Peptic Ulcers: Myths, Truths, and Natural Solutions

Over 25 million Americans will develop a peptic ulcer at some time in their lives. Those at greatest risk are people with type “O” blood and those who have a family history of peptic ulcer disease.

For years, stress was considered the key factor in ulcer formation. Recently, this supposition has been proven wrong. The stress-cause-ulcer model was largely abandoned in the earlier 1980’s when Australian researchers discovered the presence of a bacterium, Helicobactor pylori (H. pylori), between the lining of the stomach and the protective mucous layer in ulcer patients. To prove the cause-effect relationship between H. pylori and ulcers, they actually ingested the bacteria themselves and subsequently developed ulcers.

It has been widely reported that the majority of patients with peptic ulcers have H. pylori, which is thought to weaken the mucosa over time, leaving the stomach vulnerable to the caustic effects of it’s own acid. H. pylori has been identified in patients with peptic ulcers, but not all of them.

While H. pylori does not appear to be the sole cause of peptic ulcers, it seems to be an important contributing variable, for the rate of recurrence of these ulcers is greatly diminished when H. pylori is successfully eradicated.

Half of all people who have ulcers have no symptoms. Those who do have symptoms will experience a pain in the upper abdomen underneath the breastbone.  It may be a cramping, burning, or gnawing sensation that feels like a “hunger pang”. The pain may be constant or intermittent. Those with gastric ulcers will feel the pain just below the rib cage to the left, while the pain of duodenal ulcers is felt a little bit to the right of the mid-abdominal region.

Food may irritate gastric ulcers initially, but the burning generally subsides as acid is neutralized. Other signs and symptoms of peptic ulcers include:

  • Headache
  • A choking sensation
  • Nausea/vomiting
  • Back pain
  • Black tarry stools
  • Paleness
  • Weakness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Dizziness

Diarrhea is not typically a sign of ulcer, but is present in Zollinger-Ellison syndrome. If a patient has other ulcer symptoms along with diarrhea and has failed to respond to standard treatment, s/he may have the rare syndrome.

The standard medical treatment for ulcers, since it is viewed as an infectious disease aggravated by stomach acid, involves a combination of therapies, using all or some of the following:

  • Antibiotics (usually two because H. pylori is believed to have a variety of strains)
  • Acid-suppressing drugs called H2 blockers (like Tagamet and Pepsid) to block the action of histamine (which signals HCl production) or the more powerful proton pump inhibitors (like Nexium).
  • Drugs, such as sucralfate (sucrose plus polyaluminum hydroxide), to coat the lining of the stomach

Typically, antibiotics are administered for a period of 2 weeks, concurrent with antacids, which are often continued indefinitely. While temporary initial use of antacids for symptomatic relief is relatively safe, taken regularly, these drugs can lead to malabsorption of nutrients, bowel irregularities, kidney stones and other side effects.

As an alternative, the following natural solutions could be effective in eradicating H. pylori infection:

  • Mastic gum 250 mg. four times a day
  • Vitamin C (see appendix to determine amount), but start with at least 3000 mg. per day.
  • Bismuth subcitrate (different than Pepto-Bismol, which is bismuth salicylate), 240 mg. twice a day; available from compounding pharmacies.
  • A natural anti-fungal and antibacterial with grapefruit seed extract, garlic, undecylenic acid, rosemary, thyme and bismuth could be helpful.
  • Probiotics Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium: A supplement that provides a combination of these bacteria, along with L. salivarius. L salivarius has been shown to inhibit H. pylori experimentally.

Restoring and healing the stomach is the next approach. If there is an acute pain, you may want to do a juicing diet for a few days.  An important factor would be cabbage juice. If symptoms are severe, you may want to ease from a juicing diet to a soft foods diet to include foods such as squash, potatoes, yams, and avocados.

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Author: Brenda Watson, C.N.C., is a New York Times bestselling author, PBS health educator and digestive care expert, and is considered one of the foremost authorities today on natural digestive health and the gut connection to total-body health.