Gastric ulcers are a perfect illustration of the way medical thinking can change dramatically over a relatively brief period of time. It wasn’t long ago that most people — including doctors — believed stomach ulcers were the result of intemperate living, primarily caused by spicy foods and stress. Scientists then discovered that in many cases, the real culprit was Helicobacter pylori bacteria, so that became the new target of treatment. Then they learned that killing off H. pylori can increase risk of cancer, so now the latest thinking represents another shift — instead of aiming for eradication of H. pylori, altogether, the goal is control of the bacteria so that it remains in a healthy balance. This, it’s believed, can support optimal overall health, including of the digestive system.
This is but one of several new, natural directions I’ve been hearing about for ulcer management in recent conversations with Daily Health News contributing editor Andrew L. Rubman, ND.
WHAT CAUSES ULCERS?
One important role of the linings of the stomach and intestine is to protect against stomach acid and bacteria, but when intestinal balance is disturbed — for example, when H. pylori bacteria run rampant and begin replicating uncontrollably — the digestive tract becomes irritated and inflamed (gastritis), a condition that over time weakens and damages the protective mucus coating. If a sore or erosion then develops in the lining of the stomach or duodenum (the first part of the small intestine), you have an ulcer. In addition to H. pylori, other possible causes of ulcers include a high intake of aspirin, ibuprofen or other NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), alcohol use or smoking. Some people believe stress contributes to ulcers, but scientists continue to debate the issue.
Whatever their cause, ulcers are painful and can disrupt your life. To prevent that from happening, treatment for serious ulcers generally consists of seven to 10 days of prescription proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) to suppress stomach acid and give the tissue a chance to heal, plus a longer course of antibiotics to suppress H. pylori bacteria. Taking PPIs for much longer than 10 days — a common mistake — can backfire and alter the natural acid-producing abilities of the stomach. As for antibiotics, bacteria are becoming increasingly resistant to these drugs, which makes it all the more important to identify other means of treatment.
GIVE YOUR STOMACH A REST
Dr. Rubman stresses that the single most important rule in treatment and recovery is to give your stomach and digestive tract a rest. Just as you need additional rest to recover from illness or injury, Dr. Rubman advises taking measures to allow your digestive system to heal. He said that natural care is also beneficial, even as an adjunct to the pharmaceutical drugs necessary to treat severe ulcers. Specific advice includes eating smaller meals, three or four times a day, consisting of light proteins with easier to digest fats, like boiled eggs and steamed chicken… fresh low-fiber vegetables and their juices… and soft rice. Chew food slowly and thoroughly… limit fluid with meals… don’t eat within two hours of bedtime… don’t smoke or take NSAIDs… and avoid stomach irritants such as heavy animal protein (including beef, lamb and others), fatty and fried foods, stimulating spices like black pepper, and spicy dishes, refined sugars, colas, caffeine and alcohol.
In his practice, Dr. Rubman also prescribes some combination of the following to ulcer patients…
- L-Glutamine. In a study at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, mice that were infected with H. pylori and given supplemental L-glutamine experienced a significant improvement in gastric inflammation and early immune response, which helps to minimize further inflammation and damage. Dr. Rubman prescribes this simple amino acid to support mucosa and protect against gastric damage. Take it in the form of gelatin capsules, apart from meals in a little applesauce.
- Botanical medicines. To soothe the stomach and speed healing of delicate mucus membranes, Dr. Rubman prescribes Glyconda, a ready-made mixture of Turkey rhubarb root, cinnamon and goldenseal (you can buy it under the name “Neutralizing Cordial O” at www.eclecticherb.com). Dr. Rubman tells his patients to dissolve 10 to 20 drops in two ounces of warm tea or water and drink before meals, but says it’s best to ask your doctor about the right dosing for you. Since botanicals can have strong, drug-like effects, it’s important for him/her to consider your medical history along with all drugs you take currently before you begin treatment.
Digestive enzymes can help you better absorb nutrients by working alongside the natural enzymes produced by your body to break down chemical bonds in foods. This process helps re-establish a more balanced environment in the gastrointestinal tract so your gastritis and the scar left by the ulcer will heal completely. Though it may seem counter-intuitive to take additional acids when your stomach lining is irritated, supplemental digestive enzymes properly prescribed can in fact be helpful to the digestive process for middle-aged and older individuals whose natural stomach acid levels are waning. Dr. Rubman often prescribes DuoZyme by Karuna (www.karunahealth.com) due to its combination of assorted enzymes. Take the dose prescribed by your doctor at the beginning of meals (check whether you should adjust for meal size and composition). Don’t self-prescribe — taking the wrong amount can cause inappropriate acid release when the stomach is empty, of particular concern for those with a history of acute gastritis or ulcers.
Ulcers are dangerous. Dr. Rubman emphasizes the importance of not undertaking their treatment — natural or otherwise — on your own. It’s far better and more effective, he said, to work with a physician who is expert in digestive issues and can help you learn to encourage your body’s own natural healing processes to successfully cope with ulcers and other stomach and digestive challenges.