Stomach ulcers are open sores that develop within the lining of your stomach. According to the American College of Gastroenterology, the group of doctors who specialize in the digestive tract, there is no specific diet a person with ulcers needs to follow. Food choices do not cause ulcers or make them worse. Current diet recommendations are now based on research that certain foods may have ingredients that fight against the bacteria Helicobacter pylori, a main cause of ulcers.
In the majority of all ulcer cases, the cause of ulcers can be linked to a bacterial infection known as a Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) as well as the chronic use of over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as aspirin and ibuprofen.
Since H. pylori bacteria is now known to be an important cause of ulcer formation, scientists are exploring what foods may have a role in fighting against an infection. In addition to taking the antibiotics and acid-blocking medications recommended by your doctor for your ulcer treatment, eating these foods may also be helpful against the ulcer-causing bacteria:
- bell peppers
- leafy greens, such as kale and spinach
- probiotic-rich foods, such as yogurt, kefir, miso, sauerkraut, kombucha, and kimchi
- olive oil and other plant-based oils
- decaffeinated green tea
Why they help
If your stomach ulcer is caused by an H. pylori infection, foods that are rich in antioxidants may be beneficial. They could help protect and activate your immune system and help fight the infection. They may also help protect against stomach cancer. Foods like blueberries, cherries, and bell peppers are packed with antioxidant power. Leafy greens such as kale and spinach contain calcium and B vitamins.
Fermented probiotic foods have shown promise in clinical studies for ulcer treatment. These foods, such as miso, sauerkraut, and kimchi, may prevent reinfection. Turmeric is currently being studied as a potential treatment for ulcers as well. Garlic, decaffeinated green tea, and licorice round out the list of things you might want to incorporate in your diet.
Supplements may be beneficial
If your stomach ulcer is being treated with an antibiotic, consider taking a probiotic supplement as part of your diet plan. This can help reduce antibiotic-associated symptoms. It may also improve the effectiveness of the antibiotic. Ask your doctor what probiotic would be best to take with your antibiotic medication. Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium, and Saccharomyces supplements have shown benefits in people with H. pylori ulcers.
Some people who have an ulcer also have acid reflux. In some people, certain foods can relax the lower part of the esophagus, known as the lower esophageal sphincter or LES. A relaxed LES makes it easier for acid to back up into the esophagus and cause heartburn, indigestion, and pain. Foods that may make acid reflux worse include:
- spicy food
- acidic foods, such as citrus and tomatoes
Overeating and eating within 2 to 3 hours before bed may also worsen reflux symptoms.
Ulcers caused by H. pylori will most likely need to be treated with antibiotics. Strict adherence to your treatment plan and close follow-up with your doctor are the best ways to make sure your treatments are effective and your ulcers are healing.
You will also be prescribed a medication that temporarily keeps your stomach from making or secreting as much acid as it normally would. This medication may be a proton pump inhibitor or H2 blocker.
Most ulcers caused by H. pylori are completely treatable. But untreated stomach ulcers can lead to more serious problems, like internal bleeding and stomach cancer. If you suspect you have an ulcer, don’t ignore it. Speak to your provider, make a plan, and get treatment.
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