Ulcers: Causes and Cures

woman lying down using her computer
September 8, 2014 (Updated: August 16, 2018)
Lily Moran

You may be familiar with the story of Dr. Robin Warren, the Australian physician who ingested H. pylori bacteria and followed up with antibiotics to prove that most ulcers are caused by infection. He won the Nobel Prize for this important work.

But did you know that about one in six stomach ulcers are actually caused by drugs, especially non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAIDs) medications, such as aspirin or other pain relievers?

Because so many people use pain relievers on a daily basis, this can be a huge issue. And to make matters even more complicated, the effects of these medications mask the pain of a developing ulcer, so the symptoms might not be recognized until the condition is serious.

No Wonder Ulcers Hurt

Ulcers are open sores that can occur in various areas of the body. In the stomach, these sores are known as peptic, or gastric, ulcers and are usually in the stomach lining, where stomach acid continues the damage. Duodenal ulcers occur in the duodenum, the first section of the small intestine.

Symptoms for both kinds of ulcers include a burning stomach sensation, belching, bloating, vomiting, and nausea. Duodenal ulcers may also cause back pain.

If left untreated, both peptic and duodenal ulcers may eat through the stomach wall or duodenum, causing the sudden onset of serious pain requiring immediate medical attention. In other instances, ulcers cause bleeding that may be visible in bowel movements or after vomiting.

While duodenal ulcers are generally benign, peptic ulcers can become malignant. So if you are experiencing symptoms that suggest you may have an ulcer, discuss the situation with your doctor.

Getting a Diagnosis

There are a number of tests your doctor can request to determine if you have an ulcer. These may include:

  • An endoscopy, inserting a small camera into your intestinal tract
  • A stomach acid test
  • Tests for the presence of H. pylori within blood, stool, or tissue samples

If your physician determines that you do have an ulcer, you will be given antibiotics to rid your stomach and intestines of the H. pylori, as well as acid blocking medication to reduce stomach acid while the ulcer heals. (Even if your ulcer is caused by NSAIDs, reducing H. pylori has a positive effect.)

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Chronic Inflammation Decoded

But for my patients, I’ve found an antibiotic alternative that works extremely well.

Mastica, derived from a Greek shrub, has been used since Roman times to treat stomach ailments of all kinds. Research shows that mastica supplements eliminate H. pylori, allowing patients to avoid the downsides of antibiotics, which include killing all stomach bacteria, including those that are absolutely necessary for good health.  You can purchase mastica supplements at health food stores; I recommend taking 500 mg twice daily, once in the morning and again in the evening for a minimum of 30 days. By then, the ulcer should be healed, but some patients continue taking mastica just to be sure it’s gone

In addition, be prepared to make some lifestyle changes. Smoking and drinking alcohol are off limits for ulcer patients, as are NSAIDS. Coffee and other acidic drinks are not recommended.

Once the initial infection is cleared, I recommend the following supplements to prevent recurrence.

Curcumin is a supplement I recommend for pain relief. Curcumin fights pain-causing inflammation. A recent animal study also shows that curcumin can help prevent ulcers. The test showed that subjects given curcumin did not develop any ulcers, while those given salt water or aspirin did.

Probiotics, the beneficial bacteria that should be part of a healthy microbiome. One recent study determined that probiotics can protect the stomach lining from ulcers, while a second noted that probiotics were highly effective at healing existing ulcers. Supplements are needed to ingest therapeutic levels. Yogurt and sauerkraut alone won’t do the job! It’s especially important to take probiotics if you are taking an antibiotic prescription.

Baking soda and apple cider vinegar: Another simple treatment for ulcer pain relies on a combination of 1 teaspoon organic apple cider vinegar and ½ teaspoon of baking soda. The mixture will “fizz” at first, but that’s perfectly normal. When the fizzing stops, add 8 ounces of fresh, filtered water and drink. I recommend this before meals throughout the day.

Aloe vera liquid:  Extracts of aloe vera, a type of plant that thrives in low-water regions, have been used for centuries to treat digestive disorders, including soothing and healing ulcers. Today, you can buy processed liquid aloe vera in health food stores. Simply follow the dosage instructions on the product you choose. Aloe vera is also helpful for irritable bowel and ulcerative colitis.

Do yourself a favor and take care of your tummy. Digestive problems make it more difficult to absorb all the beneficial ingredients in food and supplements. So if you’re suffering in silence with a stomach issue, please seek treatment before it turns into something more serious.

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