What you need to know:
- Unlike conventional medicine, nutritional therapy provides the body with the tools it needs to heal itself so that long-term treatment simply isn’t necessary
Both painful and irritating, gastric ulcers arise when the mucous lining of the stomach is eaten away by hydrochloric acid, the acid normally present in the digestive juices of the stomach. Infection with the corkscrew-shaped bacterium Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) may also play an important role in causing ulcers. H. pylori lives and multiplies quite harmlessly within the mucous layer of the stomach and small intestine. However, sometimes this bacterium can disrupt the mucous layer and inflame the stomach lining, thereby producing an ulcer.
Other causes of ulcers, or factors that may aggravate them, include excess secretion of hydrochloric acid, genetic predisposition, stress, smoking and overuse of anti-inflammatory medications (e.g. aspirin, ibuprofen).
Medication for ulcers aims to reduce the level of acid in the digestive system to relieve pain and encourage healing. In the people I’ve seen at my clinic, this isn’t normally enough, and some of them end up taking antacids for the pain all their lives. Unlike conventional medicine, nutritional therapy provides the body with the tools it needs to heal itself so that long-term treatment simply isn’t necessary.
The best thing to do when you have an ulcer is to eat little and often. Eating every three hours (and chewing your food well) can help to mop up stomach acid and stop it aggravating the ulcer (thus allowing it to heal). Ever notice how the ulcer feels so much worse when you haven’t eaten the whole day? Avoid eating too late at night however. It’s best to give yourself three hours between your last meal and sleeping as bedtime snacks can cause acid secretion during the night.
On diet, avoid spicy or fatty foods, chocolate, citrus, tomatoes, and even fresh fruit juices, which can make an ulcer sore, as will either very hot or cold foods. Smoking increases acid secretion, so if you need a reason to stop, this is it. Include a good source of protein (meat, fish, eggs, beans, lentils, seeds etc.) at every meal or snack, as this can help to act like a sponge on all that acid. Peppermint tea too helps to neutralise the acids, as do camomile and fennel. Last of all, stay away from tea and coffee, and go easy on the booze. Remember the nicer you are to your stomach, the quicker the ulcer will heal. Look for activities to reduce your stress levels (stress increases acid secretion).
For those of you looking for a quick-fix solution, try a herb called slippery elm. It coats the mucus membranes of the digestive tract, helping to ease irritation, absorb excess stomach acid and soothe heartburn. Start off by taking about 300mg three times a day for a month.
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