The highly concentrated acid produced by the stomach is quite capable of burning a hole through the tissue of the stomach and duodenum (part of the small intestine). That it usually does not do so is a tribute to the effectiveness of the methods that the body uses to protect itself. However, sometimes these protective mechanisms fail, and the ever-present acid begins to produce an ulcer.
Ulcer pain is caused by stomach acid coming into contact with unprotected tissue. Eating generally decreases ulcer pain temporarily because food neutralizes the acid. As soon as the food begins to be digested, the pain returns.
Conventional medical treatment for ulcers has gone through a slow revolution. A few decades ago, the prescribed response to ulcers was a bland diet—one low in spices and high in dairy products, which were believed to coat the stomach. However, eventually it was discovered that spicy foods are innocent and that milk itself is somewhat ulcer forming! The only other option at that time was surgery.
When stomach acid is suppressed, ulcer pain rapidly diminishes and the ulcer heals. For a time, these drugs were regarded as the definitive answer to ulcers. This early enthusiasm began to fade when it became clear that ulcers frequently returned after the drugs were stopped. In the late 1980s, a new explanation for this problem began to surface. First regarded as a wacky theory, it has now become the accepted explanation.
We now believe that ulcers are caused by the bacteria
Apparently, this previously ignored organism has the capacity to infect the stomach and, by so doing, weaken the stomach lining. Only when antibiotics to kill
are combined with stomach acid suppressants do ulcers go away and stay away. However, it isn’t easy to kill
; antibiotic treatment is not always successful, and it has side effects. Friendly bacteria (
Principal Proposed Natural Treatments
Probiotics are bacteria that are healthy for you. The most famous probiotic is
, found in yogurt. There are many other probiotics as well.
Evidence suggests that various probiotics in the
family can inhibit the growth of
While this effect does not appear to be strong enough for probiotic treatment to eradicate
on its own, preliminary studies, including several small, double-blind trials, suggest that probiotics may help standard antibiotic therapy work better, reducing side effects, and improving the rate of eradication.
For more information, including dosage and safety issues, see the full
A 90-day, double-blind, placebo-controlled study performed in China tested the effects of daily consumption of cranberry juice in individuals who were chronically infected with
(but who did not necessarily have ulcers).
However, while this was a promising finding on a theoretical level, it did not directly address treatment or prevention of ulcers.
A more practical study evaluated the use of cranberry as a support to standard therapy.
The results were somewhat promising. In the study group at large, OAC plus cranberry was no more effective than OAC plus placebo or OAC alone. However, among female participants in the study, use of cranberry was associated with a significantly increased rate of helicobacter eradication as compared to placebo or no treatment.
Does this mean that women undergoing ulcer treatment may benefit from cranberry? Perhaps, but not necessarily. When a treatment fails to produce benefit in the entire group studied, researchers may, after the fact, go on a hunt for a subgroup who did benefit. The laws of chance alone ensure that they can almost always find one. Therefore, it is not clear whether cranberry actually did provide benefit, or whether this finding was merely a statistical fluke.
For more information, including dosage and safety issues, see the full
Other Proposed Natural Treatments
Individuals who take H 2 blockers
The most famous supplement used for ulcer disease is a special form of licorice known as
One study found that use of
Highly preliminary studies suggest that various bioflavonoids including
Various herbs and supplements may interact adversely with drugs used to treat ulcers. For more information on this potential risk, see the individual drug article in the Drug Interactions section of this database.
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Last reviewed April 2009 by EBSCO CAM Review Board
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