Natural Treatments for Ulcers
By Dr. Mao Shing Ni
THAT GNAWING PAIN IN THE STOMACH that sometimes gets better with food and other times gets worse may be from your stomach’s actually digesting itself! This is an ulcer, a condition that affects five million people in the United States today. When the cells protecting the stomach wall from digestive acids fail to work properly, the acids begin to burn away the stomach wall. Ulcers can occur in the stomach or just below the stomach in the part of the small intestine called the duodenum. The symptoms of ulcers vary depending on location but generally include abdominal pain, bloating, fullness, excessive salivation, nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, and weight loss. You can tell where the ulcer is located based on the pattern of pain - if the ulcer is in the duodenum, the pain gets better after eating but worse an hour later; if it’s in the stomach, the pain gets worse when eating. In severe cases there may be vomiting of blood or passing of a tar-like black stool, which is a result of bleeding from the duodenum.
A major cause of ulcers is bacterial infection. The bacteria Helicobacter pylori erode the stomach lining, reducing the protective mucous membrane and stimulating the production of excessive stomach acid. Prolonged use of aspirin and other nonsteroidal antiinflammatory drugs has also been linked with ulcers, as have smoking, alcohol use, and stress. Antibiotics and acid blocker medications are commonly prescribed for ulcers. With strict dietary and nutritional therapies, acupuncture and herbal preparations ulcers can also be resolved.
Chinese medicine recognizes that pathogens, diet, and stress play key roles in the development of digestive disorders. Ulcers in particular are viewed as a disharmony between the stomach and liver networks. I see many more conditions of gastroesophageal reflux disorder (GERD) - a precursor condition - than ulcers. The treatment for both conditions focuses on harmonizing the stomach and liver systems, healing the lining of the digestive tract, supporting the functions of digestion, and easing pain and discomfort.
I once had a patient with stomach pain and other symptoms of an ulcer, including a black, tar-like stool. Her gastroenterologist had confirmed the diagnosis with an endoscopy. After three separate courses of antibiotics she was still experiencing pain and an occasional dark bowel movement, and her GI specialist referred her to me. I put her on a treatment program of acupuncture and herbal therapies, and I changed her diet and taught her stress reduction techniques. Within six weeks, her symptoms disappeared and have not returned. Here are some of my favorite remedies for ulcers. If you are experiencing severe, doubling-over pain that spreads across the entire abdomen, vomiting with blood, or black, tar-like stools for more than three days, you should consult your physician immediately.
- Diet for Ulcers
- Home Remedies for Ulcers
- Vitamin Supplements for Ulcers
- Herbal Therapies for Ulcers
- Exercise for Ulcers
- Self-Acupressure for Ulcers
- Ulcers: Advice on what to avoid
DIET FOR ULCERS
The single most important thing you can do to help treat ulcers is to improve your diet. Eating in smaller amounts and more frequently, as well as eating a good breakfast, are essential. According to Chinese medicine, the energy of the stomach network is at it peak between 7:00 and 9:00 a.m., so don't skip breakfast because it robs the stomach of its vital energy source.
- A high-fiber diet rich in whole grains, legumes, fruits, and vegetables is helpful.
- Favor alkalinizing foods such as potatoes, cabbage, figs, papaya, kale, spinach, mustard greens, Swiss chard, winter squashes, zucchini, carrots, sweet potatoes, yams, lentils, split peas, and persimmons.
- Do not overeat, skip meals, or eat late at night. Deep-fried and greasy foods stimulate acid and bile production, and should be avoided. Spicy foods, acidic foods, and alcohol are irritants to the stomach lining. Sugar and salt can also act to increase stomach acid and should be minimized. Each person reacts to certain foods differently- there may be particular foods that aggravate ulcers for you, so be watchful of these foods and keep a diary to eliminate foods that are particularly uncomfortable for you. Tomatoes, eggplant, citrus fruits, pineapple, vinegar, and chilies tend to be prime offenders.
HOME REMEDIES FOR ULCERS
- Cabbage contains several anti-ulcer compounds, so including cabbage in your diet can speed up the healing of ulcers. Try this simple cabbage soup recipe: Combine 2 cups shredded cabbage, 1 cup chopped celery, 1 cup diced potatoes, 1/2 cup okra, 1/2 cup diced onions with 6 cups water and bring to a boil over high heat, then simmer for 30 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender. Season with a pinch of ginger, cumin, and oregano and garnish with cilantro. Eat the cabbage soup 3 to 4 times a week for 1 month, or until the condition improves.
- Eat 1 tablespoon of honey on an empty stomach several times throughout the day, keeping the honey in your mouth and allowing it to slowly move down your esophagus. Honey is nature’s antibiotic and has been found to inhibit Helicobacter pylori.
- Make a healing shake with 1 chopped banana, 1/3 cup chopped raw potato, 1/2 cup blueberries, a pinch each of ground cinnamon, cloves, and ginger, and 1 tablespoon honey. Blend in a blender with 1 cup rice milk and 1/2 cup low-fat plain yogurt. Drink with breakfast every morning for 1 month.
DAILY VITAMIN SUPPLEMENTS FOR ULCERS
- Supplementing with zinc (50 milligrams), vitamin A (200 IU), and selenium (100 micrograms) can help heal ulcers.
- Taking flavonoid supplements (500 milligrams) can help with the absorption of vitamin C (1,000 milligrams) and support the healing process.
- Quercetin (500 milligrams) taken 3 times a day can help to suppress ulcer formation and also has anticancer properties.
HERBAL THERAPY FOR ULCERS
Herbs can be found in health food or vitamin stores, online, and at the offices of Chinese medicine practitioners. Herbs should be used according to individual needs; consult with a licensed practitioner for a customized formulation. To learn more about the herbs listed here, go to www.askdrmao.com.
- A specialized licorice preparation called deglycyrrhized licorice (DGL) taken in chewable form before meals and at bedtime can help relieve ulcer symptoms and help with healing.
- Make a tea by boiling 2 tablespoons dried marigold flowers in 3 1/2 cups of water for 15 minutes. Strain, and drink 1 cup 3 times a day for 2 weeks or until the condition improves. Marigold has traditionally been used to heal ulcers.
- Reishi mushrooms in capsule or tablet form can help the immune system fight inflammation in the stomach.
- Traditional Chinese herbs such as sepia, skullcap, bamboo, and coptidis have antibacterial and acid-neutralizing properties.
EXERCISE FOR ULCERS
Walking is the best exercise for moving the food along the digestive tract and improving digestion and absorption. The energetic meridians of the digestive organs run along the large muscles of the legs, so walking stimulates energy flow within the channels and promotes digestion. Take an easy 10-minute walk after each meal and massage your abdomen as you walk, making circles around your navel with your palms. This helps move your food through your digestive tract without prolonged accumulation.
A simple walking exercise called Merry-Go-Around Circle Walk is quite helpful for people who can’t exercise vigorously because of a health condition or other prohibiting circumstances.
- In a quiet outdoor setting- a park or yard- find a tree with at least 5 feet of clear space around the trunk in all directions. If you were to draw a circle around the tree, its diameter would be around 10 to 12 feet, though larger or smaller circles are fine as well. Perform the exercise for 15 minutes twice a day.
- For the first half of the exercise walk clockwise around the tree. For the second half, walk counterclockwise. With each completed circle change the position of your arms by slightly raising or lowering your hands in front or on the sides of your trunk.
SELF-ACUPRESSURE FOR ULCERS
- Find the acupoint Valley of Harmony (LI-4), at the web between your right thumb and index finger. Apply steady pressure with your left thumb until you feel soreness. Hold for 2 minutes. Repeat on the left hand. This is good for reducing heat and inflammation and opening energy blockages in the GI tract.
- Find the acupoint Inner Gate (P-6), three finger-widths above the wrist crease, between the two tendons on the inside of the left forearm. Apply moderate pressure with your right thumb. Hold for 5 minutes. Repeat on the right arm. This settles the stomach, helps reduce acidity, and calms anxiety.
ULCERS: WHAT TO AVOID
- Coffee, alcohol, and smoking; they all can cause or worsen ulcers.
- Excessive use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as aspirin, which can injure the stomach lining, potentially leading to ulcers. Talk to your doctor about alternatives if you are taking this type of medication.
- Stress, anxiety, and emotional upset before eating and while you’re eating, as this can worse the condition.
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©2015 Dr. Mao Shing Ni
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