Peptic ulcer: what it is and how to treat it naturally
Is heartburn causing you painful days and sleepless nights? You could have a peptic ulcer. We explain what a peptic ulcer is and what you can do about it.
What is a peptic ulcer?
Peptic ulcers are sores in the lining of the stomach, duodenum or oesophagus. Globally, between five and 10% of adults are affected by peptic ulcers at least once in their lifetime.
What causes a peptic ulcer?
Most people think ulcers are caused by excessive acid in your stomach. That’s not the case at all.
New research indicates that heartburn and ulcers may in fact be caused by too little acid in the stomach . According to US natural medicine practitioner Dr Joseph Mercola, ‘proton pump inhibitors (drugs that are usually prescribed to beat heartburn and ulcers) perpetuate the problem, making acid reflux worse’.
Most peptic ulcers are caused by the bacterium Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori in the stomach. It’s estimated that two-thirds of the world’s population are infected with H. pylori, although most don’t show any symptoms.
Anti-inflammatory medicines can damage your stomach lining.
Over-the-counter painkillers. Taken regularly, these can also damage your stomach lining.
Genetics. People suffering with peptic ulcers often have close relatives with the same condition.
Smoking. Smoking not only increases your chances of developing ulcers, it also interferes with the treatment you need to get rid of them.
Alcohol. If you’re a regular or heavy drinker, you’re likely to damage your stomach lining badly.
Stress may increase the risk of ulcers. If you already have an ulcer, stress can certainly worsen your symptoms.
Symptoms of a peptic ulcer
You may not feel any discomfort at first, as peptic ulcer pain often appears when the ulcer becomes worse. Look out for:
A burning sensation at the lower end of your breastbone, usually a few hours before or after a meal, or at night, lasting from just a few minutes to a couple of hours. This pain can also be irregular, going away for a few days at a time before returning.
Regurgitating food, along with a burning sensation in the throat and oesophagus. This often happens when you’re lying down, and may disturb your sleep.
A bloated feeling after meals.
NOTE In extreme cases, ulcers can bleed, causing fatigue, nausea, vomiting and black or ‘tarry’ stools. Treat these symptoms as medical emergencies.
How to treat a peptic ulcer
Your healthcare practitioner will prescribe treatment that focuses on either regulating stomach acid levels so that the ulcer can heal, or eradicating the H. pylori infection.
Ask your healthcare practitioner to check your medications. Some of them may be affecting your bacterial flora. Should you take them on an empty stomach or with a meal? Do you need to find alternative medications?
Don’t lie down immediately after taking your medication.
Aim to get rid of H. pylori by restoring the bacterial balance in your stomach and intestine. Avoid processed foods, coffee, alcohol and nicotine.
Include fresh fruit and vegetables, fermented foods such as chutneys and pickled cabbage (try Felicity Croake’s Perfect Braised Red Cabbage), cultured yoghurt, raw, unfiltered apple cider vinegar, ginger to soothe your digestion and suppress H. pylori, and Slippery Elm to increase mucus secretion in your stomach and intestines, protecting their lining against ulcers.