitamin-rich diet can help your body heal an ulcer. Introducing more healthy foods into your diet is the best way to keep your tummy ulcer free. Switching from processed foods to whole foods is a HUGE step, and one should consider consuming more of the items listed below.
Research suggests that flavonoids (compounds that occur naturally in many fruits and vegetables) are an effective treatment for stomach ulcers. Foods and drinks rich in flavonoids include soybeans, legumes, red grapes, kale broccoli, apples, berries, and teas, especially green tea. However, some foods and drinks that contain flavonoids — such as citrus fruits and red wines are also highly acidic, which can irritate a stomach ulcer. Find out below what other foods you need to stay away from.
Foods To Avoid
When your body is fighting an infection, it needs to be at the top of its game. Junk foods not only irritate your sore stomach, they leave you at a risk for obesity and dampen your immune system. Some foods can make ulcers worse, and some of the major culprits that can make your stomach ulcer worse include:
- Coffee, including decaf
- Carbonated Beverages (Soda & Energy Drinks)
- High-Sugar Foods
- Processed Foods
- Fried Foods
- Salty Red Meats
- Cow’s Milk – Milk’s ability to coat the side of a glass may have you thinking that it also creates a protective barrier in your stomach. In fact, it has the opposite effect, because calcium is one mineral that increases the production of stomach acid, which can make things worse. (Use Coconut Milk mentioned above)