Holistic Approaches to Combat Ulcers

by Laurie Roth-Donnell, Master Herbalist and Holistic Health Practitioner

Ulcer-blogRelying solely on medication to heal your ulcer is probably not a good idea. Lifestyle changes can immediately reduce symptoms, and if you drink, smoke, or take other drugs that irritate the stomach, you may end up where you started or suffer additional side effects from prescribed medications.

Once an ulcer is diagnosed and you begin the prescribed treatment, you will probably feel some relief; however, as with all health concerns, a patient who is active, and consciously taking a holistic approach to wellness has a better shot of healing the ulcer permanently. Here are the top lifestyle changes you can immediately make to begin your journey to full ulcer recovery.

Stop Smoking
If you smoke, you are already at an increased risk for getting an ulcer. The data also show that ulcers take longer to heal in smokers and that the ulcer medication you are taking may be less effective. Scientists do not know exactly why smoking has these negative effects.

“Smoking cigarettes clearly affects healing of ulcers,” says Patrick I. Okolo, III, MD, MPH, chief of endoscopy at Johns Hopkins Hospital and assistant professor of gastroenterology and hepatology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore.

Beware of Non-Steroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as aspirin, ibuprofen, and many others, are taken for pain and fever, but can cause an ulcer if used too often. NSAIDs also can prevent an ulcer from healing as quickly as you would like, so talk to your doctor about what you can take for your other aches and pains while you are waiting for your ulcer to heal. Also, be sure to read all drug labels; some products such as cough and cold liquids have NSAID ingredients in them and should be avoided. Acetaminophen (Tylenol) does not cause ulcers, so it may be an effective pain relief substitute, but also has dangerous side effects if used in excess.

Take All Prescription Medications as Directed
It is very important to take all the medications your doctor has prescribed until finished, and follow up with your doctor to track the healing process, especially if you are taking multiple antibiotics to fight a Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) infection (the major cause of ulcers) in conjunction with antacids. I suggest immediately talking to your doctor if you experience side effects such as nausea, dizziness, or diarrhea.

Manage Your Diet
Historically, people suffering ulcers were told to eat small, bland meals and drink lots of milk to help heal ulcers, but today doctors know otherwise. “There is no science that supports the admonition to eat bland food,” says Okolo. “While it is true that certain foods may make someone more symptomatic because they irritate the stomach more, there is no truth that [any food] makes something heal less or faster if you eat it.” However, if you know that there are specific foods that make your ulcer feel worse, avoid them until your treatment is over. In general, Okolo recommends a balanced, nutritious diet and healthy lifestyle to support healing.

Ulcer_happy couple-blogReduce Alcohol and Stress
Cut back on alcohol or better yet, stop drinking alcohol entirely to help your body heal naturally. Also, manage your stress. Most ulcers are caused by H. pylori or NSAIDs, but for a small group of patients, stress does appear to have a connection to ulcers. I suggest some form of stress release including yoga, exercise, meditation, or massage therapy.

Avoid foods that contribute to stomach acid, including but not limited to caffeine, soda, processed and spicy foods. Drink plenty of water – at least 6 to 8 glasses every day to detoxify and cleanse the body. Staying hydrated also includes eating organic, raw fruits and vegetables daily. Raw cabbage juice has been shown to help relieve several afflictions of the digestive tract, including ulcers and acid reflux. It also helps strengthen the digestive tract, healing the problems at the source and the recommended dosage is one quart of cabbage juice daily (about 4 cups). Other vegetable juices are also beneficial, especially raw carrot, spinach, beet, and cucumber in any combination with carrot and cabbage comprising the bulk of the juice you prepare.

Garlic is known to have antibiotic properties and may inhibit the growth of H. pylori, a bacterium known to cause stomach ulcers. Increase the amount of garlic in your diet and let it control the growth of these bacteria. Simply roast a head of garlic and spread it on bread like butter; it tastes delicious.

Yogurt with live active bacteria is an easy and readily available remedy for ulcer relief, especially during a flare-up. Yogurt will soothe and line the stomach, as well as reduce pain and aggravation caused by the ulcer. Research has shown people who eat yogurt in their diet are less likely to form ulcers. The bacteria found in yogurt, Lactobacillus bulgaricus and L. acidophilus might offer therapeutic properties and protection against ulcers.

Natural whole honey has been shown to prevent the growth of H. pylori. Slowing the bacteria growth can offer relief from the pain of an ulcer. Honey also helps coat the stomach lining, which allows the ulcer to heal. I suggest local organic honey daily.

Teas and Herbs
Stomach acid and ulcer pain can be reduced by simply drinking red clover or wood apple leaf tea before bed. Both deliver high levels of tannins, which reduce ulcer inflammation. Also, try eating fenugreek seeds, they create a mucous coating in the stomach and intestines that helps provide a protective barrier for the ulcer to heal.

Always be reminded to consult your primary care physician before embarking on any new health regimen and live well!

Patrick I. Okolo, III, MD, MPH; Chief of Endoscopy, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore MD