Stomach ulcers, also known as peptic or gastric ulcers, are open sores in the lining of the stomach. Because of the amount of acid present in the stomach, when ulcers occur, they are often extremely painful. The most common cause of stomach ulcers is the bacterium Helicobacter pylori, or H. pylori. Ulcers may also be caused by overuse of painkillers, such as aspirin, and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories, such as ibuprofen or naproxen.
Stomach ulcers are often treated with antibiotics or medications to reduce, block, or neutralize stomach acid. There are also natural home remedies you can use to help ease the symptoms of a stomach ulcer and help it heal.
Research suggests that flavonoids, also known as bioflavonoids, may be an effective treatment for stomach ulcers. Flavonoids are compounds that occur naturally in many fruits and vegetables. Foods and drinks rich in flavonoids include:
- red grapes
- teas (especially green tea)
However, some foods and drinks that contain flavonoids — such as citrus fruits and red wines — can irritate a stomach ulcer.
Flavonoids are referred to as “gastroprotective,” which means they defend the lining of the stomach and could allow ulcers to heal. According to the Linus Pauling Institute, there are no side effects of consuming flavonoids in the amount found in a typical diet, but higher amounts of flavonoids may interfere with blood clotting. You can get flavonoids in your diet or take them as supplements.
Don’t let that long first word give you a stomach ache — deglycyrrhizinated licorice is just plain old licorice with the sweet flavor extracted. One study showed that deglycyrrhizinated licorice might help ulcers heal by inhibiting the growth of H. pylori. Deglycyrrhizinated licorice is available as a supplement. You can’t get this effect from eating licorice candy, though. Too much licorice candy can be bad for some people. Consuming more than 2 ounces daily for more than two weeks can make existing heart problems or high blood pressure worse.
Probiotics are the living bacteria and yeast that help keep your digestive system moving. They are present in many common foods, particularly fermented foods. These include:
You can also take probiotics in supplement form. Studies have shown that probiotics may be helpful in wiping out H. pylori and increasing recovery rate for patients with ulcers.
Honey is far from simply sweet. Depending on the plant it’s derived from, honey can contain up to 200 elements, including polyphenols and other antioxidants. Honey is a powerful antibacterial and has been shown to inhibit H. pylori growth. As long as you have normal blood sugar levels, you can enjoy honey as you would any sweetener, with the bonus of soothing your ulcers.
Garlic extract has been shown to inhibit H. pylori growth in lab, animal, and human trials. If you don’t like the taste (and lingering aftertaste) of garlic, you can take garlic extract in supplemental form. Garlic acts as a blood thinner, so ask your doctor before taking it if you use warfarin or other prescription blood thinners.
Cranberry is known for its ability to fight urinary tract infections by preventing bacteria from settling on the walls of the bladder. Cranberry and cranberry extract also may help fight H. pylori. You can drink cranberry juice, eat cranberries, or take cranberry supplements.
Unfortunately, no specific amount of consumption is associated with relief. Too much cranberry in any form may cause stomach discomfort whether you have ulcers or not, so start with small amounts and increase gradually. In addition, many commercial cranberry juices are heavily sweetened with sugar and/or high fructose corn syrup, which can also cause stomach upset and add empty calories. Avoid those juices by buying juice sweetened only by other juices.
Mastic is the sap of a tree grown in the Mediterranean. Studies of the effectiveness of mastic on ulcers are mixed, but at least one study shows that chewing mastic helps fight H. pylori. If your ulcers are not responding to other treatments, you might want to give mastic gum a try, since it doesn’t seem to be associated with any side effects. You can chew the gum or swallow mastic in supplement form.
Fruits, Vegetables, and Whole Grains
A diet centered on fruits, vegetables, and whole grains is not just good for your overall health. According to the Mayo Clinic, a vitamin-rich diet can help your body heal your ulcer. Foods containing polyphenols, an antioxidant, can protect you from ulcers and help ulcers heal. Polyphenol-rich foods and seasonings include:
- dried rosemary
- Mexican oregano
- dark chocolate
- black olives
What to Avoid
Some foods can make ulcers worse, while some provide a preventive and healing effect. Greasy and acidic foods are most likely to irritate your stomach, as are spicy foods.
To reduce ulcer pain, avoid:
- coffee, including decaf
- carbonated beverages
- chilis and hot peppers
- processed foods
- salty red meats
- deep fried foods
Milk and Alcohol
Milk’s ability to coat the side of a glass may have you thinking that it also creates a protective barrier in your stomach. In fact, drinking milk may initially soothe your ulcer pain. But in the long run, milk is not good for ulcers. It seems to make things worse by causing your stomach to produce more acid.
If you’ve ever had a hangover, you know the effects that alcohol can have on your stomach. It also is directly associated with H. pylori infections, meaning it contributes to stomach ulcers and can make existing ones worse.
Excessive drinking is considered more than one drink a day for women, and more than two for men. If a couple of drinks after work is how you unwind, you might want to consider a healthier alternative.
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It can take some time, teamwork, and determination to find the right treatment for your ulcers, but don’t give up hope: Ulcers can be cured. In addition to a treatment plan agreed upon by you and your doctor, you can incorporate natural approaches that can give you some relief and accelerate healing. Adding plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables to your diet and reducing alcohol intake will almost certainly get you on the road to health.