Because it has to withstand constant contact with digestive juices and acids, the inner lining of esophagus, duodenum, and stomach is quite resistant to injury. Sometimes, however, breaks or holes occur in this lining. This condition is known as a peptic ulcer (sometimes referred to as a duodenal ulcer when it appears in the duodenum, the upper portion of the small intestine), and is actually quite common, affecting an estimated one out of every 10 people.
New research by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has uncovered that an estimated 90 percent of duodenal ulcers are caused by a Helicobacter pylori bacterium infection. It is not known how the bacteria actually contribute to ulcer formation.
The remaining 10 percent of ulcers are believed to be caused by several different factors-including heavy aspirin use, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory use, and cigarette smoking-that weaken the lining of the esophagus, duodenum, or stomach and prompt the development of ulcers.
Ulcers affect people of all ages, emotional makeup, and socioeconomic levels. Stress may contribute to peptic ulcers, yet many individuals who are relatively stress-free develop ulcers.
Signs and Symptoms
- Gnawing feeling, aching, and/or burning in the upper abdomen or lower chest that may subside with antacids
- Pain that awakens you at night
- Nausea and vomiting (in severe cases, vomit may be tinged with bright red blood)
Conventional Medical Treatment
If you suspect you have an ulcer, see your physician. To establish a diagnosis he or she may perform an endoscopy or order a barium X-ray. Endoscopy is now the preferred method because during this procedure, in which a narrow tube is passed through the mouth into the intestines, a biopsy can be performed and tissue cultured to greatly aid in diagnosis. A blood test is also available to detect infection with Helicobacter pylori bacterium.
There are three main strategies for treating peptic ulcers. The first involves acid reduction using over-the-counter antacids, Hz blockers (cimetidine, ranitidine, famotidine) and emoprazole. Sometimes a combination of antibiotics and bismuth subsalicylate (the active ingredient in PeptoBismol) is prescribed to eradicate H. pylori. Some doctors prescribe sucralfate, which works by forming a protective coating over the ulcer, allowing it to heal.
Surgery is rarely needed because medications are so effective. Surgery is used mainly to treat complications from peptic ulcers, such as perforations, recurrent bleeding from the ulcer, or bowel obstruction.
Complementary and Alternative Treatments
Nutrition and Supplementation
First, let’s address what you should eat and drink. Darkgreen, leafy vegetables contain vitamin K, which is necessary for healing and is usually deficient in people with ulcers. To keep the colon clean, supplement with psyllium fiber daily. Eat frequent small meals. Drink barley, wheat, and alfalfa juice, as they are potent anti-ulcer treatments.
The list of what you shouldn’t eat is a bit longer. Avoid caffeine and alcohol. Avoid fried foods, salt, chocolate, strong spices, animal fats, and carbonated drinks. When you drink hot beverages, let them cool a while; hot beverages may trigger gastric discomfort. Do not drink cow’s milk; the calcium and protein it contains stimulate the production of more acid. And finally, do not smoke. Smoking can delay or prevent healing and it may lead to relapses.
In addition to a sound diet, these daily supplements help ease the discomfort of ulcers:
- pectin (as directed on label)-creates a soothing protective coating in the intestines, thereby relieving the discomfort of duodenal ulcers
- L-glutamine (500 mg 3 times daily)-repairs stomach lining
- vitamin E (400 to 800 IU)-reduces stomach acid; promotes healing
- arabinogalactan (as directed)
- lactobacillus sporogenes (as directed)
- curcumin (25 mg 2 to.3 times daily)-promotes healing
- evening primrose oil (as directed on label)-protects the stomach and intestinal tract from ulcers
- vitamin A (50,000 IU for one month, then 25,000 IU, then reduce to 10,000 IU; do not exceed 8000 IU daily if you are pregnant) necessary for healing; protects mucous membranes of the stomach and intestines; use emulsion form
- vitamin B complex (50 mg 3 times daily) needed for proper digestion
- vitamin C (3000 mg)-promotes wound healing; protects against infection
- vitamin K (100 mcg)-helps prevent bleeding
- calcium carbonate (as directed)-a natural antacid
According to Ayurveda, ulcers are a pitta disorder that may be remedied by reducing excess pitta. To regain internal balance, practitioners may recommend taking a little licorice powder or a combination of ground cinnamon, ground cardamom, and ground cloves several times daily.
Bodywork and Somatic Practices
Try reflexology, polarity therapy, Reiki, Therapeutic Touch, or Oriental bodywork.
Herbalists and naturopaths often suggest licorice for treating ulcers anywhere along the gastrointestinal track. Licorice has natural compounds that can soothe and heal mucous membranes. To make a licorice decoction, simmer 1 teaspoon chopped or powdered licorice root in 1 cup water for 15 minutes; strain. Drink 3 times a day. Alternatively, you can take licorice capsules under the supervision of your health care provider and herbal practitioner.
Teas made from marshmallow root, chamomile, or myrrh can also be effective in tempering ulcer pain. Herbalists also recommend ginger for the treatment of ulcers.
Herbal products are available in health food stores and in some pharmacies and supermarkets. Follow package for specific directions.
Ulcers of the digestive tract may respond to homeopathic treatment. However, the selection of a remedy-more than one is
available-depends on your symptoms and the stage of the condition. Don’t try treating this disorder yourself. See a homeopathic professional.
Traditional Chinese Medicine
Acupuncture – Duodenal ulcers are found in the small intestine, so an acupuncturist may focus on strengthening this organ by concentrating on auricular points that include the duodenum, stomach, sympathy, and she-men (a point related to the heart).
To treat a gastric ulcer the practitioner typically focuses on Pericardium, Stomach, Bladder, and Conception Vessel. The point known as Stomach may be added if there is abdominal distention, and if the patient presents blood in his stool, Liver may be included in the session as well. Additional points may be added to control ulcer-induced nausea and vomiting.
Acupressure – To relieve the pain of a duodenal ulcer, the acupressurist may apply pressure to the following points: Conception Vessel, Stomach and Bladder.
To treat abdominal pain often associated with a gastric ulcer, the practitioner may work on Triple Warmer, Bladder, Conception Vessel, Spleen, and Liver, and related auricular points. In cases of abdominal distention, the practitioner typically focuses on Stomach, Spleen, and several points on the back of the ear.
Chinese Herbal Therapy – To treat a duodenal ulcer, a Chinese herbalist may recommend herbs that have a soothing, healing effect, such as aloe vera, ginger, Job’s Tears, and Solomon’s Seal. The patent medicines called Internal Formula, Bupleurum, Inula, and Cyperus Formula, and Corydalis Analgesic Tablets also may be prescribed to combat the pain of a duodenal ulcer.
For a gastric ulcer, the practitioner may recommend Japanese honeysuckle, pseudoginseng, and tiger thistle. Licorice and aloe vera may help relieve the pain while trifoliate orange can be used to alleviate stomach distention. The herbal medicine known as Cyperus and Ligusticum Formula also can help reduce acid reflux and abdominal distention, while Major Four Herbs Formula may be given to help strengthen the digestive system and improve the flow of chi.