Ulcers are sores within the stomach where the protective lining has been eaten away allowing stomach acid to attack the tissues of the stomach. Until recently they were thought to be related to diet, stress, or spicy food. Recently it was discovered that the majority of stomach ulcers are linked to the presence of a bacteria called H. pylori, or overuse of anti-inflammatory drugs like aspirin and ibuprofen. Since stomach ulcers are often painful ulcer friendly foods are important to keep your strength up, and to encourage healing.

In this excerpt from the book The Green Pharmacy Guide to Healing Foods by James A Duke and Bill Gottlieb, CHC the authors discuss ulcer friendly foods that can help to heal ulcers.


In the 1970s, peptic ulcers were treated with a bland diet, which didn’t help. By the 1980s, doctors were prescribing powerful acid-blocking drugs in attempts at a cure. This, too, didn’t work, because even though the ulcers healed, they’d almost always come back—50 to 80 percent of ulcers recurred within a year. All of this effort stemmed from scientists believing that stress and spicy foods were behind these painful stomach lesions. We now know that the real culprit is often an infection caused by Helicobacter pylori, a corkscrew-shaped bacterium that settles in the mucous layer that protects the tissue lining the stomach and intestine. This little ulcer-causing bug is now successfully treated with antibiotics

Yet simply having H. pylori in your system doesn’t mean you’ll get an ulcer. One in five Americans under age 30 and half of those over 60 play host to H. pylori. It’s a common gastrointestinal infection around the world and often has no symptoms. And not everyone who has an ulcer has H. pylori.

The use of certain pain medications called nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)—such as aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), and naproxen (Aleve)—can also disrupt the naturally protective lining of the stomach and cause ulcers. Smoking and drinking too much alcohol is linked to them, too.

Technically speaking, an ulcer is a sore in the lining of the esophagus, stomach, or duodenum (the gateway to the small intestine just downstream from the stomach). These kinds of ulcers are called “peptic” ulcers because they occur in areas that are exposed to the digestive enzyme pepsin

Healing Foods for Ulcers

Ulcers caused by H. pylori are generally treated with a combination of antibiotics and bismuth (Pepto-Bismol) or similar stomach-soothing drugs. You might want to try a number of natural anti-ulcer approaches as well.

Bananas. These fruits are an old folk remedy for many gastrointestinal problems because they soothe the digestive tract. Research shows that they have an anti-ulcer effect. In particular, plantains—cousins of the banana—contain an enzyme that stimulates mucus production in the lining of the stomach, strengthening its natural defenses against culprits such as H. pylori. Plantains that are green and not quite ripe are best because they’re believed to contain more of the healing enzyme.

Bilberries and blueberries. Both of these berries contain compounds known as anthocyanosides, which have proven to offer significant protection against ulcers. These compounds help stimulate the production of mucus that protects the stomach lining from digestive acids. Researchers have also found that blueberries contain a specific compound that may reduce the risk of colon cancer.

Cabbage. Cabbage is one of the oldest folk remedies for ulcers. It contains glutamine, an amino acid that increases blood flow to the stomach and helps strengthen its protective lining. Michael Murray, ND, a naturopathic doctor and author of Natural Alternatives to Over-the-Counter and Prescription Drugs, hails cabbage as an extremely effective ulcer treatment, saying that healing usually happens in less than a week. In studies of glutamine, daily doses of 1,600 milligrams proved as effective as conventional antacids in treating ulcers.

Cabbage is also a good source of fiber, which can help and even heal ulcers. This is because foods that contain lots of fiber encourage the growth of the stomach’s protective layer.

The folk recommendation for treating ulcers with cabbage is to drink one quart of raw cabbage juice a day. That may be hard to swallow, so I suggest concocting a tasty cabbage soup or stew with some of the other goodies mentioned in this chapter thrown in for good measure.

Chili peppers. Despite popular belief, hot spices don’t cause ulcers. In fact, they may even protect the stomach against them. Capsaicin, the compound that makes chilis hot, has been shown to prevent ulcers. In addition, studies have reported that carotenoids, the natural pigments that give many fruits and vegetables their bright red, orange, or yellow color, seem to protect the lining of the stomach. Eating plenty of hot peppers and cayenne can give you triple protection against ulcers.

Anti-Ulcer Chewing Gum

The leaves of the mastic tree, a native of the Mediterranean region, contain a resin that can kill Helicobacter pylori bacteria. It’s believed that chewing mastic gum may help reduce the risk of ulcers. You can buy it online and from select health food stores, too.

Medicinal herb expert and founder of the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine, Andrew Weil, MD, suggests sipping red pepper tea to calm an ulcer. Just steep 1 ⁄4 teaspoon of cayenne in a cup of hot water.

Yogurt. It’s a fight among the microbes: The live bacteria in yogurt have no fear of taking on H. pylori in full-force combat—and they’re strong enough to win. When the fight is over, a natural sugar in yogurt called lactose breaks down during digestion and helps restore a healthy acid balance in your intestines. Yogurt, in short, is your ally in your defense against ulcers.

If you try this approach to taming an ulcer, be sure to buy yogurt that has “live, active cultures” listed on the label. You can eat a cup three or four times a day to help get your stomach back in order.

Chamomile. Rudolf Fritz Weiss, MD, a German medical herbalist and author of Herbal Medicine, says that chamomile is the remedy of choice for stomach ulcers. Widely used as a digestive aid in Europe, this herb is uniquely suited to treating stomach ailments, including ulcers because it combines anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, antispasmodic, and stomach-soothing properties. If I had an ulcer, I’d drink chamomile tea with licorice.

Garlic. In preliminary studies, scientists were able to kill H. pylori bacteria using garlic extract. Other studies have shown garlic to be toxic to many “bad” bacterial strains, even some that resist antibiotics. Researchers in India have found that garlic may actually enhance the “good” bacteria in the intestine.

If you want to try a course of garlic therapy, eat nine cloves a day. You can chop each dose of garlic with one carrot and some celery and eat it raw, or you can cook or pickle it. You might also try whipping up an anti-ulcer gazpacho that’s heavy on the garlic and red pepper (another anti-ulcer food).

Ginger. Long known for its many healing properties, ginger contains 11 compounds that have shown anti-ulcer effects. That’s a lot of anti-ulcer chemistry concentrated in a single humble spice. Ginger is a proven anti-inflammatory and also has antibacterial properties.

Eating candied ginger is a tasty treatment for ulcers, and the combination of ginger and honey (another antibacterial) is particularly effective, working synergistically to clean up H. pylori in your stomach.

Honey. Raw, unprocessed honey has been shown to strengthen the lining of the stomach. A study at the University of Waikato in New Zealand found that honey made from the nectar of the manuka flower completely stopped the growth of ulcer-causing bacteria.

If you want to try honey to prevent and treat ulcers, I suggest consuming it raw and unprocessed, because the heat-processed product doesn’t contain any of the beneficial substances. Take one tablespoon on an empty stomach at bedtime. Doing this every day can help an ulcer heal and prevent recurrence.

Peppermint. Herbalists have a special regard for peppermint’s ability to soothe the lining of the stomach, and it has been used for centuries to treat a wide range of digestive ailments.

If you have a nagging ulcer, I suggest drinking a mix of peppermint and chamomile tea, as both have a soothing effect on the stomach. You can also use fresh or chopped peppermint leaves in a variety of drinks and dishes. Fresh peppermint is now available in many supermarkets.

Pineapple. Like cabbage, pineapple has a fair amount of glutamine, a compound that helps protect the stomach lining. Pineapple also contains bromelain, a natural anti-inflammatory that may help reduce the painful swelling and inflammation of u

Rhubarb. Eating rhubarb has been shown to help reduce the effects of ulcers within a few days. However, eat only the stalks; rhubarb leaves contain high levels of toxins called oxalates that can cause stomach irritation and kidney problems. Rhubarb also has powerful natural laxative action, so watch out for diarrhea. If you experience problems, cut back on the amount you’re using or discontinue it altogether.


Some foods are great for soothing an ulcer, but others, not so much. Here are three to avoid.

Alcohol. Drinking alcohol increases the amount of acid that your stomach produces, which can irritate and break down the stomach lining. If you have an ulcer (or are trying to avoid one), refrain from alcoholic beverages.

Coffee. The caffeine in coffee can make you more susceptible to developing an ulcer, and if you already have one, drinking coffee can make it worse.

Milk. Once thought to help prevent ulcers, milk is no longer believed to be a good choice. It increases acid production in your stomach, which can irritate an ulcer. In addition, food allergies may cause ulcers, so people allergic to milk are at higher risk.

Turmeric. This culinary herb, the main ingredient in Asian and Indian curry dishes, is a powerful anti-inflammatory that’s been used as a natural medicine for thousands of years. India’s traditional Ayurvedic doctors used it for all kinds of swelling, and it’s believed to have a number of gastrointestinal benefits

Turmeric has been called the poor person’s ulcer treatment. Physician researchers in Thailand found that it relieved ulcer pain only about half as well as over-the-counter antacids after six weeks. However, antacids are about eight times more expensive than turmeric, so if your budget is tight, this herb may be for you.

Nutmeg. Researchers at the University of Chicago found nutmeg to be a potent antiulcer herb. In other studies, nutmeg oil has shown considerable activity against 25 different types of bacteria. Although more research is needed to confirm nutmeg’s true anti-ulcer effects, this research supports its long-time use as an antiseptic.

From the Herbal Medicine Chest

In addition to the ulcer-fighting foods mentioned in this chapter, there are some great herbal remedies as well. Here are some to try…

Aloe (Aloe vera). This plant contains enzymes that relieve pain, reduce inflammation, and decrease swelling. It also has antibacterial properties, which can prevent sores from becoming infected. Aloe can help heal ulcers, so try a teaspoon of aloe juice after each meal. But buy the juice; don’t make your own. The unprocessed gel taken directly from the plant has extremely powerful laxative properties that can damage your intestine.

Calendula (Calendula officinalis). Herbalists say that calendula is a remedy for sores in the mouth; inflammations of the mouth, throat, and nose; and digestive disorders such as peptic and duodenal ulcers. Clinical trials in Europe suggest that extracts may also be useful for duodenal ulcers.

Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra). Licorice contains several anti-ulcer compounds that help protect the lining of your stomach and intestine. Deglycyrrhizinated licorice (DGL) is a processed form of the herb and the preferred type for ulcers. Add 1 ⁄2 teaspoon of DGL powder to your favorite herbal tea or use it by itself to make a sweet, pleasant-tasting tea.

Slippery elm (Ulmus rubra). The demulcent nature of the inner bark of slippery elm makes an effective stomach coating to help soothe and perhaps even prevent ulcers. You can chew on slippery elm bark or dry and grind it to make a satisfying tea.

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