An ulcer is a craterlike erosion in the protective lining of the stomach or the duodenum, a part of the small intestine. Normally, glands in the stomach secrete substances that aid digestion, including acids and the enzyme pepsin. At the same time, the stomach and duodenum secrete mucus, which protects the lining from damage by these digestive juices. An ulcer is formed when this balance breaks down, causing the juices to begin literally digesting the stomach or intestinal lining.
Until recently, conventional wisdom held that a stressful lifestyle and a diet rich in fats and spicy foods lead to an ulcer. Now researchers have discovered that most ulcers are actually caused by a bacterium named Helicobacter pylori. Once the digestive tract is infected, the protective mucous membrane is weakened, and even small amounts of digestive juices can eat into the intestinal wall. After an ulcer appears, such secondary influences as stress, diet, alcohol, caffeine, and smoking can aggravate it. Other factors contributing to ulcers include heredity-ulcers often run in families-and long-term use of aspirin, ibuprofen, or other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs).
Supplements and herbs
If you have an ulcer, your doctor will likely give you a blood test for H. pylori and prescribe antibiotics and other medications if the test comes back positive. Whether or not bacteria are present, taking the various natural remedies listed (all of which are safe to use together and with conventional medications) can help speed healing. Pain usually diminishes in about a week, although the ulcer can take up to eight weeks to heal.
Vitamin A helps protect the lining of the stomach and small intestine, allowing ulcers to heal. Vitamin C may directly inhibit the growth of the H. pylori bacterium. Substances that foster healing include zinc (take it with copper because zinc inhibits copper absorption) and deglycyrrhizinated licorice (DGL) wafers. The wafers, which don't raise blood pressure as regular licorice does, should be used for three months to maximize healing. Glutamine, an amino acid, promotes healing by nourishing the cells that line the digestive tract; gamma-oryzanol, an extract of rice bran oil, also seems to be beneficial.
Other research has shown that juice from the aloe vera plant may reduce stomach acid secretions and relieve ulcer symptoms in some people; this popular herb also contains astringent compounds that may help prevent internal bleeding. And, it may be worthwhile to try herbal teas made from marshmallow, slippery elm, meadowsweet, or calendula; these botanicals all work to soothe irritated mucous linings.
What else you can do
More useful herbs