An ulcer results from damage to the protective lining of the stomach and produces abdominal tenderness, pain or “burning” about 45 minutes after meals, or during the night. There is usually blood present in the stool as well.
Peptic ulcers typically occur in the duodenum, the first portion of the small intestine, but can often appear in the stomach itself. The bacteria called Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) are the two most common causes of ulcers – not stomach over-acidity. Ulcers can be serious and do require medical attention. To complement your anti-ulcer strategy, look into the following natural remedies that have proven effective in clinical studies.
Licorice is highly regarded as an anti-ulcer agent. Because a compound in licorice called glycyrrhetinic acid can elevate blood pressure in some people, a form without this compound was developed, called de-glycyrrhizinated licorice (DGL). Many head-to-head comparison studies have shown that DGL is more effective than common anti-ulcer drugs such as Tagamet or Zantac, without their unfavourable side effects. DGL appears to stimulate protective factors along the gastro-intestinal tract — not simply counteract acidity. In one study of patients with gastric ulcers, 46% using DGL experienced “complete healing,” while only 6% in a placebo group improved. DGL also appears to be effective against the bacteria H. plylori.
Used since ancient times to treat burns and scrapes, aloe vera contains enzymes that relieve pain and reduce inflammation. It also contains astringent flavonoids, which can help stop intestinal bleeding. One study found that these flavonoids stopped bleeding in over 90% of cases in under 60 hours. Many people rely on liquid preparations of aloe (juice or gel) to soothe an irritated stomach or quench the burning pain of an ulcer.
Like DGL, zinc boosts the body’s own protective factors along the gastro-intestinal tract. One of these factors is called mucin, part of the important stomach lining that stands between gastric acid and sensitive tissue. Both animal and human studies reveal that supplementing with zinc can increase mucin and help improve ulcer symptoms.
As in all diseases, lifestyle choices are important. With regard to ulcers, not smoking, reducing stress and increasing dietary fibre will all contribute to an anti-ulcer regimen.
Sources: The Green Pharmacy by J Duke, St Martin’s:1997; Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine (2nd Ed) by M Murray and J Pizzorno, Prima:1998; The Healing Power of Vitamins, Minerals and Herbs, Reader’s Digest:1999