When Ulcers Are Eating You

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Joanne is a 45-year-old woman. She came to our clinic complaining of burning pain in the pit of her stomach and under her ribs after she ate. She told me she experienced nausea, sweats and red skin rash over parts of her abdomen and arms. After learning of her high stress life and completing the physical examination I suspected probable food sensitivities.

I diagnosed Joanne as having a stomach ulcer. We modified her diet, gave her some herbs to protect and heal her stomach, castor oil packs to soothe and move her bowels and a homeopathic remedy to help her deal with past and present stresses. Within two to three weeks the pain was gone, her bowels were becoming more regular and her mental attitude was greatly improved. The rash was nearly gone after two months.

Stomach ulcers are a superficial erosion of the mucus membrane that lines and protects the stomach from the acid secretions that digest food. A duodenal ulcer, which can present similar symptoms, is the same type of erosion in the upper small intestine. A serious complication of peptic ulcers is internal bleeding in about 10 per cent of patients. Probably 15 per cent of the population has a peptic ulcer at least once in his or her life.

Common Causes

There are many causes of peptic ulcers. Physical trauma and surgery - especially with an infection - can cause severe ulcers. Much more common causes are corticosteriods, aspirin, other anti-inflammatory drugs, tobacco, alcohol, food sensitivities, chemical allergies, emotional stress and poor nutrition. Ulcers are commonly seen after a severe illness or infection such as influenza. There is a growing body of medical literature that suggests heliobacter, a bacteria, causes ulcers. Whether they cause the ulcer or simply invade and further erode susceptible sites within our digestive tract remains to be determined.

Naturopathic treatment of peptic ulcers seeks first to identify the cause. If prescription or self-prescribed drugs are the reason, patients need to look at why they are on such drugs and stop taking them if they are self-prescribed or seek help to stop or reduce prescription medications. If the cause is alcohol, tobacco, coffee, foods to which one is sensitive or a poor diet, then these also need to be corrected.

Food sensitivity is a very common cause of peptic ulcers which a naturopathic physician can help you discover through diet analysis, an elimination diet, or food sensitivity testing. Diets which are higher in fibre and complex carbohydrates are associated with a lower rate of peptic ulcers than diets low in fibre. Beneficial fibres include oat bran, whole grain cereals, vegetables, legumes and fruits. Unfortunately, most Canadian diets are low in these beneficial fibers.

Treatment for Ulcers

Cabbage juice is a good home treatment for peptic ulcers because it stimulates the synthesis of certain mucoproteins.

The patient should drink one fresh litre per day in divided doses. After the first week carrot and beets can be added to the juice to further enhance healing and bowel function. Unripe bananas are also beneficial for stimulating mucosal cell growth.

Vitamins, minerals and their cofactors important for peptic ulcers include bioflavonoids, vitamins A, C, E and zinc. Bioflavonoids are cofactors of vitamin C and are known to reduce production of the histamines which can form ulcers. Vitamins A and E have been found to inhibit formation of stress ulcers and help maintain the integrity of the mucosa. Vitamin C helps with tissue repairs and is antibacterial and antiviral. (In animals which naturally synthesize vitamin C, production is greatly increased during stress and infections.) Zinc also increases mucin production and protects against ulcer formation. It is a cofactor of vitamin C.

Herbs and Homeopathy

Two important herbs I commonly use for peptic ulcers are deglycerrhizinated licorice root and slippery elm bark. Oriental doctors have known of the benefits of licorice for thousands of years. In controlled trials in England, licorice caused significantly more healing than the lead H2 antagonist drugs. The form must be deglycerrhizinated, however, so as not to increase blood pressure in certain susceptible individuals. Slippery elm bark has also been used for centuries and was popularized by an English pharmacist over a hundred years ago in a compound known as "Robert's Formula."

Research done before and after the second world war showed that a certain segment of the population reacted differently to stress: within a short period of time (one to three months) people associated with moderated stress will form peptic ulcers. Ulcers may also be more common in individuals with blood type O, the most common in Canada.

Homeopathic medicine is an effective way of building up an individual's response to emotional stress so that small incidents are of little consequence and they are able to deal with larger stresses more effectively. Homeopathic medicine also helps the body heal the ulcer naturally and quickly. Many homeopathic medicines include gastric pain among their symptoms, but homeopathic Colubrina, Metallicum album, and Natrum muriaticum are commonly used for peptic ulcers. These are best taken after consulting your naturopathic physician to rule out more serious illnesses.

Regular exercise and counselling around stress issues is also beneficial. People who exercise regularly tend to have less ulcers, as do people who get regular and adequate sleep. A healthy lifestyle is good preventive medicine.

Dr Paul Richard Saunders, PhD, ND is Clinic Director of the teaching clinic at the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine in Toronto.

Recommended reading:

Foods That Heat by Bernard Jensen (sc) $13.95

Nervous Disorders by Jan De Vries (sc) $9.95

Stress of Life by Hans Selye (sc) $14.95

Available at your local health food store or from alive Books PO Box 80055 Burnaby BC V5H 3X1. Include $3.00 postage and handling plus 7% GST when ordering from alive.

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By Paul Saunders

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