co-written by Rick Olazabal, BSc, BN
Peptic ulcer disease (commonly referring to as stomach ulcers) can be excruciatingly discomforting and painful. It affects mostly those between the ages of 25 and 64, and it is usually associated with infection, use of over-the-counter pain medication, alcohol consumption and cigarette smoking.
Diagnosis is usually made based on symptom presentation. Conventional treatment can be very effectively, but there are some gaps that may be addressed the natural way…
What is a stomach ulcer?
Peptic ulcers is what results after the lining of the stomach gets eroded. This lining is what protects your stomach from digesting itself. When the lining is damaged inflammation ensues thus unleashing the painful events that follow.
These ulcers do not happen in the same place. For example, if it’s in the body of the stomach, it is known as a gastric ulcer, and if it’s in the first part of the small intestine, this is known as a duodenal ulcer. Each of these have slightly different manifestations and complications.
What is the cause of stomach ulcer?
The most prevalent causes of stomach ulcers are use of anti-inflammatory drugs (i.e. NSAIDs, e.g. ibuprofen) for pain, and infection with the bug Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori). Infection with this bacterium accounts for nearly 50% of peptic ulcer disease.
H. pylori has the ability to thrive in the stomach and alter the environment, while inflammation. NSAIDs, on the other hand, reduce inflammation at the expense of shutting down a molecule required to protect the lining of the stomach from digesting itself.
What are the symptoms?
Signs and symptoms are variable, but a burning epigastric pain is the usually the chief complaint. Food intake is associated with the timing of the pain (e.g. gastric ulcers tend to be more painful after food intake relative to duodenal ulcers, while in some cases, food can be the relieving factor). Your health care provider will be able to distinguish.
What can be done?
The first step is always to consult with a qualified health care provider. Don’t be popping pills until you get clearance from your health care provider. If H. pylori tests positive, you’re strongly encouraged to take the right course of antibiotics. Chronic infection and peptic ulcer disease is a major risk factor for stomach cancer.
So what can you do, naturally, after you’re in the clear? Firstly, if smoking and alcohol are a common part of your lifestyle, you may need to cut down. If you were an avid user of NSAIDs (e.g. menstrual cramps), consider seeing a licensed naturopathic doctor to get to the root cause of the pain—treatments like acupuncture can help reduce the pain in the meantime. Herbs like devil’s claw can help with the pain.
Deglycyrrhizinated liquorice has also been shown to be effective in helping stomach ulcers. It may also be worth to consider N-acetyl-glucosamine for healing the gut. If antibiotic use is a concern due to floral imbalance, a good probiotic may be recommended. If B12 levels are low as a result of treatment, lactofermented whey may help absorption and give your good flora a boost.